Not Another @#$&! Survey

We all do it. Come on, admit it. I do it a lot.

You’re at the store and while giving you your receipt (which is probably three times as long as it needs to be), the cashier grabs a pen, circles or highlights a QR code or website address, forces a smile (if you’re lucky), and asks you to take a survey to “Let us know how we’re doing.”

Do you take those surveys? Probably not. I suspect that most people do what I do: toss the receipt in the nearest trash can.

Considering that I earn my living in the customer experience industry and like to think of myself as a customer advocate, it seems a little disingenuous of me to ignore those attempts to capture my voice as a customer.

Survey fatigue

The problem is that those sorts of surveys actually contribute to poor customer experience. Why should I provide a retailer with feedback and information that generates no tangible value for me?


I suspect that most customer surveys just add to a stockpile of data that no one looks at. This is just data collection for the sake of data collection, an exercise undertaken so someone can check the box when asked if the company has a program for capturing customer feedback. And when every retailer does it, the impact is the same as it would be if no one did. The surveys become meaningless. We have reached a point of survey fatigue.

Stop asking, start listening

When the average response rate to customer surveys tops off at around 10 percent, isn’t it time to stop doing them? Or at least stop doing them the way we are? If we really want to develop effective strategies for capturing the voices of our customers, it’s time to stop asking questions and start listening instead.

That doesn’t mean that surveys can’t be a useful tool. If used correctly, they can be a great way to start a conversation with your customers.
When engaged in a consulting gig, I often use surveys as a way to develop an understanding of how people feel and what works (or doesn’t) with the processes and technology the organization is using. These surveys get response rates of 60 to 90 percent and provide a lot of useful insights. Rather than blanketing a large group of people with generic questions, I target the surveys to discrete groups, with questions that relate to their day-to-day activities and that demonstrate an understanding of what the respondents are trying to accomplish and the challenges they face.


Surveys and voice-of-the-customer strategies should not just be about answering the question “How are we doing?” They should ask, “How can we improve things for you?”

Know the customer, help the customer

Every time you reach out to customers, you should demonstrate that you have listened well enough to know their needs and that you can help them. As a minimum, to demonstrate that you know the customer, tailor the conversation around the following topics:

  • What products they use.
  • What interactions they’ve had with your organization.
  • What’s important to them.

Then you need to demonstrate that, if they provide you with feedback and share information, you can add value and help them in the following ways:

  • Making their lives easier.
  • Reassuring them and/or directing to them more information.
  • Teaching them things that might be helpful.
  • Rewarding them.

Gathering useful information and opinions from your customers requires you to do more than simply gather data. The purpose of the exercise should be to develop an understanding of their needs and challenges. By responding in ways that add value, you demonstrate that you understand your customers, which will help you capture their true voice.

1 thought on “Not Another @#$&! Survey

  1. Good points, Alan. A lot of surveys pretend to be interested in what I have to say. But they’re really just looking for a rating. “How did we do?” is a question about the company, not about me.

    Josh Bernoff recently posted an insightful piece about surveys that mix “How did we do?” with “Tell us about your experience.” In so doing, he says, such surveys fail to elicit any meaningful feedback at all.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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