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Don’t let customer satisfaction surveys tarnish your brand

The idea of customer satisfaction surveys originated with good intent. Businesses wanted to know how their customer’s felt so they could make things better. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, things went wrong.

Now, customers are surveyed incessantly. Some companies hound their buyers for responses after every interaction and then don’t listen to the answers. Buyers are sick of surveys and ignore the endless requests to participate.

When it comes to customer feedback, there’s more at stake than short-term business growth. Getting it right can build your brand while doing it wrong can backfire.

Is your survey program helping or hurting?

Done poorly, data collection methods like customer satisfaction surveys can actually damage a brand rather than enhancing it.

Strong brands don’t happen by accident. People don’t just magically gravitate to one company over another for no good reason. They choose brands because they know, like, and trust what they stand for.

If you want your business to be the one that wins the hearts of your ideal buyers, you listen to them carefully. What do prospects want? What makes them happy or unhappy? What kind of customer experience do they crave? Who else is delivering that – or coming up short?

These are the kinds of questions we need to explore with intense curiosity. Customer feedback helps expose the answers, if (and only if) we gather that feedback in the right ways.

Good brands are founded on trust

Some people call a brand a “trust mark.” It represents a promised customer experience or level of quality that buyers come to expect. They rely on the consistency of that experience to make purchase decisions. When a business fails to deliver on an implied promise, customers wind up feeling betrayed and upset.

What does a customer satisfaction survey have to do with trust or betrayal?  This: simply asking a question implies you care about the answer.

Do you? What if it’s apparent to customers from the way your surveys are executed that you’re not really looking for legitimate feedback, but something else entirely? How can buyers trust a company that clearly doesn’t want real feedback, but only wants to report that it gets high marks for customer satisfaction?

Mixed messages

If your satisfaction survey program is skewed to entice buyers to rate your business highly no matter what, then what’s the point? Bragging rights won’t do you any good when all your “highly satisfied” customers go somewhere else because your business wasn’t paying attention to what they needed. Read this guide: how to measure customer satisfaction.

Here’s an example, one I’m sure you’ve seen in action as many times as I have:

You make a retail purchase and the cashier hands you a receipt, circling the survey. “Please rate me a 5,” they say. Or maybe it’s right there on the paper: “If you call this number and rate us a 5, we’ll give you $10 off your next purchase.”

Why would a 5-star review be worth more than a 1 or a 2? Doesn’t that business really care what kind of experience you had? Don’t they know that negative feedback is exponentially more valuable than positive because it’s actionable and productive?

What about your business? Does the way you gather feedback make buyers think that what they have to say doesn’t matter – unless it’s positive?

If your brand promise includes traits like being customer-friendly, highly responsive, caring, or compassionate, then shouldn’t you want to know what customers have to say regardless of whether it’s good or bad?

Suggesting anything else conflicts with pro-customer brand messages, undermining buyers’ trust and your credibility.

Stop asking for the 5

An endless quest for the top box does a disservice to customers and your business. Saying “Rate me a 5” is ultimately useless to your company and it’s borderline offensive to customers. It’s a blatant way of telegraphing the message that, “We care what you think, only as long as it’s positive.”

In addition, to the impact on buyers, employees are often added fallout. They become collateral damage when their performance is measured on flimsy ratings won through bribes and incentives.

How you truly differentiate between top performers and sub-par staff if everyone is a 5? If you don’t know, you probably have some pretty unhappy people on your team who are delivering less than stellar brand experiences for your buyers.

Customer survey programs are expensive and labor intensive. Why waste time, energy, and resources gathering flawed data? What you need instead is answers to the tough questions, and the discipline to act on them.

If you hope to ignite growth in your business and build a truly customer-centric brand, it’s time to stop chasing 5s and to start listening, really listening, to buyers. The ones you’ll want to keep–the loyal, repeat buyers who become brand advocates–don’t need bribes. They just need to be heard.

Break the cycle

Turn customer feedback into a brand-building tool by changing your approach. Improve the quality of the feedback you capture, making it more actionable and productive with these tips:

  1. Be selective in who you listen to because not all feedback carries the same weight. Filter out feedback from people who don’t fit your ideal buyer profile. Focus instead on capturing input from the kinds of buyers you want to see more of.
  2. Ask fewer questions that matter more. You don’t need a 20 or 30 question survey to know how your business is performing. Save the deep dive for selected groups of respondents whose input you consider to be highly valuable.
    For everyone else, develop 3-5 simple questions to gauge the quality of customer experiences. Are buyers happy, frustrated, or indifferent? Why? What could you do better? That’s what you need to know.
  3. Ask less frequently to avoid survey fatigue. People are sick of survey requests, as I’m sure you can see from consistently declining response rates. Don’t irritate them even more by asking every. single. time.
  4. Find alternative feedback mechanisms. Step back from those ubiquitous point-of-sale or post-transaction survey requests. Instead, observe customer behavior and study other sources of feedback.
    Use tools like Thematic to understand customer sentiments in free-form questions, online comments, and social media. Capture anecdotal feedback from sales conversations and other employee interactions.
  5. Act on what you learn. Once you’ve amped up your listening skills, do something with the results. Let customers know when you make changes in response to their feedback, and thank them for being active participants in improving your business.

That is the essence of brand engagement and it shows you respect and value your buyers.

About the author

Joellyn Sargent, CEO of the Claravon Group, is a strategic advisor to business owners and executives building vibrant, profitable enterprises. Her work sparks dramatic growth by integrating strategy, branding, and customer experience with a powerful and productive mindset. Learn more: @JoellynSargent or

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