Survey: How quickly do you expect a response to an email?

I'm conducting research to learn how quickly people expect a response to the emails they send. The survey also asks for your response time expectations for Twitter and Facebook messages sent to businesses.

  • The survey is open now through Friday, April 13.
  • The results will be posted on this blog on Tuesday, April 17.
  • The survey should take approximately one minute to complete.

Take the survey

Five Characteristics of a Powerful Customer Survey

Customer are constantly getting pummeled with survey requests.

We get them via email. They pop up when we visit a website. The auto mechanic pulls us aside after an oil change and begs us for a 10.

A 2016 study from Interaction Metrics found that more than 80 percent of America's top retailers offered a customer survey on purchase receipts. The study also found that most surveys were total garbage.

Most customer service leaders I know are concerned about their surveys. They recognize customers get too many. Leaders also aren't certain what to do with the data they're collecting.

This post aims to solve that problem. 

Below are five characteristics of a powerful customer survey. Use them to put your existing survey to the test. And, if you want more help, I'm willing to do an evaluation of your existing survey at no cost or obligation (details at the end of the post).

#1 Purpose

Always start with why. Understand why you want to survey your customers. Whenever possible, be specific.

Customer service leaders typically respond by saying, "We want to collect feedback." That's not enough. It doesn't provide clear direction because there's no action involved.

Here's a better reason I recently heard from a customer service leader:

Customer retention is a key driver of our company's success. We want to use our survey to help pinpoint the causes of customer churn.

See the difference? A clear purpose will help you use the survey to drive action.


#2 Choose the Correct Format

There's a lot of debate around which type of survey is best. Here are the three most popular:

  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT): measures customer satisfaction with a product, service, or transaction.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): measures a customer's likelihood to recommend your product or service.
  • Customer Effort Score (CES): measures how easy it was for a customer to resolve their issue.

So here's a secret: there's no single survey type that's best!

Choosing the wrong survey type can yield less helpful data, so it's important to choose the correct survey type to match your goal.

A municipal utility probably shouldn't use an NPS survey because they have a monopoly on their service so generating positive word-of-mouth isn't the goal. The utility would be better off using a CES survey to find ways to serve their customers more efficiently.

Here's a primer that can help you decide which survey is best for your situation.


#3 Ask the Right Questions

A survey is only as useful as the questions it contains.

Most surveys contain too many questions. Those questions are frequently poorly designed and do little to reveal useful information.

You can ask better questions if you keep a few things in mind:

  • What's your purpose for doing the survey? (See #1 above)
  • What type of survey are you using? (See #2 above)
  • What will you do with the data?

If you don't know what you will do with the answer to a question, there's no need to ask it. In fact, I challenge my clients to use just three questions whenever possible:

  1. How would you rate (product, service, experience)?
  2. Why did you give that rating? (open text response)
  3. May we follow-up with you if we have additional questions?I challenge my clients to 

This short explainer reveals the rationale behind each of these questions (and why you usually don't need any more).


#4 Make Your Survey Easy

Offering a survey is really asking a customer to do you a favor.

The easier you make your survey, the more likely your customer is to do you that favor and to feel okay doing it. This means your surveys should follow a few simple principles:

  • Easy to access
  • Offered in a timely manner
  • Easy (and quick) to complete

A 2011 study from SurveyMonkey found that survey completion rates drop 5-20 percent once a survey takes 7+ minutes to complete. The same study discovered that's usually around 10 questions.


#5 Take Action

The number one survey gripe I hear from customers is the survey doesn't matter. 

Truthfully, they're usually right. Studies consistently show the vast majority of survey feedback is never acted upon.

You need to use surveys to drive improvement if you want to avoid wasting your customers' time. That means analyzing the data for trends and identifying opportunities for improvement.

Your survey serves no purpose if you're not doing that.



Here are a few more resources to help you improve your existing customer survey or implement a new one.

Training Video: Using Customer Surveys to Improve Service

If you don't have a subscription to either source, you can get a 30-day trial account by dropping my name.

You might also want to check out my customer service survey resource page.

Finally, here's my offer to review your survey:

Send your survey as a link or PDF file to jeff [at] toistersolutions [dot] com by June 30, 2017. In your email, answer these three questions:

  1. What is your objective for this survey?
  2. How are you offering the survey? (Ex: via email to customers who contact you)
  3. What are you doing with the survey data?

I'll respond with notes about your survey's strengths and some suggestions for improvement.

How Rating Your Customers Can Change Service Perceptions

Surveying your customers can bring some interesting benefits.

You can gain valuable insight that allows you to improve service. And, as I noted in a recent blog post, just asking for feedback might increase loyalty and spending.

There's another trend that's worth watching. Survey scores appear to rise when customers are also rated.

This post explores how this might be happening.

Who Is Rating Customers?

There's at least a few companies doing it now. They include Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb. Ebay offered this feature until they discontinued it in 2008.

The idea behind rating consumers is to encourage better behavior. The Uber website explains:

"The rating system works to make sure that the most respectful riders and drivers are using Uber."

Uber also posted an explanation on their blog that indicated passengers with low ratings might not be able to continue using their service.

The concept appears to work to a certain extent. A recent New York Times article explored several examples where passengers made a point to be more polite when they were using Uber.


How These Ratings Change Perceptions

There may be a downside to rating consumers.

A Boston University study compared ratings for vacation rental properties that are evaluated on both Airbnb and TripAdvisor. Airbnb allows properties to rate their guests while TripAdvisor does not. 

The results? Ratings on Airbnb averaged 14.4 percent higher than the same properties on TripAdvisor. 

Clearly, the knowledge that they too will be rated has affected these guests' ratings. What's not clear is why. There seems to be a few likely explanations:

  • Airbnb reviewers are naturally more lenient than TripAdvisor reviewers.
  • Airbnb reviewers rate higher because they know they'll be rated.
  • TripAdvisors give harsher ratings because they don't face any consequences.



This could be a trend to watch. I'm a big proponent of civility. It's important that we try to be kind and respectful to the hardworking people who serve us. 

If rating customers helps this, I'm all for it. On the other hand, I'm wary of any move that artificially manipulates survey scores and prevents problems from being solved.

Where do you come out on this?

Five Ways to Capture VOC Data Without a Survey

Ugh. Not another survey.

Customers are tired of surveys. You might be tired of your own survey too. There’s even a term called survey fatigue.

Maybe your customers are getting tired of the survey you’re doing now. Perhaps you stopped doing a survey because response rates were too low. It might be that you’ve put off implementing a survey because you’re worried that customers can’t be bothered.

Voice of the Customer (VOC) data is important. You just don’t want to annoy your customers in the process. There’s got to be a better way.

Here are five ways you can capture VOC data without resorting to a survey.

1. External Review Sites

Are your customers already reviewing your business on an external review site such as Yelp or Trip Advisor? These sites can be a treasure trove of VOC data.

They can even offer a few advantages over traditional customer service surveys.

  • Customers tend to leave more detailed feedback when writing an online review. 
  • You can respond directly to reviewers and give yourself a chance to fix a problem.
  • High ratings equal free advertising that will bring in new customers.


2. Social Media Monitoring

If your customers are talking about you on social media, why not join the conversation? Monitoring social media for mentions of your company, product, or service is a great way to capture VOC data.

There are plenty of tools to help you do this. Brandwatch put together a great list of 10 free social media monitoring tools


3. Google Alerts

Google alerts offers an easy way to monitor the internet for mentions of your company, brand, products, or services. You can sign up to be notified automatically when key words that you specify show up in search results.

Combining methods 1 - 3 can provide your company with a comprehensive amount of VOC data. For example, let’s say someone reviews your company on Yelp, blogs about a recent experience, and then Tweets a mention of your brand. 

This is a great opportunity to interact with a customer who is talking about your brand online. You can reinforce the connection if they’re happy. Or, you can try to resolve the problem if they’re taking to the web to rant. 


4. Contact Type Reports

Many companies keep a record of the reasons customers contact customer service. This can captured through your CRM system, your IVR software, or even an old-fashioned tick sheet. Understanding why customers are requesting service can help you pinpoint and diagnose problems.

In many cases, this approach can work much faster than waiting for customers to fill out a survey. For example, if you notice a spike in calls related to a specific product, you can quickly investigate the problem and diagnose a root cause.


5. Ask Customers Directly

You don’t need a survey to get between you and an individual customer. Don’t be afraid to ask customers to share their feedback directly.

This is a great source of data since you can often ask for more detailed information than you might be able to capture in a survey. And, it also gives you a chance to make things right if the customer’s feedback involves any sort of service failure.


Surveys CAN Be Useful

This post provides some alternatives to customer service surveys, but that doesn’t mean surveys can’t be extremely useful ways to gather Voice of the Customer Data.

This training video on can provide you with step-by-step guidance. You'll need a subscription to view the entire course, but you can get a 10-day trial.


Want Even More VOC Ideas?

Here are a few more posts you might be interested in:

Connecting rapport to five star service

I often write about service failures and what we can learn about them. This post is about the other side of the coin. Specifically, I want to share ways that building rapport can have an inordinate on customers’ perceptions of service quality.

First, let’s define rapport.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, rapport is a “relation marked by harmony, conformity, accord, or affinity.” In a customer service context, this involves connecting with customers in a way that causes them to see you as a real, likeable person.

Operationalizing Rapport

Terms like rapport can be a bit squishy, making it hard to observe, quantify, and even train. One way to operationalize the definition of rapport is to count how often people mention someone by name in the comments section of your customer service survey.

I started noticing a very specific trend around names while helping a client analyze their customer satisfaction data. Their survey had an overall satisfaction question where customers were asked to rate their service on a three-point scale:

  • Above Expectations
  • At Expectations
  • Below Expectations

A definite pattern emerged when I separated the comments section by rating. Individual employees were mentioned by name much more frequently when customers gave their service an “Above Expectations” score. Here’s the distribution for one of the groups I worked with:


Just for fun, I analyzed the Yelp reviews for my favorite Italian restaurant, Antica Trattoria. Their overall rating is 4.0 stars with slightly more than half the reviews giving 5 stars. However, you’ll see a familiar pattern if you look at the reviews that mentioned an Antica Trattoria employee by name:


Will this trend hold up when you analyze your own voice of customer data? I don’t know, but it is worth a look.

Barriers to Rapport

If rapport is highly correlated to outstanding service, why doesn’t it happen more often? One explanation might be that customer service professionals face a number of barriers that can make rapport-building difficult.

  1. Speed. It’s hard to build rapport when employees are in a hurry.
  2. Skill. Many people simply don’t know how to build rapport with customers.
  3. Sales. It’s really hard to like an overly aggressive salesperson.
  4. Task-focus. Rapport takes a hit when tasks are prioritized over service.
  5. Customers. Some customers are jerks and resist rapport.

Are there other barriers that I missed? What do you see?

How to Build Rapport

You’ll have to remove these barriers if you want your employees to build more rapport with customers. Here are three simple steps to help your employees become rapport-building champions.

Step 1: Look at the Data

Review your customer satsifaction data to see how rapport might be impacting service quality. Do you see evidence of greater rapport in your top box survey scores? Are some employees consistently mentioned in customer service surveys while others are not?

Step 2: Observe

You can learn a lot by assessing the current situation before doing any tinkering. Watch your employees serve customers. Can you observe any of the barriers to rapport mentioned above?

Step 3: Engage the Team

Share your observations with your employees and ask them to help you find solutions. You might be surprised at how many good ideas your team can come up with. You’ll also notice they are more like to implement ideas that are their own.

In many cases, employees just need a little bit of training to help become more adept at building rapport. One of my favorite exercises is called the five question technique. It’s based on the idea that having a short list of conversation starting questions at the ready can make anyone seem like a rapport-building pro.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Ask employees to brainstorm a list of five rapport-building questions.
  2. Have employees practice using these questions with customers.
  3. At least one of these questions will be effective in almost any situation.

You can learn more about this and other rapport building tips in my customer service idea bank.

Have companies defined outstanding customer service?

In his famous book, Built to Last, Jim Collins observed that companies that endure over a long period of time possess “cult-like cultures.” This is certainly true in customer service. Think of the companies best known for outstanding customer service and you’ll almost certainly find a strong, customer-focused culture.

These cultures are anchored by a clear definition of what outstanding customer service should look like. It gives employees, managers, and executives clear direction when making decisions that impact customers. Without a shared definition, it is very difficult for companies to provide consistent service since everyone has their own idea of what's best.

I recently conducted a survey to discover whether companies have created their own unique definition of outstanding customer service. 

Is outstanding service clearly defined?

Only 62 percent of respondents were positive that their organizations have defined outstanding customer service.

Has your organization created its own definition of outstanding customer service?These results indicate employees at a large number of companies may not have clarity when it comes to how they should treat their customers. 

Does company size matter?

Yes. The larger the company, the more likely it is that outstanding service has been clearly defined. The chart below shows the responses from small, medium, and large companies (based on number of employees).

Percentage of companies that have defined outstanding service, arranged by number of employees.

What do you think is the explanation for such a big gap between small and large employers?

Are employees aware of the definition?

Respondents that indicated their company had defined outstanding service were asked to estimate their employees' awareness of this definition on scale of 1 - 5. The responses indicate awareness is generally high when a shared definition exists. There wasn’t any variation among companies of different sizes so I'm showing the aggregrate data.

If your company has a definition of outstanding service, how aware are your employees?

This question was tricky because respondents were asked to estimate their employees’ awareness of their company’s definition of outstanding service. Do you think the results would be different if we actually quizzed employees in each of these companies?

In my own experience, and this is purely anecdotal, leaders tend to overestimate how well their employees know the company's definition of outstanding service. 


If your company doesn't yet have a clear definition of outstanding customer service, I suggest you create one right away. You can use my customer service vision worksheet if you're not sure where to begin.

If your company does have a clear definition of outstanding customer service, you've taken the first step on the journey to a customer-focused culture. You can use this guide to keep your company moving in the right direction.

Do surveys devalue real feedback?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Okay, besides being a little blurry? The problem is the sign that’s placed in front of the register. It’s asking customers to fill out an online customer service survey. The survey, which arrived via email a few days later, contained a whopping 36 questions. I’ve previously written about this ridiculous survey.

Why can’t I just give my feedback to the person standing behind the counter?

Survey inducements like this at the point of transaction are everywhere. They’re printed on the bottom of our receipts. We’re asked to hold the line for an automated survey after calling a toll-free number. I recently saw a sign in front of a register with a QR code that you could scan with your smart phone to complete the survey right then and there.

And then there was this sign was at the checkout stand in a grocery store. It led to a Seinfeld moment where I wondered whether or not I had insulted the checkout clerk by not ringing the bell.

All of these feedback requests seem to discourage us from providing our feedback directly to the person serving us. Missing out on this opportunity can be a costly mistake.

Here’s why:

Surveys can annoy customers

Customers are being inundated with surveys. What’s worse is the surveys are often too long, ask poorly-worded questions, and don’t result in meaningful changes. In some cases, the drive to get more responses leads to some bizarre behavior.

I was recently accosted by a store employee named Jacob asking me to fill out a survey about the service he provided. He even wrote his name on the piece of paper he handed me with the survey instructions. The problem with this scenario was my only interaction with Jacob was when he asked me to complete the survey. I had actually been served by someone else.

In a recent post on the CX Journey blog, guest poster Sarah Simon advised companies to “put the customer’s need for peace and quiet above your need to drive higher response rates.” The post outlined some excellent steps for ensuring a voice of the customer initiative was actually a good experience for the customer.

Surveys can delay problem resolution

Smart companies incorporate closed loop feedback into their survey process so they can reach out to unsatisfied customers and solve problems.

A colleague of mine recently used a survey to share her displeasure with being charged $20 to repair an $80 necklace she had purchased from a department store just five months earlier. The store manager followed-up via email to apologize and let my colleague know that the $20 repair charge had been refunded.

The survey helped the store recover from a service failure, but there were opportunities to fix the problem sooner. The store could have had a policy that made these types of repairs free. My colleague expressed her displeasure with the repair charge to the sales associate who rang up the repair, but that person didn’t take any action.

A survey should be a safety net, but not the primary means for identifying and resolving problems.

Surveys can increase the cost of resolution

Waiting to capture customer feedback via a survey can also increase the cost of resolving a problem.

Years ago, I experienced a service failure at the Sir Francis Drake hotel in San Francisco. A simple apology would have sufficed at the point of contact, but that didn’t happen. The ultimate cost of recovery after a few bungled attempts to make it right was a three night stay in the hotel.

Recovery costs rise because customers feel increasingly wronged the more time and effort they expend trying to get a problem resolved. Upset customers also provide negative word of mouth by sharing their story with others. Yes, a survey is a nice way to collect feedback, but it’s much better to have employees focused on spotting and solving problems immediately.

I’m a big fan of surveys and acknowledge their importance as a tool for continuosly improving customer service. And, as an excellent post on the Help Scout blog recently described, there are ways to do surveys right. I just happen to be an even bigger fan of the person serving me taking care of business right then and there.

Never reward employees for outstanding survey scores

The Westin Portland is one of my favorite hotels. Their warm and attentive associates always make me feel welcome and you can’t beat their location in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon. I’ve stayed their many times over the years and have come to feel like the hotel is my home away from home.

When I started writing my customer service book in 2011, I interviewed then General Manager Chris Lorino to learn some of the hotel’s service secrets. One of Lorino’s strongest beliefs was that you should never reward employees for achieving outstanding survey scores. He felt it was important to build a team of people who naturally wanted to serve guests at the highest level. In Lorino's opinion, a reward system would inevitably get in the way.

Both leading research on employee motivation and Lorino’s own success as a General Manager suggest that he is absolutely correct.

Rewards vs. Recognition

It’s important to differentiate between rewards and recognition. The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that employees shouldn’t be rewarded for outstanding service, but go ahead and recognize them all you want.

Rewards are if-then propositions. The prize and the criteria for earning the prize are spelled out ahead of time. For example, if you average a certain score on your customer service survey, then you will get a gift card.

Recognition is unexpected reinforcement of results that have already been achieved. An example would be giving an employee a gift card out of the blue to thank them for achieving a high average score on their customer service survey.

Eyes On the Prize

The biggest problem with rewarding employees for good customer service is it takes their attention away from providing outstanding service and re-focuses them on winning the prize.

We’ve probably all seen examples of the behavior changes this can cause:

  • Directly asking customers to provide the top score on a survey
  • Selectively encouraging only highly satisfied customers to complete a survey
  • Submitting phony surveys to bolster scores (yes, this happens)

The Goal is not the Goal

What’s the purpose of conducting a customer service survey?

When employees are rewarded for achieving a certain score they may act as though achieving that score is the ultimate goal. However, most customer service professionals will tell you that the survey is really a tool that can be used for continuous improvement.

Here are a few ways that focusing solely on a survey goal might prevent continuous improvement:

  • Employees may care less about service failures if the average looks good.
  • It lessens the need for analysis to identify customer pain points.
  • Employees may stop trying if they feel there’s nothing left to prove.

Let’s imagine a survey of 100 customers where 90 are satisfied and 10 are unhappy. If my employees are focused on achieving a specific target, they may feel great about a 90% customer satisfaction level. However, they’ll be much more eager to find out how to win over the other 10% if their true focus is continuous improvement.

So, how do I motivate the team?

If you want to learn more about the science behind rewards and employee motivation, check out Daniel Pink’s fascinating book, Drive. Pink's biggest point is that the true motivating factors are purpose, autonomy, and mastery. Let's look at each one in a customer service context:

The very best organizations have a clear and compelling customer service vision that describes the type of service they're hoping to provide. It's amazing what happens when the whole team is unified around a common objective. 

Nobody wants to be micromanaged. Give people the resources, training, and authority to get the job done right and then get out of their way and you'll see people taking responsibility for the results they achieve.

We all want to be good at what we do. Help bring out the best in employees through coaching, training, and continuous feedback and you'll find that people will step up to the challenge of becoming the very best they can be.