Customer Surveys Are Killing Your Business

I was on the phone with Sprint, one of the  major cell phone companies in the US.

Unlike so many other calls with similar companies, this was a great experience. Surprise!

Most of us know what it's like to have to jump through digital hoops just to get a human on the phone. For me, deciding between whether to press the number which corresponds to my issue, versus pressing a number that is for a non-corresponding issue, but will get a human on the phone quicker is a no brainer. Repeatedly yelling “agent!”  into the phone until I’m put on hold to wait for a human is my standard move.

This time, though, it was easy.

I immediately got to a friendly and attentive agent, who answered my questions and gave useful suggestions. She was helpful and amiable. I was pleased to not have to stay on the phone a minute longer than necessary.  

And then, right before the call was over, the friendly representative asked me to hold, “to make sure all of my questions were properly answered and all concerns addressed.”

I knew where this was going: I’d be transferred to a customer service survey. I went with it just to see their process.

I am nosy like that.

Usually, after speaking to customer service, you’re asked  to “hold for a survey.” This customer service rep was smoother than that. She had to be vague, so I couldn't really know what I was holding for after I had already been helped.

Then, second rep came to the phone and asked me if the previous rep had addressed my concerns, and if she was friendly. Useless questions, which I quickly answered and rushed off the phone.

Sprint finally realized: people don't stay on the phone for a damn survey! And, they decided, tricking people into it would be a worthy and profitable idea.

There were months of deliberation, head honcho meetings and a hefty budget dedicated to this effort. How do I know? Instead of one person handling each customer, now there were two people: the initial customer service rep, and the second rep who’d “survey me.”

There are several ways this company and others who do similar tricks are compromising their own success. Let’s break it down.

First: most customers don't take surveys. Here is why:

As a customer, you just gave me extra work to do. I already did my “work” by giving you my money, time, effort and energy. I did my work by becoming and remaining your customer. And I’m doing work by dealing with issues via your customer service. My work is done. As far as I’m concerned, you, the company, works for me now. Your minimum work is to deliver on your promise in exchange for my trust and my money.

You’re too basic. People want to fill out a survey when they feel an emotion: either positive or negative emotion. Delivering on your promise is not noteworthy, it’s not inspiring, and it doesn’t evoke any distinguishable emotion. It’s not enough to act on.

I don't work with business owners who tell me that their goal is to satisfy their customers.

Satisfying your customer is the bare minimum. It’s the lowest bar you can hit as a business.

There is a saying: “they can love you or hate you, but there is no money in between.” Very few things are more true in business.

Companies don't do anything with the surveys. If companies really listened to their customers, they wouldn’t be outsourcing the most important aspect of their business: servicing their customers.

Customer acquisition dollars are spent with urgency and ease, yet customer nurturing is done by cheap labor in Bangladesh. Customer service is treated as a burdensome and inconvenient aspect of business and often invested into the least.

Companies are digitizing, outsourcing, and cutting budgets for customer service instead of pouring every resource into it. Customer service surveys quickly disappear into company black holes. “This call may be recorded for training and quality purposes” is the exact indicator that there are no training or quality practices present.

Second - why duping people into taking surveys (or duping them into anything else for that matter) works against you in the long run:

Trust is broken. Healthy business stands on the voluntary exchange of resources (money, time, attention) and value (product or service). This exchange is built on mutual trust between the business and it’s customers. As soon as the customer feels a hint of manipulation, trust is broken and customers hold back their affinity and their dollars.

Tricks might lead to short term dollars. But deceit will never lead to long term profits. You’re tricking yourself.

Your company culture is toxic. If you are deceiving and manipulating your customers, I know you do the same with your employees. Most businesses I’ve worked with and for, put their customers before their employees. This is one of the most impeding business mistakes, by the way -  but that’s for another article.

The above mentioned phone company sat down and plotted the whole sequence of how they would trick people into staying on the phone for the survey. That’s manipulation. This company probably created a whole department for this and have normalized manipulation in their company. At this point, it’s a part of their culture, which is destructive.  

It’s a lose-lose. The intention of opening a dialogue and soliciting feedback from your customers is a vital part of brand building. However, surveys are not the vehicle for this, even if instead of finagling, you incentivise people into taking them.

Feedback that actually helps your business comes from engaged customers who care to make your business better, not the ones who don't mind going through 50 clicks to get a “chance to win” some cash or a cup of coffee! The low-quality information you get when you finagle people into taking surveys actually harms your brand.

Research shows that 80% of customers abandon surveys half way through, and over 66% of customers prefer to actively reach out to give feedback.

Another problem with surveys is, they are focused on the marketer and not on a customer. They are designed to improve marketing systems, instead of revealing customers’ hearts and minds -- which, by the way, would constitute true marketing.

So, in the end, you’re manipulating and annoying your customers, and still not getting the answers you want. It’s a losing proposition.

So, how do you as a business measure your customer service departments’ performance? How do you keep a finger on the pulse of your business without tricking your customers into taking useless surveys?

Customer service surveys were first created in an era of information shortage. There was no other way for businesses to know who their customers were and what these customers thought about their product or service. But we live in an overflow of information now. And most of this information is under our fingertips. Your Point Of Sale and Customer Relationship Management systems provide a wealth of information on your customers and their psychographics, if you care to use it.  

Investing in your customer service teams and turning them into skilled explorers of people and their emotions is another way to get instant feedback. People like to address their needs and wants in the moment with people who care to listen, empathise and validate them.

Lastly, get out of desperation and scarcity mode. Get rid of customer retention departments, which do nothing but lie and bluff people. Retaining means to confine people into your service or product. That’s not your goal if you’re building a lasting business. Creating an irresistible experience around your product and service is.