Experts Sound Off About Beating Customer Survey Fatigue

Customer Service
Customer Service
It's as easy to over-survey customers as it is to over-market to them. Companies must create a survey strategy that benefits both the company and its customers.

Many companies that want to learn about their customers use almost any customer interaction as an opportunity to ask a question. Consumers are faced with a plethora of post-call surveys, online rating requests, SMS questions, comment cards, and even restaurant receipts asking customers to share their feedback.

While the strategy might look good on paper, many consumers are getting tired of constantly being asked to provide feedback, ratings, or other comments. Consumer survey fatigue is growing. So how can marketers gather rich customer insight without annoying their customers? Industry insiders provide their advice.

Sandy Ochojna, Ph.D., aka "The Survey Doctor"
Independent Research Advisor

While "fatigue" suggests tiredness at having to do (even more) surveys, perhaps the more appropriate word is "ennui," which points to the boredom of having to do (even more) surveys. The difference is that respondents may well be happy to struggle on with surveys that they feel might mean something and lead to some improvement, but they are no longer content to participate in surveys that are seen to be sterile, tedious, irrelevant, or badly presented.

I suspect that new technology means that companies can now [survey their customers easily]. But just "because we can" doesn't mean that "we should." Companies must recognize that their customer satisfaction surveys are a point of contact with their customers, and as such, will influence how customers view them. If such surveys are not seen as valid, then it is the company's brand and reputation that is in jeopardy.

To beat survey fatigue, respect the customer. Find the few key customer variables, find the key point(s) of company-customer interaction, and concentrate on these. Do not allow the survey to impinge upon, hence affect, the experience under review.

At every stage in the development of a survey program, and the design of a specific survey, put the respondent first. Putting the respondent first will help overcome the barriers of poor connection and implied competence and so encourage participation and maximize response rates.

Dr. Pawan Singh, CEO
PeriscopeIQ, an enterprise feedback management company

The most important best practice is tomake your customers feel part of the process. This can be done in four ways.

  1. Make the experience of providing feedback enjoyable. Leverage all the information you have about the respondentto personalize the invitation and surveyto them. Pipe demographic and transactional data (ifavailable) into questions and dynamically build the overall questionnaire around the respondent's particular demographics and transaction.Respect the respondent's time bymaking invitation emails short and to the point, and setthe respondent's expectations on how manyquestions there will be.The survey questionnaire itself should be tight, personalized, andflow smoothly.
  2. Demonstrate appreciation for participation. Commit to a two-way dialogue withcustomers. For example, immediately follow-up with customers to show that you are listening, and if you have contact info, send a thank-you note after survey completion and let them know how the feedback willbe used. Sometimes, it may be appropriate to share interim survey results upon survey completion, and consider inviting your most engaged customers to be part of customer panels.
  3. Demonstrate a personal investment infeedback.One of the largest factors in store survey completion rates is whether an associate referenced the survey invitation during a customer's visit in the store. Simply having a check-out associate say, "I hope you will take the time to give us your feedback. It's very important to us," can have dramatic impacts on completionrates.

    In addition, if a participant has expressed great dissatisfaction with some part ofher customer experience, respond promptly in a personalizedway if possible.The quality of your response may help you turn an unhappy customer into a loyal one.

  4. Feedback must beacknowledged and implemented. This should happen at every level of the organization or customers will stop providing you feedback in the long term. Reinforce positive experiences, e.g., if customers' responses demonstrate that being greeted at a store is correlated to their satisfaction, then make sure everycustomer is greeted. Fix problems in ademonstrable way quickly. The dual effects of showing the customer you listened and are fixing a problem for them will have synergistic results on customers'satisfaction, loyalty, and sales.

Manila Austin, Ph.D., Research Director
Communispace, an online community platform

Take a humanistic approach. Companies must put themselves in participants' shoes and see what they get out of [the interaction]. It needs to be a reciprocal relationship. Customers need to know they are important and they matter. This means treating participants more like co-investigators, respecting their time by writing shorter surveys that are relevant for participants (as opposed to only representing the researchers' objectives), and closing the loop by explaining what will happen with the feedback. Closing the loop does so much to build the relationship by being transparent about decisions.

Chris Cottle, Vice President of Marketing and Products
Allegiance, an enterprise feedback management company

In the survey realm it needs to change to more of a dialog. Instead of asking someone to take a five-minute survey, send a mobile message asking customers to talk about their experience in their own words, for example. It's rich information, unbiased, unaided, pure free-form feedback. And technology exists to turn that qualitative information into quantitative data.

If you can reach out quickly when people are emotionally charged, when things are fresh, and you can ask people about things in their own words quickly and easily, now you're a company that cares about the consumer. You put the customer first. You're measuring customer experience and not giving them a chore with a really long customer survey. That's where the industry needs to head. You want to uncover bad experiences and rescue customers.

Suhail Farooqui, CEO
Zarca Interactive, a survey firm

People forget that the goal is not just to collect data. The goal should be to build trust capital. It's possible to collect lots of data and lose trust capital. Customers will see through it and get survey fatigue. As response rates decline, it means that customers may be tuning out of all your communications.

Surveys in the 21st century are more of a relationship exercise than a statistical tool because you can reach everyone. Companies need to use a survey as an instrument of relationship building, not just data collection.

There isn't a straightforward [approach], but there are some broad standards that apply to a successful survey strategy.

  1. Design a calendar of customer feedback. This allows companies to see if they have too many or too few feedback requests. It also prevents the company from ad-hoc campaigns that might not provide real value to the business or customer.
  2. Send goodwill surveys. In addition to the standard sample surveys, goodwill surveys ask customers to share their feelings about how the company is doing, or other issues related to the overall business. It gives customers an emotional hook to build a relationship with.
  3. Exercise "touch rules management." Ask customers about their preferences, and let customers know what they're signing up for in a clear way. Show respect over how often you contact a customer. Create easy opt-in and opt-out policies, and set up rules so you're not soliciting feedback from the same customers all the time. Adding this credibility will make customers more likely to participate.
  4. Intelligently interact with survey participants. Only remind those who haven't taken the survey. Avoid asking information you should already know, particularly in post-call surveys. This includes questions like which product the customer bought, or what night they stayed in a hotel room.
  5. When negative responses come in, immediately route them to the right person. Don't measure it, fix it. You want alarm bells to ring so you can provide proactive customer relationship management.

The past 20 years focused on using surveys to collect operational data and combine it with ERP, CRM, POS, and supply chain activities. Over the next 20 years business data and perceptional data will converge and customer profiles will expand. Companies can track happiness, likelihood to renew, individual customer values, and behavioral information. Customer feedback will be integrated.

For example, one pharmaceutical company had 600 employees using a variety of survey tools within its organization. That meant the possibility of sending 600 different surveys out to the same customers without any level of coordination or centralized system. The company needed to consolidate its survey efforts into one system. Bringing it into one central repository allowed the company to coordinate efforts, leverage survey information, and annoy customers less, but it also mitigated the risks associated with survey data living in multiple systems.

Intelligence will be valuable if you can connect customer behavior and value data to how they provide feedback. It's not fair to still call it "surveying."