5 Signs Your Customer Service Survey is Missing the Point

Note: This post originally appeared on the Salesforce blog. Check out my latest post on the Salesforce blog, "Why Role Playing Doesn't Work for Customer Service Training."

Customers are getting tired of surveys. A 2010 study by Vovici revealed that Americans are inundated with over 7 billion survey requests per year. That’s nearly 23 survey requests for every American. (Ironically, I encountered a pop-up survey request when I went to the US Census Bureau website to track down that statistic.)

Many companies survey their customers, but that doesn’t mean they are doing it right. Here are five signs that a customer service survey program is missing the point.


1) Your survey has no purpose

Perhaps someone in customer service decided a survey was a good idea so they wrote a few questions. Then marketing added a few more questions. Sales chimed in with a few questions of their own. Operations got in the act too. The end result is a 100-question survey with no clear purpose.

Thinking of questions to ask your customers is the wrong place to start. Instead, think about what you specifically want to know and then design your survey to achieve that clear purpose. 

Keep in mind that you may have multiple audiences. For instance, a business-to-business software company might have a transaction survey for users contacting technical support and a relationship survey for executives who make buying decisions.


2) Your survey is tiresome

The second sign of a pointless survey is it needlessly annoys customers.

For example, the dealership where I get my car serviced routinely sends me a 36 question survey after I get an oil change. That’s obnoxious.

Focus on what you really want to know and limit your questions to as few as possible. You can always use text boxes to capture additional information.

My car dealership could cut their survey from 36 questions down to 3 and still get an amazing amount of useful data:

  1. How satisfied were you with your recent service?
  2. (Comment box): Is there anything we can do better?
  3. Would you like one of our service advisors to follow-up with you?

Correlating satisfaction levels with individual comments could tell the dealership what they’re doing well and what can be improved. And, asking customers if they’d like to be contacted allows service advisors to try to fix any problems that customers are venting about.


3) You’re focused on the score, not the feedback

The third sign a survey is missing the point is focusing on the score and not the feedback. 

The service department at my local dealership provides a great example. All of their post-transaction follow-up focuses on cajoling me into giving them a good score on their survey. My actual feedback is irrelevant.

  1. A sign by the cash register reminds customers they’ll be getting a survey.
  2. Someone from the dealership calls the next day with a reminder about the survey.
  3. The service advisor sends an email reminder a day later.

 Each point of contact encourages customers to provide a top box score on the survey. At no time are customers asked about the quality of service they’ve received.

Surveys should be designed to give you feedback that you can use to improve service. Focusing on a score versus the feedback itself defeats that purpose.


4) You only look at aggregate data

The fourth sign of a pointless survey is the data isn’t analyzed. Only total scores are viewed.

Knowing what percentage of your customers are satisfied is a relatively useless statistic. There’s not much you can do with that.

It necessary to dig a little to make customer service survey data truly useful. For example, let’s say you have a 75 percent customer satisfaction rating. It takes a little bit of analysis to reveal actionable information:

  • Is service quality consistent amongst all employees?
  • What factors make it more likely for a customer to be satisfied?
  • What factors make it more likely for a customer to be dissatisfied?


5) You Don’t Take Any Action

The last sign of a pointless survey is the company doesn’t do anything with the data it collects.

Chip Bell, author of 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service, shared this startling statistic with me:

 95 percent of companies survey their customers but only 10 percent actually use the feedback to take action. 

It’s a waste of your customers’ time to ask them for feedback and then do nothing with it. It’s also a waste of your time too.

Smart companies use surveys as part of their continuous improvement cycle. They analyze their survey data to look for trends and pinpoint problems. This analysis leads to solutions that are implemented to improve service. Creating survey’s that generate actionable results is the key to creating a company that is constantly evolving and improving.


Want to know more?

Here are links to recordings of two of my recent webinars on making the most of customer service surveys:

Customer Satisfaction vs Delight: Why You Need Both

Customer Satisfaction and Delight: Which will it be?

Customer Satisfaction and Delight: Which will it be?

Note: This post originally appeared on the Salesforce blog. Check out my latest post on the Salesforce blog, "5 Signs Your Customer Service Survey is Missing the Point."


In the world of customer service, a lot of attention is given to the concept of customer delight. There are books written about it and training classes offered on how to do it. Influential customer service experts tell us we’ve failed if we don’t delight every customer every time.

Legendary tales are breathlessly retold around the customer service campfire. Did you hear this one? A store once gave a customer a refund on a set of tires despite the fact that the store didn’t even SELL tires.

There are also valid arguments against trying to delight everyone. Giving one customer a refund on set of tires you don’t sell is the stuff of legend, but you’ll go bankrupt if you do it for everyone. Something that delights one customer may annoy another. What delights a customer today may simply satisfy that same customer tomorrow as they become accustomed to a new level of service.

So, is customer delight truly a business imperative? Or, is focusing on customer satisfaction enough?

The answer is somewhere in the middle. Delight and satisfaction actually co-exist quite nicely. In fact, they need each other. 


Satisfaction and delight defined

Customers’ perceptions of service are based on how the experience matches their expectations:

  • Satisfactory service occurs when expectations are met
  • Delight occurs when service exceeds expectations
  • A service failure occurs when service falls short of expectations

The rub is that we only really notice experiences that are different than what we expected.  

Imagine you walk into a room and flip the light switch. You expect the lights to turn on. That’s exactly what happens 99% of the time, so you hardly pay any notice when they do. Satisfactory service is a lot like that.

What if something different happens?

You’d be sure to notice if the lights came on to reveal a room full of people shouting, “Surprise!” A surprise party would be an unexpected delight.

Delight is great, failure is bad, but most of the time the lights just come on as expected and you go about your business.

Customer service is the same way. We get satisfactory service most of the time but we don’t really notice it because that’s what we expected. The delight and failure outliers are what we notice and remember. 


Why we need satisfaction AND delight

Our tendency to only notice the unusual plays an important role in customers’ perceptions of service. If a customer has four satisfactory service experiences with your company and one delightful one, their overall perception will be heavily influenced by the delightful encounter.

Imagine a frequent flyer who settles into a comfortable routine with her preferred airline. The flights are generally on time, the flight attendants are friendly, and her elite status provides a few extra perks that make travel easier. One day, a severe storm cancels all departing flights and the traveler must wait until the next day to fly home. While other passengers scramble for accommodations, an airline employee seizes the opportunity to be a hero and books the frequent traveler in a nice hotel room at no charge.

These hero moments don’t happen every day, but they’re the experiences that are remembered.

It’s impractical to create hero moments like this all the time. It’s also not necessary. Providing satisfactory service most of the time and delightful service in the right moment is often enough to make your service stand out.

Companies that seize these hero moments benefit from another quirk of human perception called "confirmation bias." When people have a strongly held belief, they’ll selectively filter information based on whether or not it supports that belief. 

If the frequent traveler pledges her unwavering allegiance to her favorite airline after they put her up in a hotel, she’ll unconsciously find herself biased by this experience. Good travel experiences become further proof in her mind that the airline is great. An occasional poor experience is dismissed as an anomaly and quickly forgiven.


The opportunity and danger of service failures

Strangely, service failures also represent an opportunity to delight customers. Service failures can and will happen in every company, but what happens next separates the great organizations from the rest.

By definition, a service failure is an experience that falls short of a customer’s expectations. This puts the customer at a crossroads. The service failure is amplified if the company fails to fix the problem. It might even negate the impact of previous satisfactory experiences and cause the customer to dwell on the one service failure. The customer can develop confirmation bias where they expect the company to provide poor service and selectively filter information based on whether it supports their opinion.

But, what happens if someone seizes the hero moment and quickly fixes the problem with style and grace? Now, the feeling of delight is amplified because the customer started out feeling so poorly.

Note: This wasn't mentioned in my original post, but it's worth mentioning that Jenny Dempsey provided an outstanding example of the impact a negative experience can have in a recent post she wrote for the Communicate Better Blog. Up until a recent service failure, her opinion of a certain airline was very positive. Now, she's a bit concerned about future experiences.


Start with consistency

If you want to delight your customers, start by being consistently good. Fix chronic problems. Get the basics right every time.

Do this well and your hero moments will stand out and delight your customers. 

Corporate culture's hidden influence on customer service

Culture has unseen influence on our behavior.

Culture has unseen influence on our behavior.

This post originally appeared on the Salesforce Blog. You can also read my latest Salesforce blog post, "How to Satisfy and Delight Your Customers."

Camille was a guest service associate working in a hotel. She had natural service instincts and had received hospitality training. Despite her qualifications, Camille routinely provided poor service.

She did it deliberately.

Camille didn’t enjoy providing poor service. She felt terrible every time she did something she knew would disappoint or frustrate one of the hotel’s guests. But she did it anyway.

Why would an intelligent and capable person work against their own instincts and values? The answer is corporate culture. 


Go Along to Get Along

Camille’s hotel had a toxic culture. Associates were disengaged. Management was ineffective. Guests were viewed with disdain. Going against this culture would cause Camille to be ostracized by her co-workers. 

Camille made the conscious decision to go along with the hotel’s cultural norms so she could get along with her co-workers. Research and practical experience suggests that most of us would do exactly what Camille did.

Here’s an example from a simple exercise I’ve facilitated many times. I ask my audience to answer a few review questions that cover my presentation so far. They’re also told that a few additional tasks will be displayed on the screen while they’re answering the review questions. I emphasize that answering the review questions is the first priority but ask the audience to complete the additional tasks as well.

The first additional task appears on the screen fifteen seconds after the review activity begins:

“Switch pens with someone.”

Most people instantly stop what they’re doing to switch pens with another participant. Some people interrupt other participants and tell them “We’re supposed to switch pens.” Still others find their pen suddenly snatched from their hand by someone a bit too eager to complete the task.

The exercise continues like this for several more minutes until the review questions are answered. No matter that I told them to prioritize answering the questions over completing the additional tasks. Participants consistently stop what they’re doing when each new task is displayed on the screen. 

They just can’t help themselves. Despite people’s initial intention to focus on the review questions, social pressure makes it almost impossible. Even the people who try to stay on task are verbally or even physically cajoled into doing the wrong thing.

My little exercise is hardly new. Psychologist Solomon Ash ran a novel experiment in 1951 where he found that social pressure caused people to answer to simple question incorrectly. You can see an excellent re-enactment on YouTube.

Customer service leaders can prevent social pressure from derailing customer service by setting clear expectations, actively encouraging good performance, and quickly correcting poor performance.

I like to give participants a second try when I run the review question activity. This time, we cover set of behavioral expectations before we begin. For example, participants agree that they will ignore the additional tasks until they answer all of the questions. 

An interesting change occurs in round two. There is now social pressure to do the right thing. A few participants still can’t help themselves and stop what they’re doing whenever a new task appears on the screen. But this time around, it is much easier for other participants to ignore them since the majority of people are intently focused on answering the questions in line with our agreement. Some people even remind these over-eager participants that they’re supposed to be answering the review questions first.


Unconscious Social Norming

I interviewed Camille for my book, Service Failure, and included her story in a chapter called “Conformity is Contagious.” It was courageous of her to give an honest assessment of her work performance. It was also unusual to find someone like her because employees often aren’t aware that culture is influencing their behavior.

Culture is often developed as groups of people co-develop social norms. These norms can be altered as new people join the team. A new employee might create a divisive atmosphere. That in turn might cause the team’s performance to drop. Good employees might leave and be replaced by more bad apples. Soon, service levels begin to decline. This leads to more angry customers which in turn makes everyone’s job even harder and less enjoyable.

The unconscious impact of social norms was first discovered in 1935 by psychologist Muzafer Sherif. He conducted an experiment where people were placed in one end of a dark room with a tiny point of light displayed at the other end of the room. A phenomenon called the autokinetic effect makes the light appear to move even though it really isn’t.

Subjects were asked to estimate how far the light had traveled. When acting alone, their estimates varied widely. When they were placed in a group, subjects quickly established a group norm. Interviews conducted after the experiment revealed that subjects weren’t aware that their perceptions were influenced by the other people in their group. 

How do you ensure customer service teams develop positive social norms? 

The key is to be deliberate about the culture you want. Define it. Identify the types of behaviors that match and don’t match. Constantly support and reinforce these behaviors with employees.

There's a model called the Employee Engagement Cycle that identifies several specific places where an organization can deliberately influence culture:

  • Recruiting: hire people who will be a positive influence.
  • On-boarding: show new hires how to be a part of our culture.
  • Development: remind employees of cultural values through regular training.
  • Evaluation: include cultural alignment in the employee evaluation process.
  • Exits: encourage employees to leave the organization if they don’t fit the culture.


Camille’s Conclusion

There was a happy ending to Camille’s story. She left the hotel with the toxic culture and joined another hotel. Her new employer had a culture that valued outstanding service and Camille felt much more comfortable. She fit in by being herself.

People sometimes ask me if customer service skills come naturally or can they be acquired. I think Camille’s example proves it’s a bit of both. She had the natural skills to be great, but she had to be in the right environment to use them. Once she found that environment, Camille was able to build on the skills she already had and become even better at service.

The Biggest Myth in Customer Service


This post originally appeared on the Salesforce Blog. You can also read my latest Salesforce blog post, "The Hidden Influence of Excellent Customer Service."

There are a lot of myths in customer service. There's the notion that the Net Promoter Score is only about asking one question (it’s not). There’s the popular saying that the customer is always right (they aren’t). There’s even an unspoken feeling that no complaints mean things are going well (not necessarily).

Dive a little deeper and you’ll find it easy to debunk these myths. In fact, that last myth about complaints was neatly debunked in a recent post on the Salesforce blog.

There’s still one myth that persists and it’s the biggest one of all: customer service is easy.

It seems like nearly everyone believes this. Customers certainly do. They’re shocked when things go wrong, but never consider how they may have contributed to the problem. Every service failure story ever told starts with the assumption that the customer was pleasant, reasonable, and should have been easy to serve. I’m not saying customers are entirely to blame for poor service, but let’s not let them off the hook when they’re rude, unreasonable, or make an error.

Executives believe service is easy. They classically overrate their company’s ability in this area. A famous 2006 Bain study revealed that 80 percent of executives felt their companies delivered outstanding customer service. Only 8 percent of their customers agreed. (View report PDF)

Managers ascribe to this myth, too. Many fail to define great service, provide adequate training, or even bother to discuss service with their employees on a regular basis. They are so consumed with putting out fires and keeping up with an avalanche of administration that proactively developing a customer-focused team becomes a low priority.

Customer service consultants perpetuate this myth by doling out pithy advice that all sounds very common sense. They write blog posts on how to deal with angry customers in five easy steps while forgetting what it actually feels like to be yelled at by a total stranger. It seems oddly reasonable to this group that a customer service rep would absorb a profanity-laced tirade and then pull a card out of their wallet to remember the S.M.I.L.E. procedure for handling angry customers.

Many employees have bought into this myth too. There’s a phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect where the less knowledgeable or skilled you are at something, the more you overrate your ability. This holds true in customer service, where the worst performers will often loudly proclaim they’re the best. 

This effect is illustrated by a simple experiment I’ve repeated many times. I ask employees to rate their customer service ability on a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being best. The average score is 4. Then, I ask them to rate the team’s customer service ability on the same scale. The average score is a 3. In other words, customer service employees consistently think they’re really good even though some of them are not.

There’s something else about the Dunning-Kruger effect that’s interesting. Everybody overestimates their ability except for one group: the very best. The best underestimate their ability. The best customer service employees never give themselves a 5 when I do my little rating experiment because they think there’s room for improvement.

That’s the secret shared by only the very best customer service employees, leaders, and companies. They know that customer service isn’t easy at all. It’s hard. They constantly worry whether they’ll be good enough and continuously try to get better.

Here are some things you’ll never hear a customer service champion say:

  • “We just hired a few good people and that was it.”
  • “All we did was send everyone to a two hour training class.”
  • “Our entire initiative consisted of hanging up a banner with this new slogan.”

Instead, you’ll hear:

  • “It starts with hiring good people.”
  • “Training is important, but we constantly reinforce that same message.”
  • “The new slogan summarizes how we go about our business every day.”

I recently asked a long-time client for advice I could share with new clients. They had improved their Net Promoter Score from 23 to 60 over a three year period. It was an impressive result and I wanted some of my new clients to be able to learn from their experience.

Without hesitation, my client said, “Tell them it’s a long process.”

That was it. I had been working with this client for three years and they still weren’t satisfied. Their exceptional improvement, glowing reputation, and stellar business results were a sign of excellent progress but not a final destination. They still worried about getting better. There was a long list of challenges to overcome and improvements to be made.

My client understood that customer service isn’t easy. It takes a real commitment.