Genius Tips to Improve Your Customer Survey

by Martha Brooke on July 22, 2016

An Analyst Perspective on Customer Surveys:

Customer surveys make up a multi-billion dollar industry, and many of us get at least one per day. But just because surveys are everywhere doesn’t mean they’re always good.

At Interaction Metrics, we often find that companies assume they’re ready to launch their customer survey as soon as they’ve opened a SurveyMonkey account and pieced together a few questions. However, once we show them what their survey could be, they quickly see that a grab-and-go approach is counter to their best interests.

Interaction Metrics Customer Surveys
The problem is that customer surveys are easily plagued with biases and other flaws—resulting in data that’s inaccurate or that fails to uncover the drivers of customer loyalty. So read on to learn tips and tricks for better surveys, and keep in mind these two main themes:

+ Your entire survey approach, from who gets the survey to who analyzes it, must be carefully constructed, vetted, and executed to avoid biases and other flaws.

+ Unless you pay careful attention to your survey wording, you’ll only capture what your customers say, and utterly fail to uncover how they actually feel. As behavioral economists and Gallup researchers have shown, this is significant because feelings—not thoughts—correlate with buying behavior and customer loyalty.[i]

3 Genius Strategies to Improve Your Survey Immediately:

Strategy 1: Ask your team, “How committed are we to capturing truly accurate data about the feelings, needs, and experiences of our customers?” Having a conversation about which touchpoints your survey should address, and how to design an accurate (statistically-valid) methodology, is essential.

Strategy 2: Stand back and take a multi-perspectival view of your survey. Look at your customer survey from many angles:

  • The customer’s perspective—is it easy to take?
  • An operations perspective—does it uncover actionable insights?
  • The marketplace—how does your survey compare with the competition?
  • Your CEO—will your survey engage them with the voice of the customer?

Strategy 3: Brainstorm how to augment your customer survey with other measurement methods. Social media research, customer interviews, and touchpoint questionnaires are all great ways to supplement your survey. Customer interviews are particularly valuable because they capture the true voice of the customer and highlight the nuances of specific customer situations. Using complementary methods vets the validity of your survey and helps expand your customer insights.

Genius Tips: Know the Pros and Cons of Customer Surveys:

The Pros: There are a few simple reasons why customer surveys are so widely used across industries around the world:

  • They’re quick.
  • They’re cheap.
  • They allow customers to vent, which can boost opinions of your company.

When customer surveys are done well, they:

  • Provide digestible, quantitative data.
  • Uncover nuanced qualitative insights.
  • Enable progress to be tracked over time.

But despite the benefits of a great survey, it’s dangerously easy to design a bad one. Popular platforms (like SurveyMonkey and SurveyGizmo) are great for survey deployment—but only after you’ve carefully designed and vetted your questions. Make sure to account for the numerous difficulties and problems that can arise in survey design.

The Cons: Let’s look at some of the most common survey problems:

+ Sampling Issues: There are two main sampling issues—sample size error and sampling bias. Size error occurs when the sample is too small to fully reflect the target population. Sampling bias occurs when the populations surveyed are incorrect or incomplete. Both lead to misrepresentative results.

+ Response Bias: Even if your survey is distributed to a 100% unbiased and representative sample, the actual response population may not represent the target population. The most common response bias is that highly satisfied customers respond to surveys more than dissatisfied and neutral customers.

+ Wording and Execution Bias: One of the biggest problems in survey design is that the questions themselves bias the results. If answers are too limited or lack an “other” option, customers may select an answer that doesn’t reflect their true feelings—and if the question is required, customers will be forced to. In the same vein, subtle positive or negative wording can subconsciously affect a customer’s response.

+ Rigged Process: Employees can skew their own survey results with self-administered survey selection, rigged research design, or outright cheating. This happens for a variety of reasons—fear of demotion, criticism, links between survey results and employee bonuses, or even just a lack of outside perspective. Whatever the reason, a gamed system fails to produce accurate data.

+ Irrelevant Questions: Many surveys ask questions that are important from a management standpoint, but that don’t resonate with or even make sense to customers. In other cases, questions are so general or removed from the lived customer experience that they simply aren’t relevant enough to provide meaningful data.

You’re on your way to becoming a survey genius, but if you need to call in the real experts for a brainstorming session, we’re ready to help! Interaction Metrics is known for designing exceptional customer surveys that deliver actionable, nuanced results. Intrigued? Check out our free, no obligation MetricsLAB™. It’s a great way to learn about the best metrics to accomplish your goals and advance your survey strategies.

i. Fleming, John K., Curt Coffman, and James K. Harter. The Gallup Organization. “Manage Your Human Sigma” Harvard Business Review. 83.7 (2005).

What You’ll Never Get from NPS (Or Any Other Outcome Metric)

by Martha Brooke on June 30, 2016

Every company has its own take on customer experience—what are your goals?

Perhaps you’re looking to stage the customer experience to strengthen customer loyalty and retention. Or, maybeNPS is just an Outcome Metric you need more proactive customer service to increase First Call Resolution (FCR). Sometimes, customer surveys paint a rosy picture, but your sales numbers tell a different story—and you need to know what’s slipping under the radar.

Lots of companies use outcome metrics like the Net Promoter Score (i.e. “How likely are you to recommend us?”) to gauge customer satisfaction and overall performance. And in some cases, this is enough—especially if you don’t have anything specific that you’re looking to change or improve. But if you have an area that’s lacking, NPS will never show you what’s going wrong and how to fix it—and neither will any other metric that measures outcomes, and ignores root causes.

Processes Drive Outcomes

Nothing appears out of thin air. Behind every outcome (be it customer satisfaction, NPS, sales, etc.) there are many subtle and not-so-subtle root causes and processes. When an outcome needs improving, you have to get up close and take a hard look at all the dynamics at play. This is how you identify concrete ways to manage your outcomes.

Here’s a quick example. You own a coffee shop; the number of drinks sold per day is the outcome you want to improve. Processes that shape this outcome include: coffee quality, wait time to order, wait time to receive order, cashier engagement, local competitors, and dozens of other variables.

To get a handle on your sales, you’ll need to uncover information such as:

  • What exactly did customers like and not like about your coffee?
  • How long did they wait in line?
  • Did they receive proactive customer service?
  • Did the cashier meet them where they were at and respect their mood?
  • Was the coffee shop a block over offering free pastries?

So take a critical look at all the inputs that drive your outcomes. Once you measure those inputs, you’ll know where to focus to efficiently create the greatest improvement—and meet your goals!

Unstructured Data: Mining the Gold

by Martha Brooke on June 16, 2016

Unstructured data presents a goldmine of information, but mining that gold is no easy task—it requires coding with detailed text analysis. To be clear, unstructured data includes customer survey text comments, customer service calls, emails, chats, reviews, Customer Survey Text Analysisand other narrative sources of information.  It’s the data that doesn’t fall into neat, easy categories—so the signal often gets lost in the noise.

Some companies are so stumped by their unstructured data that they just toss it and hope no gold nuggets were lost. This is a grave mistake because customer verbatims are—quite literally—the voice of the customer.

Here’s what’s going on with unstructured data:

  • Companies don’t know the best practices for quantifying their unstructured data, so they rely on out-of-the-box software solutions. Or worse, they simply read the comments, but this doesn’t provide the precise metrics you need for success.
  • In our ROI-driven world, managers are unsure if rigorous text analysis will lead to a profitable payoff—but the fact is, it probably will.

Food for Thought: How would your company be more profitable with greater visibility into your unstructured data?

Go beyond simple tone and sentiment analyses. With text analysis you’ll have customer effort metrics, department-specific recommendations, and meta-themes in your customers’ experiences. To find out more, sign up for our complimentary MetricsLAB©. It’s a great way to learn about the metrics you get from unstructured data, and whether they’d be valuable for you.

Want to Fix Your Touchpoints? Lose NPS.

by Martha Brooke on May 31, 2016

Last week I spoke at the Society for Service Executives Symposium in Chicago. As always, when the primary topic is customer satisfaction, there was a lot of talk about NPS (Net Promoter Score). As I have often said, it’s a tired customer survey question—and that’s just one of its shortcomings. Another issue, as Lori Bocklund of Strategic Contact recently wrote about, is that it’s a metric based on a single question—and as she summarized the problem, you need “One Number, NOT One Question.”

Today, I want to reflect on another shortfall of NPS, which is that it lacks actionability. It lacks actionability because it’s unclear which touchpoint it refers to. Here’s an example: A customer gives you a 2/10 NPS rating. You’d want to fix that, right? But unless you know what went wrong, at what touchpoint…well, good luck solving the problem.

Or say a customer gives you an 8/10 NPS rating. That’s better. But it’s only sort of better—because you don’t know what went well, so you don’t know what to replicate.

Actionable customer surveys uncover what’s good and bad—and why. They are touchpoint-specific. As Lori said in her blog, customer experiences are too complex for a single question. The only way to get accurate, actionable data is by asking specific questions relevant to each touchpoint.

Examples of touchpoints include: when the product is delivered, tech support when installing the product, when the product is returned, etc. But customers have different expectations at each touchpoint. That’s why you can’t improve by asking one question about them all.

The fact is that you can GIVE and GET value through each customer interaction—and this is foundational to Interaction Thinking™. However, most companies fail to get value because their survey data isn’t accurate. Or, they fail to give value because their customer surveys are dull and unengaging. So if you want to make the most of your customer survey, you need to zoom in on specific touchpoint details.

Is your customer survey as specific to your touchpoints as it can be? Start for free to find out. There’s a good chance your survey could be giving you more useful value about your touchpoints, while showing customers that you care and are actually listening.

Customer Comments + Intelligent Analysis = Gold

by Martha Brooke on April 12, 2016

The point of a customer survey is to learn what you don’t know, and gain insight into what’s driving customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction. And while billions of customer surveys are issued each year—typically including open-ended comment fields—most survey programs lack research protocols for listening to and understanding what customers are actually saying in those comments. Customer Satisfaction Surveys Need Intelligent Text Analysis

After all, as Seth Godin said in a recent blog: “If you’re not going to read the answers and take action, why are you asking?” In a moment, we’ll get to why reading isn’t enough, but Seth is on the right path.

There are a few reasons behind why companies often ignore their valuable customer comments.

First, many executives don’t know there are research methods for systematically and efficiently unpacking customer comments. Certainly, executives know that they could read comments or apply software-based text analytics—but what’s really needed to unpack meaning is intelligent text analysis. Unfortunately, most research agencies have not been good at educating the marketplace on the advantages of this kind of analysis.

Second, many companies—in spite of their banners and slogans pledging their customer focus—just aren’t that focused on customers and their experiences, because in the short term, it can be difficult to see how customer research is profitable.

But common sense and extensive research proves that “the market works”; customers reward companies that provide superior experiences. Nevertheless, the reality for many companies is that the voice of the customer can seem like something off in the distance, compared to the “right now” importance of shaving costs, boosting margins, etc.

So there are several reasons that customer comments get the short end of the stick, but when intelligent text analysis is applied to comments, that’s when you start to uncover incredibly valuable, actionable insights into specific ways to improve.

Is text analysis similar to just reading customer comments? Not at all. The problem with reading comments is that the brain’s working memory starts cutting off at seven items. So even if you read thousands of comments, there’s really no point, because you simply can’t remember and synthesize all that information.

You may see a few obvious problems you already knew about, but you won’t see the details or possible solutions. Furthermore, you’ll overlook more subtle existing problems, and new problems you’re not prepared to recognize. Even worse, you can’t quantify anything about this data. So if you’re only reading your survey comments, you won’t learn about unknown problems and ways to improve—and you won’t have a compelling report because business audiences demand numbers, not meandering stories.

Software-based text analytics is another way to handle customer comments—and because software can identify some types of customer issues in real time, it’s a step in the right direction. However, software text analytics runs the risk of missing problems you’re not aware of, because it’s limited (even biased) by the words, expressions and facts that you already know to look for.

In the same way that customer experiences are varied and complex, customer comments are messy and unpredictable. They can be brief or lengthy, vague or hyper specific. Some comments stay on-topic; others trail off from the question. And of course, customers refer to similar issues in different ways—and within all this complexity lies valuable, game-changing insights.

Intelligent text analysis requires a team of expert analysts so that comments can be deciphered from multiple perspectives. It also requires protocols for:

• Filtering out non-codeable text
• Building an initial framework of codes
• Establishing a statistically valid sample of codeable comments
• Adding new codes for emergent themes (good text analysis must be performed in an iterative, non-linear way)
• Scoring the coded sample to enable prioritization of themes
• Presenting prioritized themes with clear examples and solutions

Loyal customers who come back and buy again—that’s the end goal. To get there, you need actionable customer surveys with intelligent text analysis. If you spend resources on a customer survey (like most companies do), it makes no sense to ignore the answers. So ask. Then listen. Don’t let your customer survey comments be a sunk cost.

Want to learn more about survey strategies? Start for free.

Your Customer Survey is Biased: Here’s the Fix

by Martha Brooke on April 7, 2016

Most customer satisfaction surveys suffer from uneven customer representation, which leads to inaccurate data. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”Learn about 2 grave survey sampling errors and how to fix them—because your business decisions should be based on fact, not fiction. And let’s face it, garbage should never be the basis of your business decisions. You deserve facts, not fiction. So here are a few ways to improve your customer survey sampling methods to achieve balanced customer representation and high quality data.

Customer Survey Sampling Error #1:
Non-Response Bias, Some Don’t Respond

Just because you openly invite all customers to take your survey does not mean you have a random sample. The difference between an open invite and randomized responses is critical because satisfied customers with time to spare tend to be the population most apt to take your survey.

Similarly, you are more likely to hear from repeat customers than from one-time customers—yet customers who aren’t coming back may have the most useful feedback. Here are a few ways to get a representative customer survey sample:

  • Start by dividing your customer database into categories, such as: current most-profitable customers, current less-profitable customers, lapsed customers, long-gone customers, prior most-profitable customers, etc.

  • For each customer category, determine how many customers you need to survey to achieve a reasonable confidence interval and error rate. Then randomly select customers from each category you want to test.

  • Proactively ask the selected customers for their feedback. You may need to offer incentives. Test different types of incentives, but make sure they’re not related to the products or services you sell, because this introduces yet another type of bias—those who like your product will be more inclined to take your customer survey.

  • When you invite customers to take your survey, ask if they would prefer to share their thoughts by phone at a convenient time. Creative, busy, and dissatisfied customers may not be receptive to multiple choice questions—yet for accurate, actionable data, you need to hear from your entire population. Again, using an incentive may need to be part of your customer survey strategy.

Customer Survey Sampling Error #2:
The Medium Controls the Audience

Do you offer your survey online? By IVR? Mail? Email? How you provide your customer survey has a huge impact on who takes it. Here are a few ways to increase responses from all your survey channels and correct for channel-related distortion:

  • Most likely, your customer satisfaction survey is online, which provides for a variety of delivery options. Set up your survey so customers can dial an 800 number, visit a URL, or use their mobile to text their answers. The more options you offer, the more respondents you’ll get.

  • Be willing to receive survey responses the way customers want to give them. For example, if you email your customers with a link to your survey, tell customers that if they prefer, they can simply reply to the email with their thoughts about your company and their experiences—they don’t have to take the survey. Then, use a scientific coding technique to incorporate their open-ended comments with the rest of your text analysis.

  • Finally, tell customers the survey is short, and then keep good on the promise.

Most customer surveys are plagued with biases—and sampling errors are just one type. But with strategies to prevent sample bias and channel distortion, you’ll be one step closer to accurate data, leading to decisions based on fact, not fiction.

Gain a new perspective. Start for free.

Break Your NPS® Routine

by Martha Brooke on February 17, 2016

NPS® is a routine question used in customer feedback surveys. Nearly everyone has seen it: How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend?

This question assumes that customers think in terms of their likelihood to recommend companies—but all too often, it’s not realistic, and it’s not how people think.

For instance, say a traveler rents a car. Recommending that car rental company to a friend later on—unless something truly extraordinary happened—just isn’t something most people would do. Furthermore, if a customer has already seen a question many times before, they’re unlikely to engage with the question and give it its due. They may even find your customer feedback survey annoying.

If you want powerful insights, don’t use generic stock questions that your customers have seen countless times before. The problem with “me too” questions is that they come across as if you don’t really care and you’re not really listening.

Here’s what customer feedback questions should do. They should be engaging, dynamic, and thoughtful. They should invite your customers to voice their true feelings. For example:

• “What would have made your experience better?”
• “What words come to mind when you think of our company?”
• “Who do you see as our main competitor? What do they do better?”

These questions recognize the contextual nature of experiences, and that your company doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In this way, they are more intellectually honest and therefore encourage customers to pause, think, and give honest answers.

Another way to break the NPS® routine is to apply adaptive logic so that your survey uncovers who the customer is, their situation, and the specific touchpoints they interacted with. An Interaction Thinking™ approach recognizes that your survey can and should add value for both you and your customers. Repetitive “me-too” surveys are out. Personalized, relevant interactions are in. Break your usual customer feedback routine. Give value and you’ll get value. Dare to interact. Show your customers you care.

Try a Free Net Promoter Mini-Audit. We’ll tell you if the Net Promoter question is right for you.

Friendly Customer Service Is NOT Enough

by Martha Brooke on January 22, 2016

Often, companies don’t sufficiently invest in customer service evaluations because they believe hiring smart, friendly staff will produce adequate customer service. And yet, many of these same companies claim that customer service is one of their core strengths.

But why settle for adequate? If you want to make strides and get a strong ROI on your customer service, you must exceed customers’ expectations. In fact, an oft-quoted 2005 Gallup Research study reported that emotionally satisfied customers spent 67% more per year than customers who were dissatisfied or satisfied (ask us for the research). Yes, that’s right: dissatisfied and satisfied customers spend virtually the same amount. That’s why it’s worth it to go above and beyond in your customer service.

The secret to leveraging your customer service is having a solid customer service evaluation program that continually shows you how and where to improve your execution.

Customer Service Evaluation | Advantages:

1. Get more with what you have in place. Businesses tend to spend a lot on customer service payroll, but little on evaluating the return on that expense. Objective customer service evaluations provide a reliable way to work toward effective, efficient customer service.

2. Increase current sales and long-term loyalty. Great service brings customers back, plain and simple. When customers return—and recommend you to their social networks—you gain sales revenue. So, customer service that strengthens ROI must go beyond simple satisfaction: it needs to emotionally engage your customers. But you’ll only get there if you have an objective customer service evaluation program measuring how often and the degree to which your associates create “wow.”

3. Reduce risk. Terrible Yelp and Google reviews are a looming threat for all companies, especially in today’s review-driven market. That’s why you need customer service evaluations in place to ensure that bad reviews don’t drag you down.

Remember, great customer service is an opportunity to create authentic interactions that:
Ensure long-term loyalty
Polish your online reputation
Attract new customers

But the kind of customer service that does more never happens by coincidence or just by having smart, friendly staff. If you’re serious about customer service that delivers ROI, you need to invest in a rigorous Customer Service Evaluation Program that shows how you score, where to improve, and what that improvement looks like.

Onward and upward toward customer service that’s positive for your customers and profitable for you!

Find out more about Customer Service Evaluations. Say hello!

“Talk Your Walk” with Branded Customer Service

by Martha Brooke on January 15, 2016

Your company’s brand: it represents the qualities and values of your products and services.

So shouldn’t your customer service showcase your brand? Branded customer service gives your brand substance and depth. While your competitors are busy showing their brand simply through advertising, you’ll be cementing your brand through the lived customer experience. This is critical in a time when authentic communication is a priority.interaction-brand-score

But branded customer service isn’t easy. Sometimes customer service reps do everything “right,” but don’t demonstrate the key aspects of your brand. You work hard to define your brand, but if you ignore the potential of customer service to reinforce it, you miss a crucial opportunity to show customers that your brand is more than a logo—it’s a set of real practices and values that set your company apart.

That’s why what you say needs to reflect what you do: in other words, you need to “talk your walk,” to twist a familiar phrase. For example, if your brand is about caring, your customer service should consistently demonstrate caring. Likewise, if your brand is about technical products, your associates should provide clear, detailed information.

While performing a Customer Experience Evaluation for a LASIK practice, Interaction Metrics analysts discovered our client was missing a huge opportunity to communicate the unique attributes of their brand—in this case, safety and expertise.

Here’s what happened before the evaluation:

Customer: “How does the procedure work?”
Associate: “We cut your eye and zap your cornea with a laser.”
Customer: “Yow! That sounds scary.”

The associate used volatile, casual language, with no regard to supporting the company’s brand pillars of safety and expertise—top priorities for any surgery. So, we showed our client how to improve their customer service by anticipating the customer’s concerns and providing reassuring information: “Before I get into the details of our laser, let me tell you that the procedure is FDA approved and has been around for many years. Over time it’s gotten safer than ever…Our practice also has a 99% success rate…”

While optimizing one moment might seem easy, the fact is, customer service consists of thousands of interactions. We’re often asked how to reduce the many to a manageable number. The solution is to create model answers for each unique type of interaction. The LASIK example above is a great model answer because it did more than the bare minimum—it created value for the company and value for the customer. But clearly, companies require a complete knowledge base of model answers if their goal is to brand customer service.

To create branded customer service at all touchpoints, you need a Customer Experience Plan based on rigorous analysis of your brand goals, customers, and touchpoints. Your plan should incorporate precise metrics like Interaction Brand Score to measure and track how well you “talk your walk.”

So don’t let your customer service just be a cost, and don’t let your brand stop at your logo. Instead, use branded customer service and actionable customer experience metrics to bring your brand to life through each and every customer interaction.

One Call Does It All: Get there with the Proactive Solutions Score

by Martha Brooke on January 9, 2016

It’s a familiar scenario: you call a company’s customer service, get your problem solved…and then discover it wasn’t solved at all. It’s a frustrating experience—but a preventable one. Companies that solve all problems in one call offer the best customer experience and maximize their efficiency.Customer-Experience-Metric

Take, for example, a guest who called a resort after booking a vacation. “What’s this extra two hundred dollar fee? No one mentioned that when I called the first time!”

Now this company has both a second phone call to handle and an increased risk of losing their customer.

That’s why a “one call does it all” standard should be a top priority for your company. Anticipating customer needs reduces customer service costs. Besides, when associates are proactive, your customer service will be efficient and well-received.

Great customer service always does more than simply answer the question at hand. This is one of the central tenets of Interaction Thinking™. Great customer service always finds ways to add value—which, in the case of the resort, means proactively explaining what the fees cover, such as WiFi and pool access. In fact, not explaining all of those amenities is a lost branding opportunity.

So how do you fine-tune your customer experiences to get to “one call does it all?” First, you need to know your Proactive Solutions Score (PSS). PSS shows the thoroughness of each interaction, and accounts for issues the customer didn’t know to ask about until later.

Applying precise customer service metrics like PSS is key to offering great customer service. As we always say, if you don’t measure it, you don’t know it. So, start measuring now!