The Deadzone: Why customer surveys are dead

26th Feb 2016

Surveys have defined customer experience intelligence until now. Before the internet existed, governments, brands and researchers relied heavily on survey-based data to make informed decisions about their target demographics. This is the reason why many companies today continue to use surveys as the primary method for collecting feedback from their customers. As a Forrester report reveals: “96% of companies that say they have a formal program for gathering and responding to customer’s feedback use structured surveys.”

Companies know that surveys were effective in the past, and so they adopted this CX strategy online expecting similar results. In the age of instant gratification, though, people are no longer willing to “just take a moment” to fill out a survey — they want a response to their complaint as quickly as they can tweet about their most recent purchase.

With brands, retailers and service providers in all industries pushing surveys both in-store and online, customers are experiencing survey fatigue and are no longer participating in the game the way they once did. According to SurveyMonkey, the online survey development company helps 99% of the Fortune 500 companies collect more than 2 million responses daily — that’s billions of surveys per year. Customers have become overwhelmed by the high volume of surveys and have just stopped responding. In fact, Forrester reports that response rates are as low as 2% and rarely ever reach 20% anymore. That’s a lot of key data and insights lost.

Unrepresentative data

Many turn to rewards and prizes in order to increase response rates. However, initiatives to incentivise customers to complete surveys often have the opposite effect. Respondents will still stop reading questions and answer randomly with or without a prize. They engage in “satisficing,” quickly filling out the survey without trying to make answers reflect their true feelings, which leads brands to act upon unrepresentative data.

Surveys have gotten longer and more complicated as well, not taking into account that today’s generation has a short attention span and is always on the go. Based on a study from a research company that specializes in collecting and analysing consumer feedback, 80% of customers abandoned a survey halfway through. Furthermore, 52% of customers said they would not spend more than 3 minutes filling out a feedback form.

Most importantly, surveys don’t capture what customers want to tell you, only what you thought to ask. Customers need to be able to reach out to a brand whenever and wherever to share feedback. Surveys rely on people to remember their experience well enough before, during and after an interaction, but their memories aren’t always accurate after the fact. When companies push a survey at a specific time, with specific questions, they fail to capture key customer touchpoints.

Multiple channels

For example, when Jessica is shopping for a dress online, she appreciates the retailer’s myriad options and sizes and enjoys the one-click checkout. She has an overall great experience until shipping, which happens to be a few days late. The retailer only emails her a survey after she receives her new dress, and since she wasn’t able to wear it at Friday’s party as planned, Jessica writes a terrible review and forgets to elaborate on all the positive parts of her initial customer experience. The retailer could see this feedback and completely revamp its website even though certain aspects were favorable.

To overcome the shortfalls of a traditional survey, brands need to expand their reach and make themselves available to customers across multiple channels. There must be a two-way dialogue to truly build customer relationships, and surveys alone just don’t make the cut.

So, provide customers with a direct line of communication through online chat and email. Don’t forget to mine social data for feedback as well. Additionally, implementing a real social customer care function, best operated by the customer care team, is a strong way for brands to interact with their customers in real time. Ensure that customers know where they can reach the social customer care team on social media as well for timely responses and quick solutions.

Ultimately, social customer care is a cost-effective compliment to a formal call center and more approachable than a survey for today’s technology-driven, multi-tasking customer. Expanding customer experience initiatives beyond surveys allows customers to form a deeper connection with brands and express needs organically. The bottom line is clear: surveys are too structured to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the customer journey, and brands that fail to adopt broader CX initiatives will fall behind their competitors.

Replies (6)

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Lindsay Willott
By Lindsay Willott
29th Feb 2016 11:20

Great article Susan, I had a very similar experience myself this weekend where I was sent a 6 question survey in response to a simple email I sent a hotel chain. I wrote a post about it literally this morning:

Surveys are running amok and need to be considered as part of the customer experience, not tacked on at the end with no thought to how it will impact customer perception. Social media has changed the way people interact with brands and long surveys, whilst they still have their uses, must be supplemented with fresher, more visual and innovative methods.

When sought correctly, customer feedback can actually be fun and interesting for customers to give. But the received wisdom around methodology needs to change dramatically.

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Replying to Lindsay Willott:
Susan Ganeshan
By susanganeshan
29th Feb 2016 17:43

Thanks for you comment. Now you're preaching to the choir!

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Duff Anderson
By Duff_Anderson
29th Feb 2016 19:48

Thanks for the article. Properly engaging and collecting feedback is ongoing challenge. One thing is for certain: multiple, short, concise and intelligent conversations with customers are the key to successful customer experience analytics. Long gone are the days of lengthy, one-size-fits-all, single surveys as a means of collecting customer feedback.

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By LinkedIn Group Member
02nd Mar 2016 09:21

From LinkedIn user John Dell' Armi FCIPD ACI:

The point about survey fatigue is very true. Equally true is the scripted nature of the surveys, which don't allow for free text qualitative feedbabk

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By LinkedIn Group Member
02nd Mar 2016 14:02

From LinkedIn user Mila Marceta:

Agree. Just copy/paste from old fashioned survey to the new technology doesn't provide us with what we really need to capture.

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By EJohn Morris
04th Mar 2016 14:59

Thanks for the article Susan, I completely agree with where you are taking the discussion. I wrote something similar on Linked-in recently on why surveys don't work and in the worst cases become an internal ego trip.
Customers have changed, surveys haven't and as you rightly say, there are many other sources of data that can be harvested to determine if you're getting it right or not.

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