fbpx Skip to content
Customer Satisfaction

Customer Satisfaction Surveys Are (Still) Useless

If you’re relying on traditional customer satisfaction research to track and improve your business performance, it’s almost guaranteed that you will not learn enough to make meaningful changes that will impact your bottom line.


A careful analysis of both structured satisfaction data (e.g. Likert scale) and unstructured data (i.e. open-ended text comments) reveal deficiencies that most companies and customer experience experts frequently miss. Here are the things you’re probably overlooking if you’re still using customer satisfaction surveys.

  • Most customer feedback is not negative. Most of us incorrectly assume that unhappy customers are proportionately far more likely than satisfied customers to give feedback. However, the opposite is true. Generally, 70 to 80 percent of customers who respond are likely to be pleased with your company. When presented with a 10-point satisfaction scale or the 11-point likeliness-to-recommend scale (i.e. Net Promoter Score), most customers will give either a perfect or very good rating. The remaining 20 percent of customers are either neutral or very dissatisfied.
  •  Structured scale data is duplicative. There is little variance in structured customer experience data, and variance is what companies should be seeking. The goal of these surveys is to better understand where to prioritize scarce resources to maximize ROI, and to use multivariate statistics to tease out more complex relationships. Yet, we hardly ever tie this data to real behavior or revenue. If we did, we would probably discover that it usually does NOT predict real behavior. Why? Consider the typical set of customer survey questions:

    1. You carefully craft 20 questions focusing on what we think are important aspects of the customer experience.
    2. But customers view surveys differently than we do. The respondent either had a pleasant experience or an unpleasant experience. If her outlook was generally positive, it will carry over to every structured question she is asked. The inverse is also true. She quickly completes the survey with minimal thought, providing the same top 1 or 2 box scores across all questions.
  • Structured scale data doesn’t provide insight on how to improve. The aggregated responses from structured scale survey questions won’t tell you how to improve. For example, a restaurant’s customer satisfaction survey may help identify a general problem area—food quality, service, value for the money, cleanliness—but the only thing that the data reveals is that more research needs to be conducted. To improve business results, you must include an open-ended question in your survey. No other variable can be used to predict actual customer behavior (and ultimately revenue) better than the free-form text response to the right open-ended question. Text comments enable customers to tell you exactly what they feel you need to hear.
  • Companies usually ask the wrong open-ended question. Many companies ask the recommended open-ended question: “Why did you give that rating?” When you ask the 80 percent of customers who just gave you a positive rating, this question will, at best, get a short positive comment about your business. The 10 percent who slammed your company will describe the problem, which is likely something you already know. This doesn’t tell you how to improve the business in a way that matters to customers. Instead, you need to add this question: What could we do better?” When analyzed together, this one-two question combination reveals actionable insight into how customers view your company and how you can improve.

Now, here’s how to get more out of customer satisfaction surveys . . .

Let’s assume you’ve invested in the latest text analytics software and sentiment tools. You’ve even shortened your structured survey because you recognize that the most predictive answers come from text questions.


Still, in order to get more out of customer satisfaction surveys, you need to have a disciplined strategy for engaging your customers with your brand story at the right time and in the right place. Here are four tips on how to prepare for and win at the “moment of relevance”:

  1. Think and feel like your target customer. You can’t guess what your customers want based on some generic customer satisfaction index. You must ask them. Do the homework, conduct the primary research, generate insights, and reveal the gaps. Then, initiate a plan to help your team get into action and close those gaps. By performing customer needs analysis, you can reveal stated vs derived importance to discern between what customers say they want versus what they actually do Your story must be simple, clear, and aligned with your audience’s needs and wants. It must resonate in such a way that he or she wants to be a part of your brand story.
  2. Meet customers where they are and on their terms. Once you have your story, you need to make sure it reaches your customers – in formats that they consume and through channels that they use. With all of the noise in the market today, you’ll need to leverage thought leaders, influential people, and referring websites to stand out from the crowd. This part of the strategy goes well beyond traditional PR and uses links to help build authority for your site, so you rank better in search. The focus here is on the quality of where your website is linked and who’s seeing it. You’ll receive referrals from other highly ranked websites, enjoy more exposure, and receive a higher credibility factor.
  3. Shift from campaigns to conversations. Marketing was never intended to be a one–way street. It’s easy to play the guessing game on what your customers might want to talk about and blast out messages, but it’s much more productive to hear directly from your target audience and then respond appropriately. Engaging in a conversation with individuals will get you much further than an email blast to everyone with whom you’ve ever done business. Conceive your marketing strategy as conversations rather than campaigns and you’ll always have your finger on the pulse of the customer.
  4. Convert your customers to advocates. After you close the deal, customers seek not just satisfaction, but innovation, communication, and support. A big part of your strategy should be focused on turning your happy and satisfied customers into brand advocates. Delight customers by providing outstanding customer service, excellent products, and reasons why they should stay. Impress them so much that they want to tell their friends and family about you. Better yet, equip them with the tools to tell your story for you. If you give them a way to make themselves the hero of the story, they’ll tell your story many times over.

Happy, satisfied customers are great, but they don’t guarantee profitable growth for your business. If you follow these tips, you’ll get more out of your satisfaction surveys and generate better customer experiences by telling a simple, clear and aligned brand story to the right person, at the right time, through the proper channels.

Learn how transformational leaders use the power of Story, Strategy, and Systems to drive innovation and create remarkable customer experiences. Download our ebook – Transformational Marketing: Moving to the TopRight.


Click to Access the Guide for Transformational Leaders

Subscribe to blog updates, follow @TopRightPartner on Twitter, and connect with Dave on LinkedIn.