Are Surveys Really Customer-Centric?

  • Survey response rates are dropping because customers feel brands don’t care about their opinions.
  • Instead of relying on NPS, brands should consider the most valuable metrics
  • Feedback is crucial, but brands must pay attention to customer data and not waste their time.

Have you noticed that any time you buy anything you get a survey? While customer surveys have increased, customer survey response rates have decreased.

And while surveys might be free for companies, I believe there is a hidden cost; the customer experience. In this recent Wall Street Journal report Professor of Marketing Dr. Utpal Dholakia of Rice University calls surveys “constant intrusions” and many customers agree.

A decade ago many companies used a “do-not-contact” code in their databases to flag customers who had responded to a survey recently – this was to save the company money. But now that surveys are free, it has become too easy for companies to smack customers with surveys.

Surveys are a nuisance because more often than not nothing is done in real-time with that feedback.

Most surveys are tied to Fred Reichheld’s Net Promoter Score, or NPS, which measures how likely a customer is to recommend the brand to friends and family. It has been the most popular way to measure customer experience, but it’s arguably outdated.

When it was created it didn’t account for the explosion of digital customer experiences.

Reichheld also agreed that many customer service managers find contact center agents gaming the system; with their pay tied to NPS, it’s not uncommon for agents to only seek high scores.

As customers’ preferences change and brands adjust their CX strategies, metrics have never been more critical. And it raises an important question for CX pros: does Net Promoter Score actually improve the customer experience? If it doesn’t, what metric is right for you?

When I posed this question to my 31K LinkedIn followers, a frequent response was that many people don’t mind answering surveys if they know the company will actually do something with the response. To many customers, an NPS survey comes across as a way for the brand to check a box, get a number, and move on.

Even the Los Angeles Times, reports have found that quick customer surveys like NPS aren’t reliable because the questions are often unclear or the answers feel coerced. The Los Angeles Times reports, “What was once a plodding exercise involving handwritten documents and postage stamps has evolved into a juggernaut that administers real-time ratings via screen taps and interprets them through artificial intelligence.”

When customers don’t want to get employees into trouble or impact their livelihood, they rate an interaction higher than it was.

The big question is if the company is customer-centric, or not. But so few companies are customer-centric over being product-centric. Like with any failed relationship, the company has done too little too late for the customer.

If Not NPS Surveys, Then What?

That’s not to say that all NPS surveys are bad or losing value. There’s a reason NPS continues to be the most common CX metric—it’s simple to track and understand and can gauge the success of a company’s CX efforts with a quick glance.

But that doesn’t mean it tells the complete story.

Tracking other metrics instead of asking customers to complete short surveys can provide valuable insights into how customers act, not just how they think.

A customer may say they like your brand, but that sentiment is meaningless if they never make a purchase or engage.

Instead of (or perhaps, in addition to) sending short NPS surveys, brands can leverage other data, such as looking at if usage went up or purchases increased after calling the contact center.

Metrics like Retention and Customer Effort Score (CES) provide actionable insights that point companies toward areas of improvement. NPS can be low for many reasons, but when CES falls, brands know exactly how they can improve the experience.

On my podcast, The Modern Customer, I recently interviewed Chris Goosens, SVP of Customer Experience at FedEx Europe. Her company uses a variety of surveys to get different types of data. But Chris also told me this: “Data is one thing. Doing something with that data, that’s the key. A lot of companies have to get going with not just surveying customers but doing something about what it is that they’re saying.”

NPS surveys have long been the standard to track CX metrics. But as customers change, perhaps it’s time that metrics and surveys change as well.

Feedback and data are crucial to building a strong customer experience. But to make the most of customer insights, brands need to be genuinely curious about the customer’s experience and dig into data instead of wasting customers’ time and just checking a box. Thinking strategically about balancing customer feedback and valuing their time can yield incredible results.

Blake Morgan was called The Queen of CX by Meta. She is the author of The Customer Of The Future. Sign up for her email list here.

Share this post