How to Find Trends in Your Survey Comments

The customer experience director proudly announced her company had just implemented a customer service survey. "That's great!" I said. "What are you doing with the data?"

There was an awkward silence. Finally, she replied, "Uh, we report the numbers in our regular executive meeting."

That was it. The entire purpose of the survey program was to add another meaningless number to the executive scorecard. The survey was doing nothing to help the company improve customer experience or service.

I dug a little deeper and discovered her survey had no comment section. In other words, customers could rate their experience but they couldn't explain why.

Comments are a critical element that tell you what your customers are thinking and what you need to do to improve. But having a comment section isn't enough.

You need to know how to analyze those comments. 

Why Survey Comments Matter

Let's take a moment to look at why survey comments matter. 

Imagine you manage a Discount Tire Store in San Diego. As of January 8, 2018, your store has a 4.5 star rating on Google from 83 reviews. (Side note: you can use Google My Business to attract more customers.)

tire store.jpeg

That's great news, but two big questions remain:

  • How did your store earn that rating? (You want to sustain it!)
  • What's preventing even better results? (You want to improve.)

The rating alone doesn't tell you very much. You need to look at the comments people write when they give those ratings to learn more.

The challenge is the comments are freeform. You'll need a way to quickly spot trends.


Analyze Survey Comments for Trends

The good news is you can do this by hand. It took me less than 30 minutes to do the analysis I'm going to show you.

Start with a check sheet. This is a piece of paper with a columns for each possible rating on the survey. I did this digitally by creating a table in Mac Pages.


Next, read each survey comment and try to spot any themes that stand out as the reason the customer gave that rating. Record those themes on your check sheet in the column that matches the star rating for that review.

For example, what themes do you see in this five star review?


I recorded the following themes on my check sheet:


Now repeat this for all of the reviews. Look for similar words or phrases that mean the same thing and put a check or star next to each theme that's repeated.

I noted a theme of "fast service" in the review above because the reviewer wrote, "got a full set of Yokohama tires in around an hour." I put a star next to "honest" and "fast service" after I read another review that said, "Discount Tire Store was trustworthy and fast. 4 new tires, in and out the door in an hour."

Once you've completed all of the reviews, tally up the themes that received the most mentions. Here are the top reasons people give a 5 star rating for this Discount Tire store:

  • Fast service: 72%
  • Good prices: 35%
  • Friendly employees: 23%

There weren't many bad reviews. The few that had comments mentioned a long wait time, a lack of trustworthiness, or some damage done to the customer's vehicle.

You'll see a larger theme emerge if you look across all the reviews.

Some aggravation usually accompanies a trip to the tire store. Maybe you got a flat tire or perhaps you're trying to squeeze in car service on a very busy day. There's a good chance you're dreading the cost.

When customers are happy, their comments tend describe some sort of relief. For instance, more than one customer mentioned arriving just before closing and feeling relieved to get great service from helpful and friendly employees.


Take Action!

The purpose of this exercise is to take action!

If I managed that Discount Tire store, I'd make sure employees understood they are in the relief business. (Perhaps they do, since their rating is so high!) Relief is one of the top emotions in customer support.

I'd also respond to negative reviews, like this one:


Responding to a negative survey is an opportunity to save the customer. For private surveys, you'll need a non-anonymous survey or a contact opt-in feature to do this.

Many public rating platforms like Google My Business, Yelp, and TripAdvisor allow you to respond to customer reviews. A polite and helpful response can signal other customers that you care about service quality.

And you might save that customer, too. One Discount Tire customer changed his 1 star review to a 5 star review after speaking with the manager who apologized and fixed the issue!

You can watch me do another check sheet in this short video on LinkedIn Learning. (Email subscribers, you'll need to view the blog online to see it. Simply click on the article title at the top of the page.)