How to Get Massive Customer Feedback Without a Survey

Nate Brown, Co-Founder, CX Accelerator

Nate Brown, Co-Founder, CX Accelerator

It's no secret that customers are tired of surveys.

We get too many, they take too long to complete, and many fail to adequately capture how we really feel about our experience. There has to be a better way.

Conversations are an untapped resource. We talk to customers face-to-face and over the phone. We have written conversations via email, chat, sms, and social media. This conversational data, often referred to as "unstructured" data, represents a treasure trove of customer insight, but customer experience leaders struggle to capture and organize it all.

Nate Brown, Co-founder of CX Accelerator, has discovered a novel way to solve the problem. He's designed a simple process that allows frontline representatives to quickly and easily capture data from customer conversations.

Brown shares his simple process in this 20 minute interview. We cover:

  • Why capturing data from customer conversations is so important

  • How to turn a simple USB webkey into a “CX Magic Button”

  • Where in the customer journey to look for data

  • How to encourage employees to capture and share customer feedback

  • Simple ways to quickly analyze and act on the data

You can get step-by-step instructions from this post or follow him on Twitter at @CustomerIsFirst. You’ll also get more customer feedback help on this survey resource page.

You can get low-cost USB webkeys with your company’s logo from Lev Promotions.

How ecobee Wins Customers With Smart Surveys

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I recently purchased an ecobee3 lite smart thermostat for The Overlook, a vacation rental property my wife and I own. It's one of those where you can control the temperature remotely via an app.

The decision to go with ecobee came down to service and support. 

The company uses a customer-centric approach to its product design, its pre-sales support, and its customer service. Ecobee also takes voice of customer (VOC) feedback seriously, and does an impressive job deploying both Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) surveys.

Ecobee's Director of Customer Service, Andrew Gaichuk, was kind enough to share some insight into how ecobee uses VOC feedback to stay on top.

The Ecobee 3 Lite. Image source: Ecobee

The Ecobee 3 Lite. Image source: Ecobee

My ecobee Experience

I considered a number of different options before purchasing the ecobee3 Lite ($169 on Amazon).

It had received a number of good reviews. A vacation rental I stayed in a few months ago had the same model and it was very easy to use from a guest perspective. Ecobee even has this simple tool on its website that allows you to verify compatibility with your house's heating and cooling system.

These factors, coupled with a poor support experience from one of ecobee's main competitors, cemented the decision.

Installation was a breeze with this helpful online guide. There were also easy-to-follow instructions in the box along with a few extras such as a plate to cover the hole in the wall left behind from your previous thermostat.

Once installed, I downloaded the ecobee app that lets me adjust the heating schedule remotely. This is a big plus since I'll be able to lower the temperature whenever guests check out, which means a lower propane bill this winter.

Best of all, it's easy for guests to use. Temperature adjustment is intuitive and simple, with a slide of the finger being all that's required.


Ecobee and NPS

Customers get an NPS survey two weeks after registering their ecobee. The survey arrives via an email sent by the NPS survey company Delighted.

This is a good way to deploy a Net Promoter Score survey, since it asks how likely a customer is to recommend a company's product or service.


Gaichuck explained the rationale behind sending the NPS survey after two weeks. "This gives the customer enough time to experience the product and feel the benefits of ownership."

This was certainly the case for me. The Overlook had guests the first two weekends after I installed the ecobee, so I was already getting a sense of how the thermostat was working.

Many companies make the mistake of sending out an NPS survey after each customer service transaction. This really isn't the best tool to assess customer service alone, since likelihood to recommend is based on many more factors. 

In the case of ecobee, the purchase experience, installation, and the product itself all weigh on whether a customer would recommend the product to a friend.

Ecobee's NPS survey also has an open comment question. This allows customers to provide additional detail on why they gave a certain rating, which can be analyzed later.


The survey asks just two questions, a rating question and an open comment question, yet it's a powerful tool because Ecobee uses the data correctly.

Ecobee's customer service team follows up with anyone who gives a rating of six or lower on the likelihood to recommend question. In NPS parlance, people who give a 6 or lower are known as detractors, so this is a chance to dig deeper into customer feedback or perhaps even save the customer.

Gaichuk and his team also analyze NPS survey comments for trends.

"We define trends through key words such as Customer Service, Installation, Wifi, etc. to help narrow down what key issues customers are experiencing so we can action it for future improvements. For example if we see any detractor for 'Customer Service' we can investigate the interaction, determine the issue and provide one on one coaching/feedback with the CSR."


Ecobee and CSAT

Customers who contact ecobee's customer service team receive a CSAT survey at the end of the interaction. 

CSAT is a much more appropriate survey type than NPS for service transactions, so it's good to see ecobee using both NPS and CSAT in an appropriate way.

Ecobee uses Zendesk customer service software, which has a built-in survey question that simply asks customers, "Are you satisfied or unsatisfied?"

Like the NPS data, Gaichuk uses these responses to identify trends.

"I can measure these C-Sat scores by department, CSR team or agent level. The Supervisors are each responsible to review the Unsatisfied results with their respective team members and identify areas for improvement."

Ecobee's customer service team currently has an outstanding 91 percent CSAT rate.

The company sends customers a survey as a post-transaction email. My research shows this is a best practice, and Ecobee enjoys a robust 19 percent response rate.

According to Gaichuk, the customer service team uses the survey invitation to create another positive customer touch point.

"In early 2017 we changed our call process so CSR’s are now responsible to email the customer a summary of the call interaction. This is a great way to finish the interaction, wow the customer and provide them any additional information that may help. As a result the customer is provided the ability to rate the CSR’s support they provided."



Writing this blog post means I'm definitely recommending the ecobee3 Lite to friends and colleagues. 

The product is excellent, though I think it's the service and support that really makes the difference. Perhaps most impressive is how Gaichuk and his team at ecobee are using customer feedback to continuously improve.

What is a Good Survey Response Rate?

It's the most common question I get about surveys.

Customer service leaders are understandably concerned about getting a lot of voice of customer feedback. So my clients want to know, "What is a good response rate for our customer service survey?" 

The answer may surprise you—there's no standard number. 

There are situations where an 80 percent response rate might be bad while a 5 percent response rate might be phenomenal in other circumstances.

In fact, I'm not overly concerned with the percentage of people who respond. My advice to clients is to use a different set of criteria for judging their survey responses.

Here's how to evaluate your own survey response rate the same way I do.

Three Response Rate Criteria

There are three criteria that you can use to determine if you're getting a good response to a customer service survey:

  • Usefulness
  • Representation
  • Reliability

Usefulness is the most important consideration.

Any response rate that provides useful customer feedback is good. That's not to say you can't do even better than your current rate, but the whole purpose of a customer service survey should be to yield useful data.

For example, let's say you implement a contact opt-in feature that allows you to follow-up with customers who leave negative feedback. That survey could become tremendously useful if it allows you to contact angry customers, fix problems, and reduce churn.

Representation is another important way to gauge your response rate.

You want your survey to represent all of the customers you are trying to get feedback from. Imagine you implement a new self-help feature on your website. A representative survey in this case would ask for feedback from customers who successfully used self-help as well as customers who weren't successful and had to try another channel.

Sometimes you need to augment your survey with other data sources to make it more representative. The authors of The Effortless Experience discuss the self-help scenario in their book and suggest having live agents ask customers if they first tried using self-help.

This question can help identify people who didn't realize self-help was available and therefore wouldn't complete a survey on its effectiveness. It could also capture feedback from people who tried self-help, were unsuccessful, and didn't notice a survey invitation because their priority was contacting a live agent to solve the problem.

My final criterion is reliability.

This means the survey can be relied upon to provide consistently accurate results. Here's a summary of considerations from a recent post on five characteristics of a powerful survey.

  1. Purpose. Have a clear reason for offering your survey.
  2. Format. Choose a format (CSAT, NPS, etc.) that matches your purpose.
  3. Questions. Avoid misleading questions.

Many surveys have problems in one or more of these areas. For instance, a 2016 study by Interaction Metrics discovered that 92 percent of surveys offered by the largest U.S. retailers asked leading questions that nudged customers to give a more positive answer.

For example, Ace Hardware had this question on its survey:

How satisfied were you with the speed of your checkout?

The problem with a question like this is it assumes the customer was satisfied. This assumptive wording makes a positive answer more likely.

A more neutral question might ask, "How would you rate the speed of your checkout?"



A survey response rate is good if it generates useful data, is representative of the customer base you want feedback from, and is reliable.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't strive to continuously improve your survey. Here are some resources to help you:

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A Simple Way to Double Your B2C Survey Responses

Everyone wants a better survey response rate. The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR) recently shared some data about business-to-consumer (B2C) surveys that revealed an easy way to improve results.

TCFCR helps businesses conduct customer satisfaction research. The company's client focus is primarily Fortune 500 companies in business-to-business (B2B) and B2C segments.

There's a big need for these type of services given that a recent study from Interaction Metrics found 68 percent of surveys offered by America's largest retailers were "total garbage."

I provide similar services to small and mid-sized businesses, so I was curious to see what TCFCR's survey data might reveal.

One quick look and I immediately saw a way for businesses to double the response rate on their B2C surveys.

The Response Rate Secret

TCFCR pulled aggregate data from thousands of surveys across all of their clients for a 12-month period. The company compared response rates for "in the moment" surveys versus follow-up surveys sent via email. 

Here are the results:

Follow-up surveys had more than twice the average response rate!

An in the moment survey is offered at the time of service. It could be a link in an email response from a customer service rep, an after-call transfer to an automated survey, or a link in a chat dialog box.

A follow-up email survey is sent after the customer service interaction is complete.

TCFCR also found that sending a reminder email after the initial survey invitation typically generated an additional 5-point increase in response rates!

Some companies do follow-up surveys via telephone instead of email. TCFCR's data shows that those surveys get an average response rate of 12-15 percent, which is on par with in the moment surveys.

One thing to keep in mind is that this data is for B2C surveys only. TCFCR found that B2B surveys typically get a response rate that's half of what you'd expect from a B2C.


Increase Response Rates Even More

There are a few more things you can do to stack the deck in your favor.

One is to keep your surveys short. 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.

Most surveys will gather adequate data with just three short questions.

Another way to improve response rates is through rules-based offering. A lot of customer service software platforms, such as Zendesk, have a built-in survey feature that allows you to adjust which customers receive a survey and when.

For instance, you might only send a follow-up survey once a support ticket is closed rather than after every single interaction. Or if you offer a subscription-based service, you might survey all customers when they reach the six month mark in their annual subscription, regardless of whether they've contacted your company for support.

You can learn more about response rates and other survey-related topics here.

The Powerful Survey Feature That Drives Customer Loyalty

Improving loyalty is a big reason companies survey customers.

The challenge is finding ways to actually accomplish that goal. Customer service leaders tell me confidentially that analyzing survey data is a struggle. Getting leaders to take meaningful action is another tough task.

There's one survey feature that can immediately improve your results. Seriously, you could implement it today and start reducing customer defections.

What is it? 

It's the contact opt-in. Here's a run-down on what it is, why it's essential, and how to implement it immediately.

What is a Contact Opt-In?

A contact opt-in is a feature at the end of your customer service survey that allows customers to opt-in for a follow-up contact.

The opt-in does three important things:

  • It allows you to follow-up with an upset customer and save their business.
  • The survey itself remains anonymous, which is important to some customers.
  • The opt-in doesn't promise a contact, it just gives you the option.

Best of all, it's really simple. Here's a sample opt-in:

May we contact you if we have additional questions?

Just make sure you add fields to capture a customer's name and contact information if they say yes!


Why are Follow-ups Essential?

There's a widely held perception among customers that surveys are meaningless.

That's because we're inundated with survey requests, but we rarely see any meaningful changes as a result of our feedback. Many customers are convinced their feedback is routinely ignored. (Spoiler alert: they're right.)

A follow-up tells customers you're listening. It demonstrates caring and empathy. Some customers have told me they were surprised and amazed to get a follow-up contact!

Now here's the best part: you might even be able to solve the problem and save the customer!

Data provided by the customer feedback analysis company, Thematic, shows that customers who give a "0" rating on Net Promoter Surveys have a lot more to say in the comment section than customers who give other ratings:

Data source: Thematic

Data source: Thematic

“Detractors across dozens of companies we’ve worked with complain about the inability to contact the company about an issue they have, lack of communication, or difficulty finding information on how to fix an issue themselves”, says Alyona Medelyan, CEO at Thematic. “We have also observed that many customers leave their full name, phone number or reference number in a free-text comment. Detractors are three times more likely to leave contact details than others.”

This presents customer service leaders with two choices:

You can ignore all that anger and wait for the customer to tell family, friends, and colleagues or you can contact the customer and try to iron things out.


How to Implement a Contact Opt-In

The process is very straight forward.

  1. Add a contact opt-in to the end of your survey.
  2. Review your survey for opt-ins (I recommend daily).
  3. Contact as many customers as possible, especially angry ones.

Through trial and error, I've found that a phone call often works better than email or other channels for following up. It's easier to have a dialogue if you catch them on the phone and a surprising number of customers will call you back if you leave a message and a phone number where they can call you directly.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Empower your follow-up person (or team) to resolve as many issues as possible.
  • Use customer conversations to learn more about their situation.
  • Summarize feedback from customer follow-ups to identify broad trends.



Some leaders worry about the time required. If that's your focus, your head's probably not in the right place.

Here are three compelling reasons why you definitely have the time:

  1. Follow-up is optional. You don't have to contact every single customer.
  2. Saving customers can directly generate revenue and reduce servicing costs.
  3. Fixing chronic problems leads to fewer customer complaints in the long run.

Here are some additional resources to help you turn your survey into a feedback-generating, customer-saving, money-making machine: