The survey equation seems simple.
You ask a customer a few questions. Their answers help you spot problems. You then use their feedback to improve. If all goes well, customers become more loyal and sales go up.
It's applying feedback that's been a sticking point. Many companies don't. One study suggests that only 10 percent of companies use survey data to improve service.
It turns out that a survey has influence, even if you don't use the data.
A 2002 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research determined that the mere act of surveying customers increased sales and loyalty. Here's a summary of what the study's authors found.
The research was conducted by Utpal M. Dholakia and Vicki G. Morwitz. They separated customers at a financial services firm into a test and control group. The test group took a customer satisfaction survey while the control group did not.
Dholakia and Morwitz then used actual customer transactions to identify any differences between the customers who were surveyed and those who were not.
Two conclusions jumped out.
First, the surveyed customers were much more likely to open new accounts with the financial services firm.
Second, the surveyed customers were much less likely to defect.
It would be a mistake to just assume you can launch a survey and watch sales soar.
There's a bit of nuance here. For example, the study was conducted in 2002 when surveys weren't nearly as constant as they are now. It's entirely possible the study would see different results if it was conducted today.
My guess is the survey itself isn't what's driving consumer behavior. My hypothesis is there are two parts of the survey that are really making the impact.
The first is the act of story telling.
Customers relive their experiences when they complete a survey. Retelling their story through a survey can make strong feelings (good or bad) even stronger. And, like so many stories, the details change and become exaggerated over time to create a stronger narrative.
The second part is a survey can demonstrate that a company actually cares.
It was probably easier to do that in 2002 when surveys were less common than they are in 2015. The big take away should be that if companies can show customers they care then customers will likely reward them.