The dreaded survey email

"You have been chosen to fill in a survey for our company!"

Really? Does a company really think that their customers will be so flattered that they will spend 20 minutes of their time filling in a survey?

"Please click one of these two buttons to indicate whether your service was good"; Clicks button; "Please login to your account in order to continue"; No chance, see you.

I even had this fantastic announcement when I called someone the other day, "we would like to hear your feedback at the end of this call, the feedback will be 1 question and will take no longer than 2 minutes". That is one long question!

Companies are only just catching up to 30 years ago

20-30 years ago, companies started realising that customers were picky, service was not always great and that despite the best efforts, they did not always deliver services in the most efficient way. Customer Service became a thing. It's not that there was no service before that, but before mail, phone or internet sales were a big thing, you simply went back to the shop to tell the manager how the service was or better still, if you didn't like it, you didn't go back!

With the internet having been a big retail channel for probably 15 years or so, some companies are only catching up to 30 year old customer service and most of them are doing it very badly. The examples above are just some of the ways in which companies are not engaging with their customers. I would be interested to know the percentage of conversions of all the feedback requests that come from, say, Pizza Hut, to the number of people who finish a questionnaire.

Getting it wrong

The first thing the companies get wrong is that they assume people want to fill in feedback. They don't. The most likely feedback you get is negative, everyone should know that. If I suffer really badly, I will either simply move to another company or I will vent to you, especially in an email where it's easier to be angry! Sometimes people will feedback exceptional service but in high volume sales like pizza delivery, that is unlikely to happen very often - why? because I don't expect exceptional service from pizza delivery or tool shops or ebay, I just expect normal service. I expect reasonable prices (which I mostly know before-hand) and I expect the item to be delivered roughly when expected and be as it was described online. If it is, that is cool. It is not exceptional and I will not write a feedback survey - that is just normal business.

Not making it worth the customer's time

Some companies might understand that people do not normally want to give feedback but they still want some, so guess what? If you want feedback, offer people something for their time - enter them into a draw for an iPad or 20% off their next order or whatever. Something that says, "we want feedback, you want a reward for your time, let's help both of us out!". Why on earth would someone simply say, "your feedback is really important to us so please fill in this 20 minute survey"?

Single feedback channel

Another mistake is that for some companies, these kinds of surveys are the only channel that a customer has to vent. Take a leaf out of Great Western's book and have a staffed Twitter account that replies to people, usually within a minute or 2. You get quick customer feedback, they get affirmation that you hear them and understand and are feeding stuff back! It also removes the pain from the next part, getting the questions right!

Poor survey questions

I literally shudder when I read some survey questions. They read like they were written by someone who honestly has no idea about how to ask good questions. They don't even read like the author has even been on a course to understand surveys. Ignoring the fact that many ask too many questions, the actual content of the questions is poor which means people give up or worse still, they answer the questions in unexpected ways, which distort the results and don't achieve the aim of the survey, which I would hope is improvement. Let me give you the one that almost always appears in surveys and which is mostly useless unless asked correctly:

"On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our company to a friend". I actually read this one most recently in Great Western's survey and told them why it was a poor question. Firstly what is a scale of 1 to 10? At most you will have 5 views of a company: very poor, slightly poor, neutral, quite good and very good. Secondly, when asking if I would recommend a train company to a friend, it would depend whether they are getting a train from Paddington to Bristol, in which case I would definitely recommend the only company that provides that service (unless they were so exceptionally poor that I would recommend the coach or a taxi instead!). What it needs to read is more specific, something like, "after your last interaction with our company, did it leave you feeling that we are: A great company; A company that is meeting expectations; A company that is making mistakes or a Useless company?"

The missing middle

A lot of surveys make assumptions about the way the question will be answered and often either miss out the "N/A" option e.g. "Were customer services helpful?" - Don't know! I didn't call them. Or otherwise they miss the fact that you can't measure everything between the spectrum of good and bad or perhaps what I consider normal is what you consider good. For instance, how was the service when your pizza was delivered? "It was absolutely amazing! The guy arrived in his car and gave me my pizza. I can't describe how happy I was" (said no-one ever). The question should be worded with the top answer like, "I received my order with no problems".

Writing the survey for the company instead of the Customer

Honestly, if you surveys are long-winded and complex, the chances are your customer service system is fundamentally broken. You should already know 90% of how your service is by talking to people, monitoring your call centre systems, listening in on some calls etc. If you have to ask ultra-detailed questions then you have already lost, you will get nothing more than a load of information that is already not matched to probably what you want to know.

Even if the survey is not long-winded and complex, you absolutely must think about how the customer will approach the survey in their mind and how you can match that to what you want to know. Ultimately, is our brand strong or are you choosing us over our competitors. Then you should ask simple questions like, "when you are planning a holiday do you ever choose the airline or do you simply pick the cheapest flights to a destination" if 'yes', "Do you consider our airline to be your first choice?" "Why?: Price, flexibility, offers etc.".

In so many surveys, the questions look like they relate to internal issues that the customer is both blissfully unaware and more importantly, does not care about. Don't ask about detailed use of the loyalty scheme, you should already know. Don't ask 25 questions about customer service, just send "secret shoppers" on some of your flights or into some of your shops or whatever. God forbid you could enable your staff to own their areas and give them a reason to make it good off their own back rather than controlling the organisation and then trying to monitor your way to good service - you have already failed.

Bottom line

Before you even consider sending out a survey, do something that appears to be controversial in the extreme! Go and talk to your customers regularly. If you are a Customer Service Manager who doesn't do this, you should be fired!