As I sit here, drinking what is my third coffee of the day (black, no sugar, if you’re asking), my eye falls upon a bland-looking customer survey link printed at the bottom of my receipt. These feedback requests have become ubiquitous, with everyone from my dentist, to my energy supplier, to my bank, constantly asking for detailed analysis of my every experience (as if a root canal wasn’t painful enough by itself).
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an admirable sentiment. A 2020 report by Qualtrics asserted that 89% of companies that lead with CX have a financial edge over their competitors, so it’s hard to argue against adopting a customer-centric culture. However, we are seeing a noticeable shift in how CX is being measured, with many suddenly realising the stark limitations of their once-revered CSat programmes.
More and more brands are losing confidence in the effectiveness of their customer feedback surveys, and the rationale is virtually always the same; their data doesn’t reflect what they know to be true about their stores’ performance. If it doesn’t corroborate what they do know, how can they trust it to illuminate what they don’t? Whilst there are nuances from brand to brand, the same themes emerge time and time again to explain why CSat programmes are failing to drive positive change.
Unfortunately, a lot of brands treat CX as a box-ticking exercise, paying lip service in the hope of benefiting from the associated financial gains. A badly designed survey is worse than no survey at all; weak deployment strategies will fail to engage your audience, poor user experience will frustrate your respondents, and confusing questions will yield equally confusing answers that give you no actionable insight.
From poor sampling, to survivorship bias, to non-response bias, the crux is that survey respondents are not necessarily representative of the broader customer base and so any insights may have limited utility. CSat surveys tend to attract polarised views, from people who love the brand and want to wax lyrical about it, to others with an axe to grind, neither of which are likely to provide constructive feedback.
Moreover, data integrity tends to be poor due to a high proportion of artificial/nonsense responses. In many cases, those clients are offering incentives to mitigate the effects of poor survey engagement, and whilst it’s an understandable reaction, it’s bound to result in individuals trying to game the system.
The inconvenient truth is that respondents are unlikely to be able to accurately recall most details of their experience. Going back to my coffee example, the survey asked me the name of my barista – quite frankly, I was so distracted by the almond croissant display that I don’t think I even looked at the barista, let alone memorised their name badge. You can’t expect someone to provide insightful commentary on their end-to-end experience without briefing them first.
Plus, anyone who has ever analysed CSat data will tell you that survey respondents often couldn’t care less about answering the questions. They tell you what they want to tell you, which is often objections about the brand’s political affiliations or the price of the products.
Even well-designed CSat surveys don’t guarantee valuable insight, as expectations can differ dramatically from person to person. One respondent may be very satisfied with a two-minute queue, whereas another might consider it unacceptable. Additionally, responses may be coloured by a respondent’s emotional state (let’s face it, we’ve all exaggerated when we’re having a bad day). This is where more objective research methodologies, such as mystery shopping, come into their own; with trained assessors measuring against set criteria, you can consistently compare the delivered experience against the designed experience.
Despite them not being the silver bullet they were once cracked up to be, there is still a place for CSat surveys within a wider CX strategy. By mitigating the methodological concerns through careful design and understanding the inherent limitations, they can form an important piece of the puzzle.
But overreliance on this single methodology is not a recipe for success, particularly for my coffee shop, where the Americano isn’t up to its usual standard and the new barista didn’t make conversation with me like the old one did. A tad disappointing perhaps, but I don’t feel compelled to share my experience; next time I’ll just get my coffee somewhere else.
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