Customer feedback surveys are a traditional part of the marketing kit. Once heavily reliant on the doorstep visits of men with clipboards, the surveying process has subsequently evolved to reflect the digital revolution, encompassing the likes of after-sales emails, online feedback forms and mobile surveys.
Indeed, organisations are spending considerable time and money on their surveying processes - according to ESOMAR’s Global Market Research report, customer research accounts for about 7% of all market research by value.
That’s a tremendous investment in surveys, yet the lingering feeling is that organisations could, and indeed should, be doing so much more.
In particular, there is a tendency for businesses to take a reactive approach to surveying their customer bases – to investigate their audiences only when sales are slowing, NPS scores are dipping or online customer reviews are turning negative. While surveying at this point is still critical, enabling organisations to better understand their customers’ experiences, there is a sense that this is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Instead, businesses should be conducting customer surveys as part of a regular feedback programme, so that any potential problems are identified and ultimately avoided. Let’s take a look at six reasons why a robust customer survey strategy is more important than ever.
1. Customer expectations are higher than ever
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Customers have higher expectations than ever of brand experiences, and this translates into significant implications for those that cannot deliver against those expectations. In recent research conducted by MyCustomer, nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents said they would switch to another provider after only one negative online experience.
The best judge of your customer experience is – surprise, surprise – your customer. So regular customer surveying enables you to identify any problems that are emerging that could compromise the experience you deliver, and also fill the gaps in your understanding of how customers purchase and use your products and services.
John Bird, UK general manager at 360insights, notes: “Huge global brands often sell through retailers which means there’s sometimes a disconnect between what HQ understands about customer needs and the actual experience of the person walking into a store and making a purchase. Critical business insights like what made a customer choose your brand over another can be lost in the process.”
2. Consumer tastes are changing faster than ever
The pace of change is speeding up. Platforms and technologies that are popular one month may be on the wane the next. Surveys enable organisations to keep their finger on the pulse.
“The unexpected outcomes of 2017’s fluctuating political landscape proved the value in sense checking your audience,” says Bird. “This means it has never been more important to harvest insights from the customer base and make sure they are still relevant.”
Guy Washer, managing partner at sapioresearch.com, adds: “The pace of change is quicker than ever and there is really clear evidence that the different generations increasingly expect/want to do things differently.
“So, to keep up and be customer-centric they need to understand what different groups want and beyond this understand what needs to be a “given" and what’s going to “excite" people. Just delivering Vanilla probably isn’t enough. Once you understand what really excites people you need to understand how you’re delivering against expectations and then change what’s underwhelming."
3. The customer experience is more influential than ever
In 2007, Forrester released its first CX Index, ranking businesses based on their customer experience performance. Within the findings, the biggest cluster of businesses were placed between ‘poor’ and ‘OK’, accounting for around two-thirds of companies. In last year’s Index, however, most brands were clustered between ‘OK’ to ‘good’, making up around 75% of organisations.
Without question, the general standard of experience delivered by organisations is higher than ever, meaning that if your customer experience is OK, that really is the equivalent of what poor was 10 years ago. Today’s businesses need to be closely monitoring how satisfied their customers are and establishing how/where improvements can be made, or the danger is they will stagnate and ultimately fall behind the improving competition.
“Organisations can’t afford to be complacent about customer experience,” explains Bird. “Research from IDC found that customers who had the best experiences spent 1.4x more than customers with the poorest. This is a trend that’s only set to increase as consumer expectations skyrocket.”
4. The human touch is often missing
The purchasing process can be impersonal for large corporations, and particularly so in the online age when there may be no human contact with the buyer. Customer surveys can provide this human touch, and help to nurture a more intimate relationship, if done well.
Adelynne Chao, associate director at Morar-HPI explains: “Some of the world’s most successful companies are incredibly customer-centric, and customer surveys are one of the increasingly important tools that allow businesses to keep customers at the heart of every strategic move. Don’t forget that this is also a two-way engagement. It opens a direct line of communication between you and your most loyal base, and so can be very rewarding experience on both sides, if done right.
5. Brand loyalty is waning
Customers aren’t as brand loyal as they once were, and the concerning thing for brands is that this trend is more prominent amongst the younger generations, suggesting that things will only get more difficult in the future.
A Daymon Worldwide study, which polled 7,000 millennials and Generation Xers across 14 countries, found that while 29% of millennials say they usually buy the same brand, 26% of millennials say they are likely to buy whatever brand they feel like at the time. By the year 2030, there will be more millennials than any other generation, so businesses need to focus on how they can nurture loyalty amongst this group.
Bird says: “Customers are faced with more choices than ever. Organisations need to invest as much in retaining existing customers as acquiring new ones – listening and responding to customers via survey feedback should be first port of call.”
It has never been more important to harvest insights from the customer base and make sure they are still relevant.
6.Customers will share their opinions whether you like it or not
If a customer has a bad experience, then they want to share it. Reaching out to customers to learn about their experiences is a good service, but also serves as an exercise in damage limitation if they have had a problem, as they are potentially less likely to vent in public on social media. Giving customers an opportunity to explain their issues and reassuring them that the problem will be resolved can reduce their frustrations and help you to keep their future custom.
“A key sign that a company is needs to better understand the customer is negative feedback on independent review websites,” suggests Bird. “A vital turnaround technique is to pre-empt negative sentiment by encouraging customers to share concerns and preferences early, before they spiral into bigger issues and acting upon it as soon as possible in their brand journey.”
Susan Ganeshan, CMO at Clarabridge, adds: “Customers are going to voice their opinions somewhere - in the past they only had direct one-to-one contact, but now with social media they have the ability to broadcast their opinions further. Surveys help provide an avenue for feedback and give customers and a brand the opportunity to collaborate and interact.”
About Neil Davey
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.