Do you know what your customers really think about your services?
Many of the surveys I've reviewed for clients are flawed in such a way as
to prevent the collection of useful feedback. |
The following articles will help you assess and improve your feedback
Feedback Gathering: A Process, Not an Event
In many organizations, feedback gathering is viewed as an isolated,
ever-so-occasional activity, such as a survey or focus group. The activity
is often treated as an end in itself rather than as a means to understand
and respond to customer needs. Not only is it an end, but it's often an
incomplete end; a great many organizations which gather customer feedback
do nothing with the information they've obtained.
For example, in one company I visited, the division had conducted a
customer satisfaction survey which revealed that customers were
dissatisfied with certain aspects of the group's performance. In
particular, many customers felt the service group didn't understand their
business needs. Not a trivial issue, right?
When I asked the manager what his customers actually meant by this
grievance, he said he didn't know and confessed that no follow-up had been
done with customers to learn more about their complaints. Worse, no steps
had been taken to address the concerns customers had raised. When was this
survey conducted? More than a year earlier!
I wish I could say this type of situation is unusual, but it's not. In
fact, in many organizations where I've asked those who have conducted
surveys what they have done with their findings, the answer is a point
The implications of doing nothing
This failure to take action is much worse than just a lost opportunity; it
can be a major step backwards in building client confidence and respect
because, having been asked for their feedback, customers then watch for
changes to take place as a consequence of their feedback. And when they
watch ... and watch ... and watch, and see no attention being given to
their feedback, they question whether those who requested their feedback
are really listening to them or just going through the motions.
Make no mistake about it; gathering feedback and taking no action based on
the findings can be more deleterious to your reputation than not gathering
feedback to begin with.
The process for developing a process
To be successful, feedback gathering must be viewed not as an event or
activity, but as part of an ongoing process of building and maintaining
strong, effective relationships with customers. The starting point in
developing a feedback gathering process is to address the following
- What are your objectives? Is it to assess client satisfaction? That's
the most common objective, but it is not the only possibility. You may also
want to keep track of what clients describe as important to them. You may
want to know what's changing in their environment that could affect your
ability to serve them. You may find it helpful to identify the pressures
they are experiencing. You may also want to periodically reassess whether
they really understand the nature and scope of your services. If you are
positive they understand your services, you could be in for a surprise.
- When should you gather feedback? Possibilities include: at the start of
a new customer relationship, periodically throughout your working
relationship, at selected checkpoints during a lengthy project, during
times of significant stress or service related changes, when redesigning
client services, and at the first sign of client dissatisfaction.
- How do you want to gather feedback? Do you want to use surveys,
interviews, focus groups, periodic meetings, gripe sessions, dropping by
for casual chats? No one method alone is sufficient. A well-thought-out
feedback process includes a combination of methods, each used where it will
be most effective.
- Who should participate in the feedback-gathering process? Members of
your own organization? Outside service providers? What about members of the
client groups from whom the feedback is being gathered? One of the best
examples I've seen involved participation by clients in gathering feedback
- What will you do with what you learn from your feedback-gathering
activities? Will you assess the need for service changes? Will you seek
additional feedback to clarify ambiguous responses? Will you communicate
your findings to your customers? Will you do ... nothing???
There is much more to keep in mind in developing an effective
feedback-gathering process, but these questions provide a good starting
point. I'll be addressing the elements of a feedback process in more detail
in future issues. In the meantime, let me know what other questions or
concerns you have. I value your feedback.
2003 Karten Associates,
Five Frequent Feedback Flaws
If organizations really want customer feedback, why do they make it so
difficult for customers to provide that feedback? Here are some examples of
common flaws and how to avoid them:
1. Requesting feedback irrelevant to the customer
At a hotel I stayed at recently, I was satisfied with all the items listed
on the feedback form: quick check-in, clean room, and so on. However,
unlike in most hotels, the peephole in the door was over my head. Way
over my head. When you're my height, such things are important. How am I to
follow the hotel's advice to look out the peephole before opening the door
to visitors if I can't reach the peephole?
Customers can give top ratings to the attributes you consider important
and still be dissatisfied because you've fallen short on the attributes
they consider important. If you want satisfied customers, find out
what they consider important, and invite them to rate your services
on those attributes.
2. No space for feedback
In addition to asking customers to rate the items listed, many feedback
forms invite customers to add their comments. Some of these forms provide
plenty of space for comments provided customers write in a one-point
A request for customer comments is a key element of a well-designed
feedback form. Given lots of blank space, customers often fill in extensive
amounts of high-quality commentary. However, it's counterproductive to
request comments and then not provide adequate space for them.
3. No time to think about feedback
I got a call from an office supply store I often shop at. The caller said
he was conducting a survey, and asked what I liked and didn't like about
his store. I told him I could give him better feedback if I had some time
to think about it, and asked him to call back the next day. He said he
would, but he didn't. I guess he wanted feedback only from those who'd
provide it on the spot.
Some people can instantaneously retrieve information from their mental
databases. Many other people need time. Whatever method you use to solicit
feedback, try to give respondents ample time to reflect on your questions.
The quality of feedback you get is likely to be worth the extra time.
4. Inconveniencing customers
One of my favorite feedback forms is from a restaurant whose form is a
postcard that requests responses to several questions. The instructions on
the postcard state how important the feedback is followed by the
reminder: "Don't forget to affix a stamp before mailing." Instead of
returning the postcard, I saved it and now use it in the feedback segment
of my courses as an example of how not to solicit feedback.
Few enough people fill out feedback forms to begin with; most won't bother
if they have to pay for the privilege of doing so. To maximize the amount
and quality of feedback you receive, make it as easy as possible for
customers to respond. If you ask dissatisfied customers to inconvenience
themselves to inform you of their complaints, you've just given them one
more thing to complain about!
5. Not responding to feedback as promised
I received a mail survey from a hotel shortly after staying there. One item
on the survey asked if I had any complaints. I did, and used the space
provided to elaborate. Another item asked if I'd like someone to contact me
about my complaints. I checked the "yes" box. It's been about three years
now, but I'm waiting patiently.
It's a measure of sophisticated service to offer to contact customers about
their grievances. Doing so tells customers that you value their feedback
and want to set things right, and this evidence of concern can keep
customers who might otherwise take their business elsewhere. But by not
calling me as promised, this hotel fell lower in my estimation than if no
such promise had been made. Don't offer to contact disgruntled customers
unless you really mean to do so.
As for me, I'm still waiting.
2003 Karten Associates,
Six Suggestions for Successful Surveys
Customer surveys can be extremely useful or a colossal waste of time. If
you'd prefer the former to the latter, here are some suggestions for
planning and administering your next survey.
1. Set survey objectives.
Is your intent to learn about customer preferences? Their perceptions of
your responsiveness? How they are using your products? Multiple objectives
are fine, but define those objectives before you start, or you'll end up
with a list of questions that are unanswered because they were unasked.
2. Keep survey length under control.
A survey should be only as long as it must be to collect essential
information. Avoid nice-to-know-but-so-what questions. A well-designed
survey can be completed in less than ten minutes. More than that, and
customers will either dump it or fill it out haphazardly, either of which
can lead you to draw unwarranted conclusions from the responses you do
manage to collect.
3. Make the survey action-oriented.
Surveys are often full of thermometer questions. For example, "Did you
enjoy our restaurant?" is a thermometer question. Responses may suggest the
existence of a problem, but provide too little information for you to
understand the problem or recommend changes. If, instead, you ask about the
accuracy of the order, the quality of the food, and the courteousness of
the staff, you can use the responses you receive to plan a course of
4. Use both open-ended and closed questions.
Closed questions ask respondents to select from a set of fixed responses.
Respondents can answer these questions quickly, and responses can be
tabulated, summarized, graphed, charted, analyzed and reported. Open-ended
questions, by contrast, ask respondents to answer in their own words.
Responses take time to review and are subject to interpretation. However,
open-ended questions frequently provide a level of insight into the
customer perspective that is impossible to obtain from closed questions.
When organizations ask me to evaluate their surveys, I often recommend the
use of more open-ended questions.
5. Ensure an adequate survey response.
Let's face it; eagerness is not a word most people associate with
completing a survey. To generate interest, set the stage by publicizing the
importance of the survey in helping you improve your service effectiveness.
Explain your objectives and how quickly the survey can be completed.
Marketing, publicizing and promoting the survey can dramatically influence
the level and quality of the responses you'll receive.
6. Tell customers about your survey findings.
Customers sometimes wonder if you do anything at all with their surveys. If
you want them to believe you're really listening to them, inform them of
your findings and changes you'll make as a result of their feedback. When
you implement customer-suggested changes, announce that you're doing so
because of their feedback. Don't overlook this essential element of
providing feedback to customers about their feedback to you.