How to Choose the Right Type of Customer Service Survey

Customer service surveys are getting confusing.

There's an alphabet soup of options available to companies who want to survey their customers. They all have their proponents and detractors. It's tough to figure out what to do.

Here's an example of a typical dilemma. An operations manager for a financial services firm recently asked me, "Do you think we should do NPS?"

How you would answer that question?

I've shared a brief overview of the situation below. You'll also see a short video overview of the three major survey types: CSAT, NPS, and CES.

Finally, my answer is at the bottom of this post. Do you agree with my conclusion?

Background Information

The operations manager works for a company that serves the vehicle financing industry. They provide a suite of services to banks that issue auto loans and finance leases. The company is located in a country where local regulations and strong relationships give them a near-monopoly in their market.

They have approximately 3,000 customers, but the bulk of their revenue comes from 30 key clients. The operations manager told me these clients are the ones they really want to get feedback from. In particular, he wanted to understand the top problems faced by these 30 clients so they could improve their service.

The company currently offers a customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey after a client contacts their customer service department. Like many large account relationships, the person contacting customer service (i.e. the user) isn't typically the executive signing the contract.

So, is an NPS survey right for this company? 

This short video primer explains the pros and cons of the three major survey types, including NPS. Watch the video and then see if you can answer the manager's question.

Choosing the Right Survey

So, what advice would you give to the operations manager?

The key is to focus on your goal. Understand what you are trying to accomplish, and then select the right tool for the job.

My advice was to avoid adding another survey altogether. His goal was to gather feedback from 30 key clients. That's a small enough group that he could ask each client directly. They might even consider hosting client focus groups or forums if these clients were willing.

Asking customers directly is one of several ways you can can capture customer feedback without using a survey.

I also advised the manager that an NPS survey wouldn't be a good fit with his goals. NPS surveys are great for companies that want to grow through word of mouth referrals. However, this company had a near monopoly on their particular service, so word of mouth wasn't an issue.

You can find more ideas on my new customer service survey resource page.

Why You Should Stop Trying to Motivate Customer Service Employees

Nate Brown's conference session was packed.

People had crowded into the room to learn about gamification, the latest trend in employee motivation. The participants were customer service leaders attending ICMI's 2015 Contact Center Expo. In customer service, motivation is always a hot topic.

Brown was awesome. He led us in games and contests. People got involved. They were energized and loud. 

I felt bad for whatever session was going on in the room next door. I imagined them listening to someone drone on over a lame PowerPoint. Surely, those people heard the ruckus from our session and realized they had chosen poorly. 

Despite all the fun, I knew we'd be back here again next year. 

Perhaps gamification would be replaced by a new motivational fad. The scene would still be the same. People will crowd into the room in hopes of learning, once and for all, how to motivate their customer service employees.

They'd be wasting their time.


Why Motivation Isn't a Problem

Why do we try so hard to motivate customer service employees?

The easy answer is we want them to provide better service. OK, but why wouldn't they do that anyway?

That's really the million dollar question. 

We spend so much time on the how, as in "How do I motivate my employees." There's not nearly enough time spent thinking about the why, as in "What aren't my employees motivated?"

I've talked to thousands of employees over the years. They've consistently told me two things about motivation:

  1. They love making customers happy.
  2. They find it demotivating when they can't.

Compare these two statements with job satisfaction data from Benchmark Portal:

Job satisfaction begins to dip after three months. New hire training in most contact centers lasts 6 to 12 weeks. So, motivation declines right when training ends and the real work begins.

This suggests we don't have a motivation problem at all. Our problem is demotivation.

People start jobs with optimism. They're hopeful that the job will be fun and fulfilling. This is exactly what happens at companies with high-performance service cultures.

Employees in other companies quickly become disillusioned.


What's Demotivating Employees

ICMI discovered a shocking statistic in their report, Agent Apathy: The Root Cause of Poor Customer Service.

74% of contact center leaders acknowledge the fact that they prevent agents from providing the best experience possible.

This research suggests that most contact centers make it really difficult for employees to do what they want to do most - make customers happy.

Motivation would be much higher if we made it easier for customer service employees to serve their customers.

Research from the Temkin Group supports this. Look at the difference between employees who feel they're contributing and those who think they aren't:

People will go the extra mile when they feel like it means something. The fits nicely with research uncovered in Daniel Pink's book on motivation, Drive

I wrote a blog post about how this fits into customer service. Here's a short summary:

  • People are motivated by purpose (serving customers)
  • People desire mastery (the ability to do it)
  • People want autonomy (empowerment)


Making Customer Service Easy

Customer service isn't easy.

My book, Service Failure, explored the myriad of obstacles customer service employees face every day.

A good customer service leader obsesses about helping employees overcome these obstacles. Here are some resources to help you:

Conference Re-Cap: Customer Service Experience & CRM Evolution 2015

This week, I attended the Customer Service Experience and CRM Evolution conferences in New York City. The conferences were two of three conferences put on simultaneously by Information Today. The third was SpeechTek 2015

It was the second time I had attended the conference. (See my re-cap of the 2014 conference here.) This post provides an overview of the conference along with a few key insights from the event.



You may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the background of each conference.

The Twitter backchannel is always a great way to see what speakers and ideas are resonating most with conference participants. You don't need to have a Twitter account to view Tweets posted to the conference hashtags:


Key Takeaways

There are always a few things that really stand out at a conference. Here were the top takeaways for me.

Shane Snow's Keynote

Snow is the Chief Creative Officer at Contently and the author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

His presentation focused on a concept called Lateral Thinking. This technique, popularized by Edward De Bono's book by the same name, is a way of gaining insight by looking at problems from a completely new perspective.

One story Snow shared was how operating room doctors in a children's hospital cut errors by more than 50 percent by borrowing ideas from Formula One pit crews.

This really resonated with me because customer service employees often struggle to see things from the customer's perspective. Lateral thinking can often reveal new opportunities to serve.


Jason Young's Keynote 

Young is the President of Leadsmart, Inc . He's also the author of The Culturetopia Effect.

He focused on culture and drew heavily from his time working at Southwest Airlines. One part that really stood out was how Southwest uses its customer service vision to give employees clear guidance on the type of service they should strive to deliver.

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.

Young also shared a little bit about Southwest's fascinating history. You can learn more about their incredible business story from Herb Kelleher's book, Nuts!

It's no secret I'm a huge proponent of using culture to drive service. A key part of that is creating a clear Customer Service Vision for employees to follow. I even referenced the Southwest Airlines mission as an example in my book, Service Failure.


Burg Hughes's Presentation

This was my favorite breakout session. Hughes is the Vice President of Operations at BuySeasons. They operate three brands - BuyCostumes, Costume Express, and Birthday Express.

His presentation focused on how BuySeasons uses customer feedback to improve service and save the company money. Hughes shared multiple examples of how he investigated service icebergs to uncover problems and find solutions.

One story he shared revolved around a piñata the company sold. Here's the feedback BuySeasons received.

Source: Burg Hughes, BuySeasons. Customer Service Experience 2015 presentation.

Source: Burg Hughes, BuySeasons. Customer Service Experience 2015 presentation.

Hughes knows customers often don't complain. That means one complaint might really signal a problem experienced by many others.

So, his first step was to contact other customers who ordered the piñata. He learned that many of them felt the same way about the packaging.

Next, he took the problem to the distribution center leader. He learned that such a large box was used because it was the only box they had that could hold both the piñata and stick that came with it. 

Hughes shared that feedback with the merchandising team that sourced the product. They did some research and discovered they could change the stick for a slightly smaller one that came in two pieces and could be screwed together by the customer. 

This allowed BuySeasons to ship the piñata in a much smaller box. It addressed a source of customer discontent, but it also saved BuySeasons a lot of money on shipping since the size of the box factors into shipping costs.

Hughes shared example after example like this in his presentation. It was really impressive to see how a few points of feedback could translate into cost savings and happier customers. I call this having a customer service canary.


If you attended the conference, what were your biggest takeaways?


Inside Twitter's New Customer Service Guide

Twitter has published a playbook to help companies serve customers via Twitter. 

Overall, it's a very useful guide. It's also a pretty hefty volume, clocking in at 125 pages. This post is a "Cliff's Notes" version that summarizes a few key aspects:

  • Twitter's unique position as a service channel
  • Creative ways to engage customers via Twitter
  • Top challenges companies face
  • How to implement a successful Twitter care strategy

You can also download the full guide here:


Twitter's Unique Position

The Playbook highlights Twitter's unique combination of attributes:

  • Public: Anyone can see it
  • Real-time: Tweets are immediate
  • Conversational: Anyone can join in
  • Distributed: Tweets can easily be shared

Here's a great example of an exchange between a customer and a brand:

Twitter claims that serving a customer via Twitter can cost up to 80 percent less than via phone. I couldn't find a source for that calculation, but it wouldn't be surprising given the short-burst nature of Twitter.

The Playbook also makes a really, really bold claim:

Twitter is the ideal customer service channel.

It's a bold claim. And, they could be right.

The argument hinges on the fact that customers are already on Twitter. They don't have to go to a company-specific channel such as phone, email, or an app to receive service.

Consider this choose your-own-adventure customer service scenario:

You experience a flight delay that will cause you to miss your connecting flight. You now need to get booked on a later flight.

Do you:

  1. Wait in line to speak to a gate attendant?
  2. Use your smart phone to navigate the airline's website?
  3. Call the airline and sit through IVR hell?
  4. Email the airline and wait two weeks for a response?
  5. Trust the airline's wonky app?

None of those sounds like a great option if you're in a hurry. 

The promise of Twitter is you can fire off a Tweet to let the world know you are bummed about your flight delay and the airline's super-responsive Twitter squad will see your Tweet and instantly book you on another flight.

Yeah, it does seem a bit far-fetched. 

But, imagine the possibilities if your company can pull off this magic! You keep the customer in their preferred channel. And, your brand's snappy response signals to others that you are on the ball.

(Yes, I know some airlines automatically re-book passengers in these situations. That service is far from perfect. One airline auto re-booked me to the wrong airport. #fail)

As a side note, Twitter's argument for being the best channel actually works better for text. Text is another way companies can serve you where you already are. Plus, it has the added advantage of being one-to-one versus one-to-one-to-many. 

In fact, text has amazing potential as a customer service tool.

In that same scenario, you could receive an automated flight delay notification from the airline via text. It could also propose rebooking you on another flight. All you'd have to do is text back to confirm. Voila!


Creative Use Cases

The Playbook lays out three general ways that companies can use Twitter for customer service:

  1. Issue resolution
  2. Proactive engagement
  3. Voice of the Customer listening

Many companies are familiar with issue resolution. A customer Tweets about a problem and the company tries to fix it.

The nice thing about using Twitter for issue resolution is other customers can see the resolution too. Let's say your customer asks a question a lot of other customers ask too. You can include a helpful link to additional information.

Proactive engagement is another way to use Twitter. This is where a brand steps into a conversation to offer helpful service. Hilton provides a good example with their @hiltonsuggests handle:

One word of caution here. There's a fine line between helpful and creepy when a brand is being proactive.

Voice of customer listening involves looking at the larger trends. Twitter's Playbook cites an example at T-Mobile where a change to a corporate discounting program caused a large spike in negative Tweets. They were able to quickly address the issue before it got larger.


Top Twitter Challenges

The Playbook also highlighted some of the top challenges companies face when using Twitter. The report mentioned two, but I'll add a third:

  1. Keeping up with volume
  2. Managing multiple touch points
  3. Low preference (my addition)

Twitter's analytics show that tweets to major brands have increased 2.5 times in just two years. They also show that approximately 40 percent of those Tweets go unanswered. 

(Note: a recent Freshdesk study puts the number of unanswered Tweets at 78 percent.)

Managing multiple touch points is also a challenge. A customer interaction might start in a store, migrate to the company's website, and finally escalate to Twitter. 

Companies struggle to maintain a consistent brand voice across all these channels. Many companies also lack the systems necessary to present customer service reps with a single view of customers who engage through multiple channels.

My own addition is that very few customers actually prefer Twitter. 

An Execs in the Know study revealed that only 9 percent of customers prefer social media as their primary channel. And, my own research shows that most customers turn to Twitter after failing to get a resolution from another channel.

Would more customers prefer Twitter if more companies got it right? I don't know, but I'd guess the answer is yes.


Twitter's Guide to Twitter

The most useful portion of Twitter's Playbook are the step-by-step instructions for getting started on Twitter or optimizing your company's presence.

They offer seven steps:

  1. Set your vision (here's a handy worksheet)
  2. Size and prioritize your opportunities
  3. Define the customer service experience
  4. Set goals for performance metrics (try the SMART goals worksheet)
  5. Establish the measurement mechanism
  6. Operationalize your strategy
  7. Iterate and innovate

You can download the full guide if you think these steps might be useful.

Are Bogus Customer Service Stories Hurting Your Cred?

The conference speaker had his audience riveted.

He was explaining how organizational culture influenced customer service. He told us a story about a fascinating experiment to make his point:

A group of monkeys were placed in a cage. There was a ladder in the middle of the cage with a banana hanging over it. Whenever one of the monkeys would go for the banana, researchers would spray the other monkeys with cold water.

The monkeys soon learned to attack anyone who went for the banana so they wouldn't get the hose. 

Researchers then began removing one monkey at a time and replacing it with a new monkey. The new monkey would inevitably go for the banana and get attacked.

Eventually, all of the monkeys in the cage were new monkeys who had never gotten the hose. Yet, they'd still attack any monkey who went for the banana.

The speaker used the story to emphasize his point that customer service teams picked up poor habits from their colleagues. The story was also bogus. The experiment never happened.

I approached the speaker after his presentation and asked him if he knew the experiment was bogus. His response surprised me.

"I know, but it's a great story!"

This got my wheels turning. Are we sharing bogus customer service facts and stories just because they're convenient? And, does this hurt our credibility?

Famous Quotes

People often use quotes to make a point. The trouble is that quotes are often distorted or misattributed in an effort to give them more impact. 

Pop quiz. Here are two famous quotes. Which is bogus?

There are three kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.
- Mark Twain

This quote is often used to describe how information can be manipulated. For example, your customer satisfaction scores may look rosy, but they could be hiding a big problem. 

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
- Henry Ford

The idea expressed here is that customers don't really know what they want. It's often used to describe the inherent danger of relying on customers for product development suggestions.

OK, so which of these quotes is bogus? 

The truth is both of them are. They've just become so pervasive that they're accepted as facts. So, the question is do these quotes hurt our credibility if they're false?

(Note: You can check the backstories here: Mark Twain, Henry Ford.)


False Statistics

Statistics are also used to prove a point, even when they're false.

For example, many customer service training programs refer to communication coming from three components:

  • 55 percent comes from body language
  • 38 percent comes from tone
  • 7 percent comes from words

It sounds right, but it isn't. These percentages are a myth.

You may also have heard this one. Happy customers will tell five people while angry customers will tell ten.

Like the other examples in this post, it sounds right but there's some important nuance. This statistic came from a study conducted by TARP on behalf of Coca Cola in 1980. The study examined word of mouth behavior from consumers who had made a complaint.

Both the 55-38-7 statistic and the "angry customers tell 10 people" story sound plausible. They're convenient. But, they're not really facts.


Unknown Sources

Customer service statistics and stories are often quoted without a source. They may or may not be accurate, but nobody really knows. Here's an example:

Only 4% of customers complain

I saw that statistic on the Stride blog. It cited a Help Scout blog post as the source. The Help Scout blog attributed it to a publication called "Understanding Customers" by Ruby Newell-Legner.

Finally, I'm getting somewhere! The only problem was I couldn't find any publication called "Understanding Customers." 

I did find Newell-Legner, so I sent her an email to ask about the source of the 4 percent statistic. She graciously replied:

I started my business in 1994 and the first five years was spent creating training programs from scratch. I remember finding a number of statistics from surveys and reputable sources (including some government agencies who document customer service statistics.) I created a true false test out of the statistics. I never changed the stat but it may be worded in a way that enabled me to make it part of my True False Test. Because it was so long ago, I do not have a record of where it came from. 

I can verify that the statistic is true as I wouldn’t make a statistic like that up. Years later, a client in the Navy posted my True/False Test on one of their servers and it was spread virally throughout the world. The program wasn’t even called “Understanding Customers” even though I talked about that concept before the True/False Test.

Over the years I have been contacted numerous times to inquire about the source. I am sorry to say, I cannot provide it. 

Let's assume Newell-Legner found this statistic from a credible source. There's no reason not to believe her. However, what about the blogs that quoted each other without verifying the source?


What's the Harm?

There's an old marketing fable about the Chevrolet Nova. The story is that the Nova didn't sell well in Latin American countries because Nova translated into "no go" in Spanish. 

You might guess that this story isn't really true. The Nova sold just fine in Latin America.

So, I'll leave you with the big questions:

  • What's the harm in using these stories, even if we know they're false?
  • How much responsibility should we take to fact check our stats?

Please use the comments section weigh in and let me know what you think.