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Avoiding the Top 5 Mistakes when Survey Customers

Reduce ChuRn Radio host, Kevin Capp, sat down with Evan Klein to discusses the top five mistakes companies make when surveying customers. Evan is President of Satrix Solutions ( For more than 25 years, Evan has been an enthusiastic champion for voice-of-customer driven change. He specializes in coaching business leaders on the customer and employee-focused strategies that lead to increased profitability and sustained competitive advantage.

In summary, the top mistakes include:
  1. Deploying a customer survey without a plan
  2. Surveying without a strategy to achieve statistically significant results
  3. Surveying customers and taking no action on the results
  4. Creating surveys with leading and double barrel questions
  5. Keeping the survey results in the Customer Success team only

This blog discusses these top mistakes and strategies to avoid them.  If you would prefer to listen to the podcast, subscribe to Reduce ChuRn Radio

Satrix Solutions is a customer feedback and employee engagement consulting firm. They are experts in collecting and analyzing feedback from several very important groups including your existing customers, former customers, prospective customers, and your employees. Satrix Solutions advises clients on the best approach to gathering that feedback. Clients look to Satrix Solutions for design, administration, and a detailed analysis reporting interpretation and recommendations. Simply put, Satrix Solutions is about improving how businesses listen and adapt to the needs of their customers and employees.

One of the most popular methods for surveying customers is Net Promoter Score (NPS®). For those not be familiar with NPS, it is an operational discipline which really starts with a one survey question: “How likely are you to recommend your company to a friend or colleague?”  The answer is a 0 to 10 scale with the endpoints labeled as zero “not at all likely” and 10 being “extremely likely.” The net promoter score is calculated based on how many customers respond with a 6 or below (detractors) versus responded 9 or 10 (promoters). The actual equation is (Number of Promoters — Number of Detractors) / (Number of Respondents) x 100.

NPS dates back to the end of 2003 when Fred Reichheld published an article in Harvard Business Review called the one number you need to grow. His research essentially led him down this path of establishing the likely to recommend question as one of the best questions you can pose in a survey to understand the degree to which your customers are loyal. NPS has been adopted by thousands of companies worldwide.

Don’t Deploy a Customer Survey without a Plan

When NPS is adopted properly it’s immensely powerful. It can help a business understand where they should focus their time and resources to more deeply engage with their customers so they stay longer and buy more. Unfortunately, a lot of companies don’t Implement NPS properly. There are a lot of pitfalls associated with implementation, especially in a B2B environment. While the NPS question seems simple, companies still need a plan to implement it.

Surveying customers and taking no action on the results

The first recommendation is to be willing to do the work after implementing. What that means is don’t head down this path of adoption where you are engaging with your customers and asking for input and inviting their thoughts on your promises, unless you’re willing to act on it. The organization, from the top down, must be willing to truly listen and take action based on what is learned. Your customers are taking their valuable time to provide their feedback. If you’re not going to do the follow-up, if you’re not going to do the really the heavy lifting associated with a process Improvement organization, if you’re not going to really take action on the feedback, then don’t even do a survey. One of the biggest dangers is inviting feedback and your customers realizing you’re not doing anything with it. Customers are going to get more disillusioned. You are better off not doing anything. The good news is a well thought out survey plan can quickly prioritize the results and include effective plays to show the customers you are listening. Some of the best companies make responding to a survey as an important differentiator from the competition.

Surveying without a Strategy to Achieve Statistically Significant Results

Make sure you have good quality data that is a reliable representative of customer feedback. The big risk is getting feedback that you believe is telling you one thing when in fact it’s bad data. Without an accurate strategy for surveying, the results may be misleading, incomplete, or not representative. Your organization may start making decisions to go in the wrong direction.

Some of these inexpensive survey tools have been so amazing for the voice of customer space, but in some regards, they’ve also been very damaging. Damaging to the extent that everybody thinks they can survey now. Companies are throwing a survey together in an inexpensive tool and sending it to customers without a strategy. If you don’t formulate the survey properly or you don’t administer it well, then you are going to end up with bad data.

When thinking about your options as far as how your company could start surveying customers, there are two primary paths you can take. The first is to create a plan and administer the survey yourself. The other alternative is to hire a third-party consultant or expert to do it on your behalf. A hybrid approach would involve using an expert to create the plan and prepare the tool for the company to manage on-going.

If you are a company looking to administer the survey, there are lots of survey tools like Survey Monkey, Survey Gizmo, and many other platforms. There are a lot of new, more innovative approaches using software that are more complex and robust. The level of survey platform you can use ranges from essentially free to tens of thousands a year for an enterprise-level survey software platform.

As far as the mode of sending the survey, email is the most common. Some companies conduct NPS surveys by phone using a call center or expert interviewers. At Satrix Solutions, we’ve also used SMS texting to send a survey invitation out. In app is becoming increasingly popular, but some companies still use paper.

There are quite a few recommendations for improving response rate. Important metrics to track are open rates and then completion rates. The inverse is abandonment rate. It is critical to have an engagement strategy to ensure people open your survey email, click on the link, and start the survey.  You want them to complete the survey not drop off and there are so many ingredients to ensuring that you maximize these metrics. To improve the open rate, you need a good customer contact list. There are a lot of companies that don’t have an easy way to export all of their customer contact data. Companies that are more sophisticated have everything in their CRM and up to date. If you don’t have one central location with all the accurate contact information for your customers, be prepared for some heavy lifting to get to that point where you have a complete and updated contact list.

It is really important that you don’t fatigue your customers by sending them the survey every month. If you do, they’re going to get tired of receiving survey emails and they’re not going to open as many of them. The email needs to be short, but you want to convey and demonstrate that you’ve acted on any feedback they provided to you prior to that point. If you invited them to complete a survey in the six months prior but they didn’t see or experience any Improvement, they’re going to be much less likely to respond to the survey again.  

Make sure the subject line and the body of the email have compelling language that encourages people to open and complete your survey. Often companies like to use incentives to try and increase response rates, but it is not recommended. Donating to charity for each completed response can work well, especially if your company already has a history with a certain charity. 

Creating Surveys with Leading and Double Barrel Questions

Designing a survey in accordance with best practices is where an expert is really important. You can find a lot of content on about crafting good questions. While the NPS question is already crafted for you, companies still find a way to implement it incorrectly. Common mistakes include using leading, double barreled or compound questions. Make sure there’s no ambiguity and that the scales are properly defined. These are just a few of the mistakes we see when trying to obtain reliable and represented survey results.

The other significant point is to make sure there’s no gaming the survey system. This is a prominent issue, whether it’s intentional or unintentional. There are a lot of companies that experience bias in their data through forms of gaming. An example is begging for scores. You might have experienced that if you purchase a car or serviced a car recently. At some of the manufacturers, the service technician will ask you to “please give me the highest score because it helps with my bonus.” Unfortunately, this takes place inside some B2B companies. Another problem is cherry picking, where some companies might not put contacts on the survey list because they know they will give a lower score.

The length of a customer survey should be 7 – 12 questions. The better measure than the number of questions is how long it takes to complete. A good survey should take 2 to 3 minutes to complete even if they’re relatively generous with their responses to open-ended questions. If the customer is seeing improvements in your products and services based on their feedback in a couple minutes a year or even 5 minutes if the survey is semi-annual, then a decent percent of your customers will feel this small investment in time is worth it.

Keeping the survey results in the Customer Success team only

Another area of concern is companies that are siloed and the results from the survey are not accessible in all departments. The full results need to be circulated so the results can be socialized across the organization in every department. This provides the best opportunity to leverage the feedback from your customer base. Even in the form of a customer satisfaction or net promoter survey, there’s still valuable insights for sales, marketing, product development, the c-suite, and the customer success team. Make the results available so it can be the source of a lot of conversations in meetings and strategy discussions for resource allocation and prioritization.

When companies don’t avoid these five common mistakes, it becomes easy for various teams in the organization to complain about survey inaccuracies. Then the results are not widely circulated and no decisions are made based on the customer input. Avoid the vicious cycle of not listening to your customers by collecting statistically valid and accurate feedback from customers.

About Satrix Solutions:

Evan founded Satrix Solutions in 2008 to empower businesses to accelerate growth and increase valuation by improving referrals, retention, share-of-wallet, and sales close rates. The company’s growing list of clients benefit from experienced consultants, expert advice, Board-quality reporting, and actionable recommendations. Visit for more information.  

Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.