Customer Surveys: Frustrating The Customer's Desire To Give Feedback

Sylvia Lehnen

Customer Surveys: Frustrating The Customer's Desire To Give FeedbackA few days ago I went to a large grocery store to pick up some wine and cheese. I also came across some great-looking Swiss chocolates, but couldn’t find a price. Pass.

I headed to the cheeses and none of of them had a price either, although a sign listed them by name and price per pound. That meant: match each piece of cheese to the list, find the weight on the package, and do the math. When a bag of nuts also didn’t have a clearly visible price, I decided to just pay for the wine and go to a nearby cheese store instead.

As I was checking out, the clerk brightly told me they really wanted to hear about my shopping experience – could I please fill out the survey on the web site listed on the receipt? (She also asked if I needed “help out” with the bottle of wine. Twice.)

How to create surveys that make your customers hate you

Back home, I decided I’d oblige and tell them how I felt about their price displays. So here I was – a motivated customer ready to provide highly specific feedback – “actionable intelligence” as it were.

I checked my clock and started. Find and match a series of numbers on the receipt with fields on the screen. OK. Then page after page of questions asking me to rank my experience on a five-point scale, from highly unsatisfactory to highly satisfactory. Was the store clean? Were the displays attractive? Was it easy to find things? Was anyone there to help me? If so, were they courteous? Were the prices reasonable? Of course I had no clue since I couldn’t find them, but that wasn’t an option.

No matter how obtuse the question, you couldn’t go to the next page until you answered them all. About 15 minutes later I was done; checking irrelevant questions with random answers just to get through it. Except for my curiosity as a marketer and my interest in user experience I never would have stuck it out. Which made me wonder: who bothers to fill out these things? People with nothing else to do? People desperate for a chance for a $100 gift certificate? And what do these surveys really accomplish, except for impressive charts with unreliable data for the next board meeting? And an answer to the all-important Net Promoter Score (NPS)?

Just because technology means you can do it, should you?

A wide variety of survey tools now makes it possible for practically anyone to create complex surveys. But just as the wide availability of fonts made lots of newsletters look like alphabet soup for a while, being able to do something doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done.

Was my retail survey experience unusual? I wasn’t about to try another survey to find out, so I did a quick search and came across Kimberly Nasief @measureCP, who apparently owns a mystery shopping and branding firm and blogs about customer service.

Her blog’s list of survey sins included my pet peeve “Asking me questions about everything, as opposed to trying to pinpoint a specific issue I had” and highlighted another gambit that really annoyed me “Asking questions that populate new ones.” I also searched for how to create good customer surveys, which resulted in some highly complex white papers – which I suspect will result in highly complex surveys like the one I came across.

How can companies balance the need to gather data, get genuine feedback, and automate the process? It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard. First, give people the opportunity to quickly log their compliment or complaint. (And make it someone’s job to read, aggregate, and possibly follow up with the customer.) Then ask if they’d be willing to answer additional questions. If they opt in, hit them with your survey. People who volunteer are much less likely to be frustrated – they brought it on themselves – and the quality of responses will be much higher. Seems like all those complex survey technologies could surely handle such a 1-2 approach?

If companies avoid the strong-arm survey tactics that will annoy and frustrate their customers, they’ll be able to not just gather data, but hear what their customers have to say.


About Sylvia Lehnen

Sylvia currently works in content marketing and has a background in journalism, instructional design, product management, and product marketing for software products, with an emphasis on cloud computing. She has lived in both Europe and the United States and loves languages, travel, and design. She's also a connoisseur of fine chocolates and desperately wants a gig as a restaurant critic.