What Are Your Customers Telling You?

Demolishing three customer experience survey myths

Without customers, you are out of business.

It seems to me that part of learning "how-to-make-customers-loyal" is to ask customers to give you feedback on their experiences of doing business with you. Yet some franchisees still push back against the idea of surveying their customers. Why is that? The arguments against measuring the customer experience usually start with these three:

Myth #1: No one takes these surveys. If you are a person who never takes surveys, it's easy to assume that no one else does. Guess what? Millions of people take customer satisfaction surveys every day. The fact that these survey-taking-customers don't think and act like you demonstrates exactly why you should ask them what they think!

The truth is a range of customers take surveys--from satisfied to dissatisfied. The demographics of survey respondents closely match your brand's demographics. Additionally, the customers taking surveys range from very loyal customers to occasional customers to first-time customers. Franchise organizations that work with professional research firms do get a very representative sample of customers responding to their survey invitations.

Okay, I'll agree that not everyone will take a customer survey. You'll never get all customers to give you their opinion, but you only need a sample of a few hundred customer opinions to measure how you're doing. (You need opinions from a sample of only about 1,000 voters to predict how 100 million people will vote in the next presidential election.)

Myth #2: The feedback won't tell me anything I don't already know. This is a huge myth. Just because you are in your stores frequently doesn't mean you are inside the heads of your customers. For example, you have a new limited time offer that generates great trial, great sales. What you don't know is, will customers buy it again? Will they recommend it? You don't know.

You can know how your sales stack up compared with others in the system, but you won't know how your customer satisfaction rating compares with those of other franchisees--unless you measure it. (Do I need to remind you that highly satisfied customers come back twice as often? And recommend you three times as often?) You don't know how you compare (or what's really possible to achieve) on basics like speed of service, friendliness of employees, and frequency of problems--the operational and experiential elements that drive satisfaction and sales. You don't know unless you--and your whole system--measure customer satisfaction.

In fact, the only way to know what specific elements of the customer experience correlate most highly with increasing customer loyalty at your brand(s) is to have a qualified research team statistically analyze your customer feedback. Without that, you're just guessing.

Myth #3: We will get only negative responses to our surveys. That's also false. Very happy (highly satisfied) customers usually make up the largest number of survey respondents; usually, dissatisfied customers make up the smallest group for franchise brands. Given a decent sample size, the distribution of positive, neutral, and negative surveys is a very accurate representation of your customer satisfaction.

What you are primarily trying to learn from customer surveys is how to turn ordinary (indifferent) customers into raving fans. What makes the difference? When a customer has the chance to choose "Highly satisfied" on a survey, but instead chooses merely "Satisfied," there are real reasons why. What are they? Where should you focus performance improvement efforts to eliminate any negatives whatsoever? And yes, you always need improvement. Customer surveys never let you forget that! But they also reinforce how many customers love you--when you are at your best.

Customers love to praise great experiences. They spend about 5 minutes completing the survey. Well over half of customers leave comments, and the average comment includes more than 30 words. (This paragraph has 35 words.)

The truth is franchisees are using customer survey results, and especially customer comments, to recognize and reward employees for doing a great job. Some even have created Achievement Certificates that include the verbatim customer comment from the survey right on the award.

Now in fairness to folks who object to customer surveys on the basis of the three arguments above, we've all been guilty of believing things that were simply not true; where the facts contradict the opinions we hold. The truths we cling to often depend on a point of view that we acquired without thoughtful analysis. Even Napoleon said, "I've been mistaken so many times I don't even blush for it any more."

For a factual, and eye-opening, look at the power of scientific customer surveys, please go to www.smg.com and request Five Things We Learned from Talking to 500 Million People.

SMG Vice President Jack Mackey helps operators improve customer loyalty and drive growth. Contact him at 816-448-4556 or jmackey@smg.com.

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