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Surveys are dead. Here's the changing face of customer feedback

Surveys in the Dying Breath – The Changing Face of Customer Feedback

AvatarCloudCherry | March 10, 2016

Customers are changing dynamically and so too must the way we collect feedback from them. In other words, survey simply won’t cut it on its own anymore.

Put two marketers in a room together and there won’t be many things they agree on – we marketers tend to be contrary like that – but one thing we all seem to be able to agree on is that customers have changed immensely and are still changing. Of course, that’s probably because the writing’s on the wall for all to see – in big, bold, fluorescent, block letters.

So, customers have changed. Then why do we all insist on trying to use the same old, tired methods to collect customer feedback via surveys? Sadly, it seems that we are so stuck in our ways that our data collection methods are being left behind as customers speed on past us, leaving us to eat their dust.

    Customers have changed, yet companies still use the same methods to collect feedback, namely surveys, which are proving more and more to be ineffective.


Are we trying to say surveys are dead? Well, yes and no. Some surveys still work well, but most are going the way of the dinosaurs because if we don’t change our approach to collecting feedback from customers, we might as well give up and go home.

The Importance of Customer Feedback

Everyone knows that customer feedback is important. But just in case you aren’t convinced, here are a few reasons why you need to be collecting customer feedback:

Listening to your customers is basically the only way you can improve your product or service, thereby creating an offer they are actually interested in;

• Feedback is the best way to gauge the satisfaction of your customers;

• It offers you the information to improve the customer experience, which should be at the top of your list of priorities;

• You can use the information to improve customer retention;

• The data can be used to improve the decision-making process and, thereby, improve your bottom line;

Clearly, obtaining customer feedback is essential to the success of any business. Well, obtaining it, analyzing it, and taking action on it. After all, having a bunch of data sitting there won’t do your business much good unless you analyze it and take action on the results.

Collecting Customer Feedback

Traditionally, surveys were used to collect customer feedback. In the “good old days” of traditional market research, interviewers would go around with paper customer feedback forms and ask respondents questions. Now, everything is done online.

We have to point out that some companies still employ interviewers because the response rates can get better – it’s harder to say no to someone asking you to fill in a questionnaire – we rarely say no because we want to help the interviewer do their job (some companies pay their interviewers by the questionnaire, so we try to help out).

Compare that to an online questionnaire and how easy it is to not answer the questions. The only difference between the interviewers of yore and those of today is that they are usually equipped with tablets rather than paper questionnaires, making the need for a data entry department practically null and void.

Coming back to customer feedback collection methods, surveys still pretty much reign supreme – a Forrester report stated that “96% of companies that say they have a formal program for gathering and responding to customer’s feedback use structured surveys.” But there’s a good chance that this won’t be the case for long. At least not in their current iteration.

    Forrester says that 96% of companies which collect customer feedback use a structured survey to do so.


The Problem with Surveys

There are a lot of issues with surveys, and these issues significantly reduce the value of feedback surveys. In some cases, they make them a complete waste of time.

1. People don’t have the Time or Inclination to fill out Surveys

Any survey that takes longer than 15 minutes to fill out is going to end up on the trash pile because people simply don’t have the time or patience to answer that many questions. We are living in the age of instant gratification and very few people are willing to take the time to fill out a survey. Instead, they want the best customer experience without having to do anything to get it. And, in a way, it’s a natural reaction. After all, it’s our responsibility as marketers to know how to deliver that great customer experience. The biggest conundrum is how we can deliver said experience if we don’t know what customers want.

    Customers want a great experience but they don’t want to be subjected to surveys, which makes life difficult for marketers.


2. People are Experiencing Survey Fatigue

Another problem with surveys is that people are just getting tired of them. Let’s be honest, since the introduction of online surveys, every business is surveying its customers. Filling out a survey is no longer something rare, as it once used to be. Now, almost any company site you visit, you will be asked to “take a moment and share your opinion.” At first, this may have been fun for people, but it has now become not only a chore but an irritant.

    Billions of surveys are conducted every year, which has led to people simply being tired of being asked to fill out surveys.

This high volume of surveys has led to a significant decrease in response rates – Forrester says that response rates can be as low as 2% and a 20% response rate is incredibly rare.

3. Surveys don’t offer Representative Data

Besides the low response rate, there’s also a problem with unrepresentative data. Most people who will take the time to fill out a survey are either ecstatic with the product or service and feel they owe the company, or they are so angry and displeased, they want the company to know precisely how unsatisfied they are. So, you get two data extremes that are very far from being representative.

    People with extreme views are often the ones to fill out surveys (they either really love your product or really hate it), which means the data is not representative of your customers.

4. Surveys are too Long and Complicated, leading to Satisficing

Surveys have also gotten longer and more complicated, which has led to people just giving up halfway through or rushing through the survey without even reading the questions. They just answer randomly, also known as satisficing, which means they don’t bother to answer what they really believe – they just go through the questionnaire, giving any old answer just to get it over with.

    Many companies think that because the software permits it, they should make really long, involved and complicated surveys, which only serves to scare people away or leads to false information.

5. Incentives don’t Work as well as you might think

Some companies try to increase response rates by offering incentives, but even that’s problematic. Customers still engage in satisficing. In fact, they’re even more inclined to do so because they want to claim the incentive with as little work as possible.

    Incentives aren’t as effective as they might seem, because many people just rush through, providing random answers, to fill out the survey as quickly as possible so they can get their prize.

6. Surveys don’t really help you Discover what Customers are trying to tell You

By their very structured nature, surveys limit the insights you can collect. This is because you never really find out what customers want to tell you. You’ll only get answers to what you thought of asking. This is why it is critical for customers to be able to connect with a brand whenever they feel so that they can share their feedback.

A survey requires a customer to remember their experience well enough to give accurate answers. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. This means that when you are trying to push a survey at a particular time with particular questions, you are failing to collect a lot of essential data.

    Surveys only help you get answers to the questions you’re asking, and are ineffective at finding out exactly what customers are trying to tell you.


For example, browse Amazon for a bit and read through the reviews. You’ll find quite a few negative reviews that don’t reference the product, but the delivery. There was a problem. The package was damaged. Delivery was late. And similar issues. These things have nothing to do with the product itself or the experience of purchasing off Amazon – in fact, both those aspects might have been amazing – but the customer only really remembers the delivery problem they had and therefore review accordingly, thus damaging the product’s image, even if their issues isn’t actually with the product.

And if we were to ask those people to fill in a survey, what do you think the biggest issue on their mind would be? The delayed delivery, of course. And this negative experience will color the remainder of their interactions with your company, even if they were all amazing.

Overcoming the Problems with Surveys

So, we still need to collect customer feedback because we need to know how to improve the experience, but how can we do that if surveys are dead? Are surveys’ really dead, though? Actually, not really. Long-form surveys are certainly dead – at least they should be for any company that actually wants to obtain feedback. And so are surveys as the sole feedback collection tool.

However, surveys still have a place in customer feedback collection, but they should only be used in conjunction with other collection methods.

The key to successfully gathering customer feedback is to make yourself available to your customers using as many channels as possible. You need to expand your reach and establish a dialogue with your customers to build powerful relationships, and you can’t do that with just a survey, which is more akin to an interrogation than a dialogue.

    Give customers the opportunity to get in touch with you via as many communication channels as possible so you can start a dialogue and build a powerful relationship.

Thus, you need to give your customers a direct line of contact with your business through online chat and email. Also, don’t forget social media platforms, where you can find a lot of unsolicited feedback, which is the best kind because it’ll be the most representative reflection of a customer’s true feelings. Also, make sure that you have a customer care team to interact with your customers in real time, providing timely answers and rapid solutions.

The fact is that in today’s technology-driven world, you have to provide your customers with as many ways of communicating with you as possible. This means employing a wide range of channels, but also encouraging customers to provide feedback. And yes, surveys still have a role to play, but it should be a very small one, and only if they are used with other tools. On their own, they can harm your business more than help it by providing skewed or even erroneous data, which could lead to you taking the wrong action and significantly affecting your bottom line – and not in a good way.

    Traditional, long-form surveys are dead, but shorter surveys have a place, in conjunction with many other tools, in a multichannel strategy geared towards building a relationship with your customers.


Why don’t you try out our omni-channel customer feedback platform now?