CX Mistake #2: Over Relying on Customer Surveys

In this series of posts, we examine some of the top mistakes companies make in their customer experience management efforts. This post examines mistake #2: Over Relying on Customer Surveys. While customer insight can be extremely valuable, annual customer satisfaction and other types of surveys that are a mainstay for many companies often deliver little value.

Asking a barrage of multiple-choice questions to customers might have made sense five years ago, but it’s an ineffective use of a key asset, customer feedback. Companies need to abandon a number of outdated assumptions that drive current market research practices:

  • Data and insights provide value. They don’t. What provides value is having people make more customer-insightful decisions and take more customer-insightful actions.
  • Companies have limited access to information about customers. They don’t. There’s a wealth of information available about customers beyond periodic surveys from sources like call center records, interaction data, employee feedback, and social media.
  • There’s no easy way to analyze unstructured data. There is. The primary tools of market research organizations have been multiple choice survey questions. Why? Because that was all they could easily analyze. Text analytics tools are making it easier to mine sentiment, topics, and other key data from the rich vein of unstructured data.
  • Meaningful insights require deep analysis. They don’t. If you don’t understand the business, then you need a lot of data and statistically significant results to draw conclusion. People across the company have context for interpreting and using much less data.

Here are some tips for avoiding this mistake:

  • Scrap your existing surveys. If your customer feedback systems aren’t driving customer-centric decisions and actions across your company, then just stop doing what you’re doing. Divert the time and money to develop a more effective voice of the customer (VoC) program. People will defend the status-quo, arguing the need for comparisons with previous periods, but comparing metrics with historical data is not nearly as valuable as generating actionable insights for future improvements.
  • Build a complete VoC program. Satisfaction and relationship studies tend to be presentation-oriented, periodic events, but strong VoC programs need to be continuous and feed operational processes. Companies need to build VoC programs that encompass what we call the six Ds of closed-loop VoC programs: Detect, Disseminate, Diagnose, Discuss, Design, and Deploy. These efforts often require a customer insight and action (CIA) platform to disseminate the insights.
  • Identify three areas of insights. Asking customers for feedback in a survey can help organizations spot problems, make adjustments on existing processes, and find opportunities to improve their current offerings. But simple surveys are not a good mechanism for uncovering unmet needs to drive new innovations. Also, surveys often ignore non-customers who can fall into several categories such as ex-customers, prospects who are not customers, or segments you’d like to target in the future. That’s why you need to have separate insight strategies for operational feedback, innovation opportunities, and non-customer intelligence.
  • Act like you know something. Stop treating every customer like a stranger when you’re asking for feedback. You should know what they own and what interactions they’ve had, so only ask them relevant questions. Also, you should adjust what you ask based on what they tell you and stop making every customer go through your barrage of the same 50 questions.
  • Ask why and how. It’s interesting to know if a customer is satisfied or likely to recommend you, but that information alone doesn’t help you make improvements. Make sure to ask why they feel that way or how they think you can improve. These types of open-ended questions can provide immense diagnostic information. If you have a large number of clients, then you will likely need to invest in text analytics capabilities.
  • Focus on actions, not questions. When you’re trying to figure out what feedback to collect, don’t start by worrying about the questions you ask. Instead, you need to focus on the actions you plan to take. As companies spend more time helping employees take actions, the insights they need will become clearer.
  • Tap into rich veins of unstructured data. Asking customers for feedback is a valuable mechanism, but there are many additional opportunities for insight. Every call into the call center, online chat with a tech agent, note from a salesman, or observations from front-line employees contains rich insights. And in some cases, social media can be insightful as well.

The bottom line: Market research processes need an overhaul

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

3 Responses to CX Mistake #2: Over Relying on Customer Surveys

  1. Bruce, as a customer experience manager, I am responsible for driving CES results on a daily basis. What I find frustrating is when we get scored lower for things we cannot control such as able to find sizes (not enough inventory). Why do you think these questions are on here affecting us on a store level? Thanks, Miriam

  2. Jim Tincher says:


    LOVE the article! I especially appreciate the philosophy behind it – don’t put your VOC on auto-pilot, but instead make it intentional. Intentional programs are not event-based, and are centered around the customer, requiring the components to fit into an overall program.

    But a small quibble (and related to Miriam’s comment above). While there is definitely a tendency to over-rely on CSAT surveys, they do serve a very valuable purpose in multi-location service companies, such as with Miriam’s organization.

    In these types of companies, much of the customer experience is reliant on the customer-facing staff. So these surveys help to understand what is happening at that local level so that organizations can do the coaching and hiring needed to establish the customer centricity at that local level. While that’s not necessarily contradictory to your “Scrap your existing surveys” point, it certainly could be taken that way.

    Surveys are a key part of the toolbox. But I definitely agree that they are only a part of the tool set, and need to be reviewed regularly.

    Jim Tincher
    Heart of the Customer

  3. Tony Ahn says:

    Hi Bruce, I think that while customer surveys are somewhat limited in the information they can gather, that a good Customer Experience Measurement Program can fill in a lot of the gaps. Of course, for the uninitiated, there are risks to customer experience measurement, but companies doing the research necessary to find the good ones will be well rewarded with the information they provide.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: