Is Your Customer Satisfaction Survey Dissatisfying Customers?

Customer satisfaction surveys get a bad rap, because they tend to be... well, bad. But surveys don't have to suck! Use these 8 best practices.


Jana Barrett

November 20, 2018

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Want happy, loyal customers? That makes all of us.

But for the business with limited resources and a thousand different priorities, building a thriving customer base is easier said than done. It isn’t a one-and-done achievement—you have to devote constant attention to activities that drive customer satisfaction and loyalty.

We know how hard it can be to monitor daily customer interactions as well as their underlying business impact when you serve customers across so many channels.

But the fact is, one customer’s negative experience can seriously damage a company’s reputation. According to BrightLocal, a single negative review can drive away approximately 22% of customers.

Think for a moment about all the companies you didn’t do business with because you heard complaints about them from a friend or on social media. 

And we’ve all seen the damage bad customer experience can do to even established companies like United Airlines.

Now, although the majority of companies aren’t making such egregious public mistakes, the majority of companies are pretty out of sync with their customers. And they’re losing profit as a result. In fact, according to NewVoiceMedia’s 2018 report, poor customer service is costing businesses more than $9 billion a year.

So how do tap into how your customers really feel, then work to improve their satisfaction? 

Why the average customer satisfaction survey doesn’t work

If you’ve ever taken a customer satisfaction survey, odds are it looked something like this: 

bad customer satisfaction survey example

For a long time, companies have used periodic, generic surveys to gauge how happy their customers are.

These surveys usually ask for quantitative feedback in the form of rating questions, like “How satisfied are you with your experience?”

A customer satisfaction (CSAT) score is then calculated based on the response and this sums up the quality of customer interactions across the business.

The problem is, these types of surveys are impersonal, bland, and lengthy. They’re complicated and read more like a test than questions designed for gauging customers satisfaction. 

They all seem to ask the same general questions:

  • How was your recent experience?

  • What do you think about us?

  • What can we improve?

Now you’re probably thinking that those sound like pretty standard survey questions, so what’s the problem?

But that’s exactly the point—companies are asking their customers the same standard questions about very different experiences.

If you get asked the same generic questions every time you interact with a company, you’re bound to stop answering thoughtfully, and eventually, you might stop answering altogether.

Because of this cookie-cutter approach to customer satisfaction surveys, customer satisfaction itself gets a pretty bad rap.

But we can make it so much better.

First, let’s rewind a bit and talk about what customer satisfaction really is and why it’s still so important. 

Customer satisfaction: the brand maintenance metric

Customer satisfaction is broadly defined as the happiness level of a particular customer after a single interaction with a brand.

Many factors can impact a customer’s satisfaction.

For example, if a customer purchases something from an online retailer, the quality of that experience could be impacted by anything from:

  • The website’s loading time

  • The availability of products

  • Ease of checkout

  • Access to support

Those combined factors add up to a feeling—good, bad, or somewhere in between—that the customer has about that experience.

We’d call it their customer satisfaction level.

Why customer satisfaction is still important

Customer satisfaction is not an end-all-be-all approach to customer experience measurement, but it is a crucial piece of brand maintenance and customer relationship management. Individual interactions carry a lot of weight with your customers. Zendesk found that 39% of consumers avoid vendors for over 2 years after having a negative experience.

For most companies, one lost customer isn’t the end of the world, but that’s not the reality we live in. Thanks to social media, review sites, and other forums, a negative customer experience can spread far and quickly. Zendesk also found that 95% of consumers share negative experiences with at least one other person—and 54% tell five or more people. In fact, according to the American Express 2017 Customer Service Barometer, Americans will tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience.

That paints a bleak picture for brands that are out of touch with their customers. In order to fix the problems plaguing your business, you have to connect with your customers at the right moment and show them that you value their input.

A better way to ask for customer feedback

If you’ve ever used Lyft, then you’ve seen the optional survey they give you after every ride, like this one.

customer satisfaction survey

You may not have even considered it a survey. It certainly doesn’t look like the one above. However, Lyft is basically trying to figure out the same exact things:

  • How was your recent experience?

  • What do you think about us?

  • What can we improve?

The difference is that they present a short, personalized, relevant set of questions right after the experience is over. In turn, their customers are more likely to give more personalized, relevant feedback that they can act on.

So… how can we all be more like Lyft?

Customer satisfaction survey best practices

Improving the way you ask customers for feedback can make a monumental difference in your business. Even if you’re not a major rideshare company, you probably have important customer interactions every day that you’d like to measure more effectively.

There are a number of best practices you can take away from Lyft and other companies.

1. Send customer satisfaction surveys in a timely manner.

In most cases, the best time to ask for feedback is right after an experience happens, when it’s fresh on your customer’s mind. They’re more likely to respond and more likely to give you accurate, valuable feedback.

In fact, Oracle recommends sending surveys within 24 hours to increase the chance that your customers will respond with accurate feedback. 

And if something went wrong and they’re unhappy, this also gives you time to act and repair the relationship. Integrating with your CRM and/or email provider makes it easy to automate survey distribution. Read more about that here.

2. Keep customer satisfaction surveys to 3 questions or less.

Short surveys have higher response rates and provide better data quality. 

Remember that the primary purpose of your survey is to measure the experience the customer just had. Survey creators often get caught up writing every question they find interesting. Avoid asking for general information that isn’t relevant and instead tie your questions to factors that can improve the customer experience.

If you’re using a survey builder like GetFeedback, then you can use survey logic to limit unnecessary questions and skip customers ahead to the right ones. And if you integrate surveys with your CRM, then you can avoid asking for information you already have.

3. Ask customers to explain their rating or response.

What does a “‘4” really mean compared to a “3”?

Companies often find themselves asking that question when they’re analyzing survey results. The easiest way to get to the heart of it is to simply ask: Why did you give us that score? Customers’ additional comments often shed light on things you’d never think to ask about.

4. Include an open-ended question.

In addition to a follow-up question, it’s also smart to ask customers for any additional feedback or thoughts they may have. If something is top of mind and your questions didn’t address it, this gives them a chance to share.

In fact, here’s what the famous research group Neilsen Norman has to say about open-ended questions in surveys:

Open-ended questions prompt people to answer with sentences, lists, and stories, giving deeper and new insights. Closed-ended questions limit answers: thus tighter stats.

5. Personalize your survey questions as much as possible.

A survey of 1,000 consumers aged 18 to 64, revealed that 80% of respondents are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences, and 90% indicated that they find personalization appealing.

It’s no longer considered acceptable to send generic, impersonal emails to your customers. Surveys should be no different.

Whenever possible, use specifics in your survey, like their name, the location they visited, the employee they worked with, etc. Again, if you’re integrating with your CRM and/or email provider, you can pull information in from there. Read more about personalized surveys here.

6. Limit the frequency of your surveys when necessary.

If your customers interact with you frequently, you may not want to send them surveys after every single experience. Think wisely about the timing and delivery. If you over-survey them, you risk running into the same problems we discussed earlier.

7. Include the Net Promoter Score® question when relevant.

You’ve probably seen it before: “How likely are you to recommend us to friends or coworkers?”

Well, this simple question is a reliable indicator of the future growth of your company.

The Net Promoter Score question segments your customers into clear categories: Promoters, Passives, and Detractors. You can use these segments to filter the rest of your feedback and see what happy customers say compared to unhappy customers.

8. Use the right survey tool

Customer satisfaction surveys don’t have to suck.

In fact, they can be pretty awesome for your company and your customers if you focus on building something engaging and personal. GetFeedback makes it easy to design an on brand survey that looks nothing like a scantron. See for yourself!

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