Home Grow Real Customer Feedback Comes From Human Interaction, Not Software

Real Customer Feedback Comes From Human Interaction, Not Software

If you need to find out what customers want, surveys are the last thing you should do.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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Surveys. They're supposed to take the pulse of a company's performance through the eyes of their customers. However, they frequently deliver the opposite -- a veiled and biased pile of data that is used only for your monthly performance reports. This happens because many organizations are prone to customer deafness. Surveys are constructed based on what companies want to hear, rather than on what customers need to say.

For instance, take an airline satisfaction survey. You've gotten one -- those emails that ask for your feedback on their performance. They often range from five to 30 questions. But are the questions relevant to improving performance or to the customer themselves? Say your survey asked, "Were our gate attendants responsive to your needs?" I remember a woman in uniform standing by the counter when I was scanning my boarding pass and welcoming me onboard. She wasn't inattentive, and she wasn't rude. How can you answer this question?

You've likely been to the airport many times, but probably barely remember how it even looked as you ran to the gate only to find your flight is delayed. After all of that, you receive a "How are we doing?" email asking, "Even if you were not offered snacks on today's flight, how would you assess them?" What? Really? They don't understand that passengers are angry if a flight is delayed, and it doesn't make sense to ask them about snacks. They don't see that they could get genuine answers and insights if they began their email surveys with "We are incredibly sorry for the inconvenience caused by your flight delay, but could you please help us improve by answering some questions?" and then pose relevant questions to that context.

Customer surveys are one of the worst ways to learn about your customers' needs, especially if a survey is the only tool used for it. Without context, a survey is useless for customer service improvements, let alone for strategic decisions. This airline could collect much more significant insight if their executives took flights as ordinary passengers in coach every quarter, and if they consistently met with their passengers for 60-minute conversations face-to-face about their experiences and perceptions. In short, there's no better way to learn more about customers than direct ones.

Think about a time you've uttered the phrase "This company doesn't care about me at all." Customer emotions seem to be an afterthought for most companies, and their employees are measured and rewarded only by customer actions -- in effect, response rates on surveys. That's what gets focused on. Emotions and context fall into the background.

There's no shortage of research showing people make purchasing decisions with their hearts as much as, if not more than, they do with their heads. When emotions aren't an intentional focus, they get shoved aside to make room for the more important stuff -- those average rankings on a customer satisfaction survey. When surveys supplant real, honest examination of customer needs and experiences, you become less compassionate, and every internal conversation becomes about numbers, revenue, or conversion goals. If you want to really understand your customers and show them you really want their input, the answer is simple. It's not another survey, but genuine human interaction.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

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