Is Your in House Survey Worth My Time?


Here’s my take on comment cards. With comment cards I believe businesses only get feedback from customers at the far extremes of the satisfaction scale. Either they hear from those who are extremely happy or from those who are extremely unhappy. If a business worried only about the extremely happy or unhappy customers, they would be missing out on trying to improve service for the ones who make up the largest part of their customer base.


While it is important for businesses to deal with those who are very dissatisfied and to thank those who are very satisfied, it is even more important that they try to improve the experience of the vast majority of their customers who are somewhere in the middle of the satisfaction scale. Herein lays their biggest market for increased sales!


A manufacturer complains. His customers rarely return the customer satisfaction survey.


A leading resort gets back just 10 percent of the “comment cards” left for guests inside their rooms.


One government agency had a response rate of only 6% when they sent out an 11 page survey.


What’s going on here? Why is the response rate so poor? Why don’t customers complete and return your “customer satisfaction surveys”?


The problem, as I see it, is two fold:


First, the format of many surveys has taken on the language of academics and the structure of statisticians. Asking customers to rate the relative importance and performance, both perceived and expected, of seventeen categories on a scale from one to ten, is like asking someone attending the theater to evaluate the lighting, sound system, seating, parking, air-conditioning, restrooms, refreshments and ushers-and, oh, by the way, did you enjoy the play?


If your questionnaire is too complex for customers to understand at a glance, it’s simply to complex. If your survey is to long for them to complete in a few quick minutes, it’s simply too long. If your response form is loaded with jargon, scales and numbers, it’s so filled up with YOUR ideas there’s no place left for your customers to speak their mind.


A quantitative monthly or quarterly survey may highlight where you’re slipping, climbing or simply standing still. But don’t ask every customer to reply “by the numbers” or the majority will STOP thinking about your survey before they even start.


Which leads me to the second point: customers learned long ago that “standard surveys” yield “standard replies”, which in many cases is nothing. If I complete your survey, how can I be sure you’ll take ACTION upon my comments? There’s little guarantee of action in a long list of detailed questions, tiny little boxes and numbers.


If you want to increase the quantity and value of customer comments you receive, if you want to make your survey really WORK HARD for you, here’s what you can do.

First, make clear at the top of your survey that your customer’s comments are not just collected, they are truly valued.


“Customer Satisfaction Survey” is about as interesting as gray paint! “Your Voice Counts” sounds much better. “Tell Us What You Think” is appealing. “We are listening to YOU” is a promise I’d reply to.


Second, design your form to gather qualitative input you will study and act upon right away. Ask for subjective impressions and ideas with questions like these: What would you like us to change? What should we provide that is missing? What did you appreciate the most? Did anyone or anything let you down? How can we serve you even better next time? (A blank “comment” field on your existing form just doesn’t cut it!)


Third, promise immediate ACTION. Tell customers how quickly their comments will be read and how FAST change will be undertaken. Put your self on the spot! Take a risk.


Ask them, May we reply to you personally about this? If so, please check here. Now it’s obvious that you ARE reading every comment, you ARE listening to the customer, you ARE committed to making changes every day.


Key point, in today’s busy world, your “customer satisfaction survey” must be so interesting, worthwhile and seductive that customers are glad to fill it in. If your survey is not engaging and attractive, customers will ignore it.


Take these action steps. Look carefully at the design, format and length of your current “customer satisfaction survey”. Does it capture your customer’s interest; does it promise fast action and response? Should you change the name? The length? The questions? The design? Can you afford not to? Remember, your survey is often the last thing customers see and consider when doing business with you. Are you creating the right “last impression”?


Dave Meholovitch “Excellence in Customer Service” His focus. Measuring Customer Service. Direct comments to: or 312-4183.


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