Are you listening to your customers?

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Not too long ago, I had a minor outpatient procedure at a hospital. When I checked my email the next morning, there was a survey from the hospital. “What did you think of your anesthesiologist?”

My first thought was that I didn’t die during the procedure, so he must have done a fine job. I can’t say much more, since I only spoke to the guy for about 30 seconds.

This absurd question made me aware of how many surveys I actually receive. I’d say there are several in any given week. They have gotten annoying. But they keep coming, despite the fact that social media offers much better tools for learning what customers are thinking.

Survey Overload

An important principle in both marketing and customer experience is that you should listen to your customers. Your customers are the best judges of what you are doing well and what you can improve upon.

Before the internet and social media, there were limited ways to get feedback from customers, especially if you didn’t have a brick and mortar location where you saw them face to face. In those days, customer surveys played an important role in getting feedback from people who had done business with you.

In principle, there’s still nothing wrong with a survey. But today there are so many other ways to interact with customers that surveys seem passe. And consumers are tired of them.

Coming home from a trip, I get emails that ask “How was your flight?” “How was your stay?” A routine call to the cable company – long and painful enough already — ends with a series of questions about whether I’m happy with the way my situation was handled. The clerk at my local cell phone store warned me I’d get a survey – and then told me his job security depended on me giving favorable answers! I’ve even been asked to rate the immigration agent at an airport.

To make matters worse I have even been told specifically how to complete a feedback form. Our Salesman at a Lincoln dealership informed us we had to score him as a 10 in all the questions on the feedback survey as his bonus depended on it! Unsurprisingly, we didn’t as our experience was really awful. He then found out and emailed us to complain, asking us if we didn’t understand his clear instructions!!

Clearly, this kind of coerced feedback has no value to the organization and makes the customer experience even worse.

If you already have a strong relationship with a customer or client, a survey can give you valuable feedback and help to strengthen the relationship. Customers feel valued because you value their opinion. You mean it and will act on it. Customers become your partners in shaping a better experience. But the surveys we receive from airlines, rental car companies, telecoms and the like don’t feel that way. We may not have any particular loyalty to this company, and we don’t believe them when they say “We value your opinion!”

Surveys, Social Media, and Customer Memories

One of the principles outlined in my book and podcast “The Intuitive Customer” is that positive memories build customer loyalty. An exceptional customer experience is both favorable and in some way memorable. The memory of the experience is what makes a customer want to come back.

A survey might seem like a good way to reach out to customers and cement the relationship, but it’s actually the opposite because of the way it affects the customer’s memory of the experience. I might have had a perfectly great stay at a hotel, but when I get the survey I feel a little betrayed. Now I’m expected to give this company a slice of my time. I know I won’t get any response to my comments, nor do I believe the company really cares about me. So now I have a negative memory to add to my otherwise positive one.

This explains why social media is so much more effective, for both the company and the customer. Social media – including review sites like Tripadvisor and Yelp — is an opportunity to find out what customers like about your company and what sets you apart from your competitors. Because the posts are initiated by your customers, you are more likely to get genuine, well thought out comments. And you have an opportunity to respond and interact in a personal way that creates positive memories and builds relationships.

By listening to what your customers are saying on social media, you also find out about issues quickly. You have an opportunity to publicly make things right with a complaining customer, and you can correct issues before they impact others. But you must be diligent. I feel good about the company that responded to an issue I raised on Twitter, but not so much about the one that ignored by comments.

Do you have survey fatigue? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.

To find out more about creating and measuring a successful customer experience, listen to our podcast on Why Customer Experience Programs Fail. To listen in click here.

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About Colin Shaw

Colin Shaw

 Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of worlds first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of six best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy has a proven track record. They provide consulting, specialised research & training from Sarasota, Florida and London, England. Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

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