How to improve your customer feedback surveys

I used to like that brand – until they kept asking me if I liked their customer experience.” How many times have you thought that recently?

In the space of a week, I reckon I get asked to complete more than 20 surveys from all sorts of companies. “Tell us about your recent customer experience” they ask. All I’m thinking is, “what, again?”

It used to be nice to get the odd survey or comment card and feel you had the opportunity to give feedback on your favourite brands. Now every time you go anywhere or purchase anything, whether it’s your car service, your online sofa order, your hotel stay or even just your cup of coffee, you get asked for your feedback.

Every single transaction seemingly needs to be rated but as a customer, there are just some things you don’t want to bother giving feedback on. The most annoying thing for me is when a customer feedback survey lands within minutes, sometimes seconds of the experience happening – give me some breathing space!

This growth in instant customer surveys appears to have been driven by several factors: the growing demand for customer feedback as part of a process of continuous improvement; the growth of NPS as a key indicator (as well as the associated pressure to achieve the perfect score for those who are bonused on it); the rising focus on data; and accessibility to the ‘connected’ customer. But are surveys as useful as they were as a means to gather customer feedback? Or are we all turning what used to be a useful method of interacting with customers into a headache for both the organisation and the customer?

Anecdotal evidence states that customer survey response rates across all formats has been steadily declining for years. Some say that they still get response rates of 20-25% whilst many achieve less than 2%. I can’t help feeling like the more companies ask their customers for feedback, the less they’ll actually get. More concerning than that is the negative effect this survey fatigue is actually having on the customer experience.

It’s definitely important to reach out to customers, to get to know them better, to listen, to understand them and to solve their problems but there’s a growing art to getting it right in today’s overloaded and digitalised world of feedback.

Here’s ten things to think about to get your customer surveys singing:

1. Less is more

Surveys can be long, with too many questions which leads to lower response rates and high abandonment. It’s proven that the time for surveys needs to be very limited to ensure accurate responses with 13 minutes the maximum threshold.[1] Short and sweet is always best

2. Design your survey carefully

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes (not those of a researcher or techy) and be respectful of your customer’s time in your survey design and implementation. Ask the right questions and make them easy to answer. Make sure your survey is mobile optimised and convenient to complete

3. Be relevant

Customer surveys often include questions that aren’t even applicable or relevant to us. Tailor your surveys to customer segments rather than sending blanket invites to the world and his wife. Use logic to display questions that are relevant to that customer

4. What’s in it for me

Communicate the value of your survey upfront, how long it will take and what you’re going to do with the results. Reach out to customers once they have given their feedback so they know it’s all worth it and what will change as a result. Consider response driven incentives as a way of thanking people for their time too

5. Surveys don’t reflect all customer views

Survey fatigue doesn’t appear to put off those customers with extreme views as they want their voices to be heard, whatever. This can lead to survey bias known as non-response bias. Those who don’t respond may have a different view and the survey data won’t effectively reflect a spread of customer feedback

6. Quality as well as quantity

Survey results are about the narrative or the story that customers are telling you as much as the number or score. It’s often where you get the most insight. Make sure you give customers the opportunity to give unstructured feedback with open questions

7. How am I doing?

Awkward! Seems like an obvious one but you’d be amazing how many companies do it! The person being rated should NEVER be the one asking for customer feedback. Simple.

8. Test your alignment

Aligning the needs and dreams of your customers with the culture and capability of your company is key. The smartest companies are using their customer survey to understand both opportunities and challenges around specific employee deliverables vital to the customer journey    

9. Avoid survey fatigue

Don’t fall into the survey fatigue trap and only ask every every 5th or 10th customer for their view – whatever is appropriate for your business. If you have an engagement vehicle of your own e.g. a branded app that customers already use, embed your survey in there for extra exposure without spamming people

10. Act on what you find

While 95% of companies collect feedback, only a third actually use it to improve their customer experience. Even more importantly, less than 5% tell customers about the changes they’ve then made based on their comments. Tell your customers what action you’re taking as a result of their feedback and then make sure you do it!

Surveys are a key part of the big business of Customer Experience Management and Voice of Customer programmes – but they have become a victim of their own success.

There’s a wide range of both structured and unstructured customer feedback sources including complaints data, focus groups, contact centre conversations, social media feeds, online reviews and employee/front line customer dialogues to give a full picture or barometer of how customers are feeling. Your survey should be just one tool, supporting a wider customer experience measurement model.


[1] A 2007 Stanford University study