In asking thousands of CEO’s of small, medium sized businesses, “do you invest in good solid customer research?”, I am astounded to learn that less than 5% have done so.  Then when I ask the 5% for more details as to what they learned from their study, I often find that they, in fact, did a satisfaction survey and not a customer research study to learn the value of various buying attributes among other things.

I also have learned many companies are spending way too much money on these studies and are convinced it is good “voice of the customer” information.

Let’s talk about the limitation of the satisfaction surveys. First, they are skewed to the positive for the following reasons:

    • You are surveying your customers: Findings are skewed because your buyers have self-selected to stay with you, so you have no information from those who left. No company conducts customer dissatisfaction surveys but that’s where the negatives are revealed and could be a very important part of the puzzle.  Bill Gates has said, “your most unhappy customers are your greatest source for learning.”
    • When it is not a blind questionnaire, many university studies have repeatedly proven they are skewed to the positive because most people don’t want to “hurt feelings” when they are identified as the respondent. Think about the last time you were brutally frank with your server at a restaurant.  We just don’t deliver bad news well.
    • Satisfaction surveys are report cards on how well you are doing in specified areas but do not give you a hierarchy of buying criteria, information on the competition, or what’s not valued at all.

This is not to say there isn’t any value in doing customer satisfaction surveys.  It is always important to let your customers know you are concerned with your performance.  But I caution you to be careful to match your survey investment with your objective. If you just want to take the temperature of how well your customers will respond to how you deliver, then the customer satisfaction survey is sufficient. However, if your objective is solid voice of the customer for uncovering your own potential value proposition, customer satisfaction surveys are not the right tool.

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