Customer surveys can help companies measure customer loyalty and identify opportunities for operational improvement and innovation.  Done right, they leave customers feeling valued and your organization better equipped to serve them.

To give your business the best chance of running an effective survey, besides applying technical best practices it helps to know how the process may feel to members of your organization along the way.

Below are five common emotions we see our clients experience in the course of performing a customer survey, along with tips on how to manage them:

  1. Desire to Gather Customer Feedback. There is often a specific event or need that triggers the desire to perform a customer survey.  Perhaps customer attrition just spiked, your close rate dipped, or your marketing team suspects customer needs are shifting.  This desire for feedback – and the scope of your survey! – may grow, as various stakeholders think of other questions they’d love to have answered by customers.

How to Manage: The desire for feedback is a hallmark of healthy organizations and should be encouraged.  However, when it comes to customer surveys less is often more.  To minimize the risk of survey fatigue, exercise restraint on the number of questions you include in the survey, and make it easy to understand and complete.

  1. Fear of Hearing It. Initial momentum for performing a survey can stall when stakeholders start thinking about the downside.  Will customers confirm our worst fears?  Are they generally dissatisfied?  And if they are, could the feedback results hurt my reputation or performance ratings?

How to Manage: Frame the survey as a tool to help the organization improve and build on its strengths, and not as a way to single out teams or individuals for poor performance.  If employees fear the results will be used against them, they will look for opportunities to undermine or ignore the survey rather than acting on the feedback.

  1. Surprise: It’s Not All Bad! Companies who have found a way to survive in competitive markets generally have more satisfied customers than dissatisfied customers.  Yet senior executives are often surprised, even skeptical when they see the results of a customer survey.  Are we really doing that well?  Because escalated complaints land on their desk and customer praise may not reach them, they may have acquired a false read on levels of client dissatisfaction.

How to Manage: The biggest risk of receiving surprisingly positive results, is complacency.  If our customers are generally satisfied, why change?  Among other compelling reasons, there appears to be a positive return on customer experience excellence, both in terms of company growth rates, according to Bain & Company research, and stock performance, according to Watermark Consulting.

  1. Confidence that you have a more accurate, objective read on what you are doing well and what could be done better for your customers. A well-run survey takes much of the guesswork and debate out of what customers want from you.

How to Manage: Use this confidence to build a case for change.  There is no substitute for the direct voice of your end customers, especially when your survey results combine quantitative ratings with verbatim comments.  The survey data can be used to help set priorities for product and service improvement.

  1. Commitment. Armed with trustworthy feedback data from your customers and a case for change, your organization is now willing and able to act.

How to Manage: Prioritize customer improvement initiatives by identifying projects that are both meaningful for your customers and feasible for you to change.  Track and then tell your customers about the changes you make.  It lets them know their feedback matters and you value their business.  Here’s a great example of a “you spoke, we listened” web page from Cypress Semiconductor.

When your organization not only knows how to execute customer surveys, but it also prepared for how each step will feel along the way, it will help you better manage the process and get the benefits from the feedback process that your customers and, ultimately, your company, deserve.

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