5 Reasons Why Surveys Suck and New Empathetic Ways to Improve CSAT and NPS

5 Reasons Why Surveys Suck and New Empathetic Ways to Improve CSAT and NPS CSAT.AI dog in boardroom

5 Reasons Why Surveys Suck and New Empathetic Ways to Improve CSAT and NPS

Updated May 2022 (originally posted March 2021) You’re in a time crunch trying to get a project done, and you need your computer to work right now. The computer doesn’t care and is thwarting every DIY troubleshooting method you’ve tried. With a sigh of dread you contact customer service. After a grueling exchange you finally get your computer working. You’re eager to get back to your long delayed project and then get hit with a survey. Even worse, you’re hit with a survey while trying to get your answer. Maybe you actually try to accommodate the survey and then find out it’s 15 windows long. You’ve already lost hours on your project, feel stressed and this just makes you hate the brand.  The point is surveys suck and here are five reasons why.

1. Surveys are a Time Suck

Time is a precious resource. You need to be respectful of your customers’ time if you want to keep them happy or keep them at all. When a survey is multiple windows of questions with no end in sight, the likelihood of your customer abandoning the survey before finishing is high. 

In 2017 Customer Thermometer conducted research on customer survey fatigue. (Yes, a survey about how much people hate surveys. Irony is alive and well.) They found that “only 9% of people take time to answer long surveys thoughtfully. And 70% of people said they have abandoned a survey before finishing it.”   

This issue has been going on for a long time. Even back in 2012 The New York Times did an article on the fraying of customer patience over surveys. They referenced another article called “Infant Who Begins Babies ‘R’ Us Customer Satisfaction Survey Dies of Old Age.” Sadly, that article is no longer on the net, but the title is still topical and sarcastic today. 

Survey fatigue and decision fatigue are real. The onslaught of information and pace of change for customers from 2020 to 2022 has heightened these types of fatigue. What were once simple decisions are fraught with concerns over health and safety. Items that used to be easy to purchase became hard, if not impossible, to find. It is no surprise customer patience is drained. The response of a customer to an epic, poorly timed survey has the potential of being equally epic for all the wrong reasons.

Survey Monkey has a tool that estimates the length of time the survey you create will take.  This helps inform customers at the beginning how much time is being asked of them. Research by Survey Monkey on survey length found that the more questions the more likely customers will begin “Speeding” through. That means less reliable data. They also found response depends on “type of survey, the audience, and the relationship of respondents to surveyor, among other factors.”

2. Surveys Without Empathy

Timing is everything. I know someone who after having a harrowing series of medical tests over a single six hour period was hit with a survey when leaving the hospital. She was tired, she was stressed and then she was asked to do a survey on a touchpad in a hospital during a pandemic. Then she got hit with a 14 question phone survey a day later. There are many examples of lack of empathy in this scenario. 

The whole point in getting customer feedback is to increase customer satisfaction (CSAT), net promoter score (NPS®) and thereby increase revenue. If the survey is all about serving the business and ignoring the needs of the customer it’s counterproductive. 

When a survey is delivered without consideration for the customer, negative feedback is not surprising. The insult to the customer is twofold though if the negative feedback is simply ignored. The 2020 Retail Reputation Report revealed the majority of the participating brands don’t respond to negative reviews. Aside from looking insecure, it makes brands appear tone deaf, only listening to what they want to hear.

If you are going to ask for your customer’s time and response you need to be prepared to take it and use it to improve. That is the point after all.

3. Surveys with Bad Questions

Some questions have very topical and useful answers for both customer and business:

“Did your order arrive in a timely fashion?”

Other questions are unhelpful, leading, biased or confusing. Multiple choice questions with very limiting options are an example: 

“Did you buy this for: A. Yourself B. Family Member C. Colleague”   

Clearly this company doesn’t think you have friends (or enemies for that matter). Questions that give limited answer options look suspicious, like you are trying to get a certain response. 

Another type of question that looks bad is one that assumes or leads:

 “When you drink alcohol do you always have food? Yes or No”

What about the people who don’t drink? Even if this is for an alcohol brand, there are consumers who don’t drink but purchase alcohol for others as gifts. For someone making such a purchase this question is a waste as it doesn’t target the customer’s reason for purchasing.

Then there are the two in one questions that leave the customer confused about which one to answer:

“If you were to buy this product again would you buy the same flavor? Yes or No?” 

There are two questions here. One asking if the customer would buy the product again, another asking if they would buy the same flavor. However, there is only yes or no as an answer, so which question is being addressed? You can’t blame a customer for choosing to take out the garbage rather than finish this survey.

4. Surveys put Workers in the Crossfire

Customer service agents don’t have an easy job as it is. When companies demand that they ask customers for feedback their job gets harder. This is especially true for those agents penalized for negative feedback. 

Like this ProPublica article details, work from home agents are often afraid of losing their jobs due to bad reviews. Some of the companies they receive calls for don’t allow agents to end the service calls without permission either. This leaves agents open to various forms of harassment as customers can say whatever they want.  

It doesn’t reflect well on the company to have a stressed agent pleading with customers to fill out a survey as if their lives depend on it. When some companies consider  “Very Satisfied” a negative review it’s understandable their workers are worried. If it isn’t “Completely Satisfied”, they’ve failed. 

Pressuring and guilting customers into giving feedback not only results in tainted data, it’s one of the causes of the next reason surveys suck.

5. Surveys Leave a Bad Impression

Surveys can drain what little positive feeling you have towards a company out of you.  Whether by being a time suck, showing no empathy or being simply inane, surveys reflect badly on a business when applied badly. If your customer feels more nagged than heard they are likely to take their business elsewhere.

According to Salesforce research 57% of customers take their business to another brand because it gives them superior experience. Their data also showed that when customers have a bad experience 62% of them will let others know about it. That’s not the kind of advertising you want.

Customer Service Survey Solutions and Alternatives

Long, badly timed, poorly worded questionnaires are no longer an effective way to garner information from customers, let alone loyalty. Customers want to be heard. The key is giving them the ability to give valuable feedback in a way that serves both them and your business. 

Survey Improvement

The challenges of 2020 and 2021 have changed the customer-business dynamic in ways that may be permanent. Take advantage of current and ongoing research into customer behavior before engaging in your own survey research.

For example, the Deloitte 2021 Connectivity and Mobile Trends Survey revealed that of the customers who adopted purchasing via smartphone during the pandemic, 70% intend to continue to do so. Your survey could build on this knowledge. Ask your customers which apps/methods they use most often to purchase from you via mobile. Then take action on their responses focusing your resources on the platforms your customers use. 

Keep surveys short and make the questions count. Don’t waste your customer’s time asking for information you have in your databases or that have been obtained by other reliable reports.

When applied with keen knowledge of your customer and respect for their time, surveys are insightful tools. Showing that you listen to your customers, adding creativity, gamification and reward can increase response rates and customer retention.

The Power of AI and Real-time data Collection

New and improved methods of learning about your customers exist while handling their service issues like CSAT.AI, a tool available on the Zendesk platform . CSAT.AI analyzes 100% of chat/email engagements automating quality assurance, measuring customer sentiment with customizable metrics while proactively assisting agents during the engagement.

Agents can fix issues in real time before they solidify into a negative NPS. CSAT.AI goes one further by also monitoring consumer-agent interactions for abuse on either side. Keeping agents happy has a monetary benefit just as keeping customers happy does. It is costly to train an agent in house, but one well trained agent is worth five undertrained agents in action. Well trained agents help to build your relationships with customers, increase sales and improve multiple KPIs.

Surveys suck, your customer’s experience doesn’t have to.

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