This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.
Of the hundreds of survey requests you receive each year, to how many do you respond? How many times has a store invited you to take an online survey for the chance to win a gift card? (And have you ever received that winning card?) Does it really seem reasonable for a company to ask for your precious time, especially after a long work day, to log in and answer 10 or 15 questions about your shopping experience?
I always wonder who takes the time to fill out those surveys. Are they disgruntled and inspired to vent? Are they bored? I doubt it’s a representative sample set. I bet most of those receipts—the ones that belong to busy customers whose feedback really would be valuable—end up in the trash.
After all, customers know that these surveys are often long and complicated. When we developed the Net Promoter Score, we knew it would only work if we made the process simple, easy and fast. We settled on one initial question—How likely would you be to recommend us to a friend?—that takes seconds to answer and one vital follow-up question: Why? The combination results in timely, practical feedback that companies can act on immediately.
No survey can help your company if customers won’t answer the questions. If your response rates are less than 40% for a consumer-focused company or less than 60% for a business-to-business firm, it’s time to ask yourself these questions:
Is my survey too long? If it takes more than a few minutes to complete, the survey is probably too long. You demonstrate respect for your customers’ time if your surveys say they will “take just a few minutes to complete”—and actually do.
Am I responding to customers’ complaints? The second biggest survey lie (after the “just a few minutes” one) is “we value your feedback.” When customers take the time to share their personal experiences with your company, you can prove you value their input by closing the loop with them and responding to their concerns.
Is this survey helping my company offer better service? If you’re not using survey data to constantly hone your products and improve service, you’re wasting time and money. Ask your frontline supervisors to summarize the top three actions they implemented last week as the result of customer survey responses. If the list isn’t very impressive, then why keep wasting time with surveys? The most useful surveys are part of a larger system of instant feedback, coaching and training that yields lasting benefits for the company.
How can I show respondents that I care? Most people assume their survey answers go into a black hole. That’s why it’s important to let your customers know when their input actually changed the way your company does things. That’s a much more satisfying reward for participation than a gift card—and you can bet those customers will take your next survey.
My colleague Rob Markey wrote an article on HBR.org some time ago that delves deeper into this issue.