graffiti of man holding his head and screaming
PHOTO: Aarón Blanco Tejedor

We all do it. Come on, admit it. I do it a lot. In fact, I did it yesterday.

You’re at the store, and as the cashier gives you your receipt (which is probably three times as long as it needs to be), he or she grabs a pen and circles or highlights a QR code or a URL and then forces a smile (if you’re lucky) and asks you to take a survey to “Let us know how we’re doing.” 

Do you take those surveys? Probably not. 

I suspect that most people do what I do: Toss the receipt in the nearest trash can.

Considering the fact that I earn my living in the customer experience industry and like to think of myself as a customer advocate, it seems a little disingenuous of me to ignore those attempts to capture my voice as a customer.

Survey Fatigue

The problem is that those sorts of surveys actually contribute to poor customer experience. Why should I provide a retailer with feedback and information that generates no tangible value for me? 

I suspect that most customer surveys just add to a stockpile of data that no one looks at. This is just data collection for the sake of data collection, an exercise undertaken so someone can check the box when asked if the company has a program for capturing customer feedback.

And when every retailer does it, the impact is the same as it would be if no one did: The surveys become meaningless. We have reached a point of survey fatigue.

Related Article: Put Voice of the Customer Feedback Into Action With the Usability Approach 

Stop Asking, Start Listening

When the average response rate to customer surveys tops off at around 10 percent, isn’t it time to stop doing them? Or at least stop doing them the way we are? 

If we really want to develop effective strategies for capturing the voices of our customers, it’s about time we stopped asking them questions and started listening to them instead.

Not that there’s anything wrong with surveys as a tool. If used correctly, they can be a great way of starting a conversation with your customers.

When my firm is engaged in a consulting gig, we often use surveys as a way to develop an understanding of how people are feeling and what works (or doesn’t) with the processes and technology an organization is using. These surveys get response rates of 60 to 90 percent and provide a lot of useful insights. Rather than blanket a large group of people with generic questions, we target the surveys to discrete groups, with questions that relate to people’s day-to-day activities and demonstrate some understanding of what the respondents are trying to accomplish and the challenges they face.

Surveys and voice-of-the-customer strategies should not just be about answering the question “How are we doing?” They should ask, “How can we improve things for you?”

Related Article: Your Customers Are Speaking: Are You Listening?

Know the Customer, Help the Customer

Every time you reach out to customers, you should demonstrate that you listen enough to know their needs and that you can help them.

As a minimum, to demonstrate you know the customer, you should be able to tailor the conversation around the following topics:

  • What products they use.
  • What interactions they’ve had with your organization.
  • What’s important to them.

Then you need to demonstrate that, if they provide you with feedback and share information, you can add value and help them in the following ways:

  • Making their lives easier.
  • Reassuring them and/or directing to them more information.
  • Teaching them things that might be helpful.
  • Rewarding them.

Gathering useful information and opinions from your customers requires you to do more than simply gather data. The purpose of the exercise should be to develop an understanding of their needs and challenges. The more you demonstrate that you understand them by responding in ways that add value, the more you will start to capture the true voice of the customer.