Designing an Effective Customer Survey

For decades, the day-to-day operations of many organizations have largely depended upon their customer service representatives as the first point of contact for providing valuable feedback about customers’ needs, habits and satisfaction levels.

Although, in the last years, the industry has seen a divergence from the typical in-house call center customer support to varying degrees of providing services through outsourcing, off-shoring, virtualization, and home-based customer agents. A valuable indicator of a company’s success in achieving its goals lies in its customer surveys.

Measuring customer satisfaction

Customer surveys are one of the many effective indicators to determine level of customer satisfaction.

"They are part of a multi-piece pie," says David Butler, executive director of the not-for-profit National Association of Call Centers (NACC), and director of the Call Center Research Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi.

According to Butler, there are specific factors companies should consider when designing a customer survey.

First, is the use of a neutral entity, such as a third-party independent contractor. Butler asserts customers often feel more comfortable telling someone unaffiliated with the corporation what is going wrong, and points out that company-conducted surveys usually yield flawed results because people give biased opinions based on their calling experience, especially when they are feeling really happy or angry at the organization.

Second, is timeliness. Butler advises that corporations should make an extra effort to work within customer timeframes. "They should do immediate follow-up after a call, using a third-party provider that lets customers know it is an independent agency conducting the survey. At the end, the customers should also be thanked for their comments and feedback."

Designing an effective customer survey

A survey that generally asks, "Was your customer service rep nice to you?" does not actually give a company any measures toward its goals. Instead, companies should be focusing on getting to the core of whether the call center medium being used is effective, Butler notes.

A survey should include:

  • Demographics that are a representative sample of the population, not only happy or angry customers
  • Questions that would yield responses to the following:
  1. Did the call center transform the way the customer works with the company?
  2. Did the company find monetization with the call?
  3. Was the company successful in retaining the customer?
  4. What is the value of the relationship in dollars and cents?

Butler warns that survey questions are often relatively simple and leave too little room for nuances. If organizations are really looking for a transformational customer survey, they need to move beyond asking binary questions, such as those requesting "yes" or "no" answers, to open-ended ones that are more detailed, complex, and guaranteed to yield truthful responses.

Analyzing Your Survey: What is it Trying to Do?

Organizations should want customer surveys to tell them the truth about their business, whether it hurts or not. Everything else is secondary, asserts Butler.

"The idea of a customer survey is to inform you about: 1) how customers feel about the products and services that you are providing, 2) remind you of the value they bring to your business, and 3) highlight the value call center agents are giving them. If you don’t get these answers, then you don’t have anything."

Although there are several ways you can interpret survey information, Butler stresses corporations should measure whether they have been successful in maintaining a true level of:

  • monetization
  • customer satisfaction
  • retention
  • repeat business.

A corporation should try to understand the purpose of its service center and what it is trying to achieve - whether it is trying to gain market share or do the job at minimal cost.

Once the service center has determined its purpose, it should create a strategy to achieve goals, and align them with the corporation’s goals, which may include:

  • improving business processes
  • maximizing returns on investments
  • growing market share
  • retaining customers
  • decreasing costs
  • maintaining a healthy advantage over competitors
  • determining where to make or discontinue investments

Survey Follow-up

"For customers to really buy into the survey process, corporations should always let them know their survey responses have been received." Butler recommends you share results with customers either via email, phone, or direct mail, and inform them about any planned improvements in services, as a result of the survey. 

"That way, they’ll know the effort was really worth their time, and the operation is sincere about providing better services," reveals Butler.