29 May 2012 Jay Shepherd

Should I survey my customers?

This question recently came up from a colleague of mine. The answer I should have given was that he send all his customers a short form with the following on it:

Would you appreciate receiving a short customer-service survey from us? Please check all that apply:

❏ Absolutely not.
❏ Sure, why not?
❏ Yes. I really enjoy getting mail.
❏ Who the hell are you again?
❏ Yes, because it will remind me to have you send my files to your competitor.

But I didn’t. Instead, I answered along these lines:

No. Surveys are as reliable as polls. In other words, not at all. Why? To borrow the most-used phrases from recently departed (and long shark-jumped) show, House:

“People lie.”

People will tell you what you want to hear. People will tell you things to make you feel better. People will tell you things to make you think better of them. “And how was your meal tonight?” “Fine,” you grumble, even though it wasn’t at all.

Years ago, I considered moving my law firm from Boston to the suburbs, but I was concerned that customers and prospects would be less impressed by a suburban law firm. Some people suggested taking a survey. But who would admit to being so shallow that they cared what zip code my office was in? Any data from a survey like that would have had zero reliability.

People will tell you that they’re “satisfied” on a customer-service survey, then quietly go find another provider. If you really cared about your customers, you wouldn’t need a formal survey to know how they felt; you would already know. From, you know, talking with them.

I know people who have had decent success using surveys, but I think surveys tend to be exercises in narcissism that waste customers’ time and put them in awkward situations. If you communicate well with your customers, you don’t need surveys.

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