Customer Satisfaction Surveys May Actually Hurt the User Experience


Customer Satisfaction Surveys can be unreliable

It’s ironic that customer satisfaction surveys can actually hurt a company’s brand reputation & damage the customer experience.

I’m as obsessed over CX as the next journey mapper, but I’m convinced that surveys have flaws and they’re often not the best method for monitoring & improving the customer journey.

Here are just 3 of the dangers of relying on surveys to improve the customer experience:

Danger #1: Insufficient Data

If all that an airport or supermarket has to go on is the data from those displays that SurveyFacesask you to pick between three smiley faces, then the Chief Experience Officer will have lots of data to build impressive reports from but I’m not sure it will improve the bottom line.

There’s just not enough information to learn from and the results could give a false sense of security or panic.

Danger #2: Annoyed Customers

A growing number of healthcare providers, auto mechanics, plumbers, retailers, airlines CSAT(the list keeps building) are sending surveys after EVERY transaction and customer service call.

Become a repeat customer and you’ll soon grow irritated by them. Dare to ignore the survey invitations and they’ll send a reminder 1, 2, or 3 times. The third reminder usually comes across a bit threatening even.

Danger #3: Inaccurate Responses

I’ve seen companies make major course corrections based on data from surveys alone but there’s an inherent risk in that strategy because surveys are sometimes not very accurate.

There are many reasons for this:

  • People are busy. Sometimes they just don’t have the time or patience to devote their full attention to it so they just check all the 5-star boxes and move on with their day.
  • People have big thumbs. Sometimes they accidentally hit the wrong button and they don’t see an option to go back and change their answer.
  • People are confused. Sometimes the questions are misunderstood. The worst case is when they think 1 means great and 5 means terrible when the intent of the survey was the exact opposite.
  • People are nice. They fear that the employee they interacted with might get in trouble (or fired) if they leave a negative review, so their humanity kicks in and they just check all the “Very Satisfied” boxes.
  • People are mean. Sometimes our impatience makes us unreasonable and demanding when we interact with employees and if we get less respect than we feel entitled to, we might leave a bad review. Ted Rubin is such a great example of how to be good to people. We could all stand to work on this.
  • People have generous imaginations. I believe this is the most common reason why survey data isn’t accurate. They reveal what someone says about their behavior but that often doesn’t line up with how they actually behave.

I recently reviewed a report from a rather large survey where customers were asked which retailers they typically purchase our products from. It was interesting how inaccurate the responses were. It didn’t align with what we knew to be true from our sales data.

I’m not saying that people are being intentionally deceitful when they complete a survey. We just don’t always have a complete and accurate picture of our behavior so we record the answer that reflects what we might wish were true. For example, who wants to admit that they shop at Walmart when they could say that they’re a regular at Macy’s?

Someone may say they will recommend your business to a friend or that they are 90% certain they’ll return to your establishment but will they really?

Ultimately, the data that matters most isn’t just what people say, it’s what they do. Did word of mouth increase your user base after your last CX improvement? Did your average lifetime value increase from repeat business?

I love the commitment to CX but surveys are not always the best tool and the rapid growth of this practice is a little concerning. Executives are checking the box that they are addressing CX by commissioning these surveys. But in many cases, the user experience is actually weakened.

If a survey is the best choice for your business, consider these three tips:

Tip #1: Surprise & Delight

We’re all inundated with surveys so find a way to surprise & delight your customers with that touchpoint. Be different. Be engaging. Be genuine.

Find a way to express your brand personality. Be thoughtful, clever, witty, or funny. Offer something free as a thank you. Stay within your brand guidelines but find the most interesting ways to make this touchpoint memorable.

Tip #2: Mix in Real-World Observations

I love analyzing reports and drawing conclusions from the data but it always helps to mix in some real-world observations.

InteractionGet some face time with real people to confirm that the data reflects what you see in the expressions, body language, and purchase behavior of your customers.

Usability Testing is a great way to confirm that your survey data is accurate. For more on this, check out Steve Krug’s excellent work on this subject (Don’t Make Me Think and Rocket Surgery Made Easy).

Tip #3: Consult with a Journey Mapper

Lastly, consider working with a qualified “Data Whisperer” (a.k.a. “Journey Mapper”) who can interpret the data differently. They spend their career analyzing customer experiences and their vast background will give them the insight to interpret the data from your surveys in ways you might not consider on your own.

They will also be able to help you optimize your survey so that it surprises & delights your customers and leads them to further engagement.

Have you encountered an annoying or an awesome survey recently? Please leave a comment sharing your experience.

Subscribe to my blog for tips about how Journey Mapping can impact your Customer and Employee Experience.

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