And the Surveys Go On

Linda Henman

And the Surveys Go On

In the past week I’ve experienced a notable increase in people asking my opinion. That’s good news for a consultant who considers opinion-giving the coinage of her realm. But clients didn’t ask; businesses did.

As I checked out of the FedEx store where I’d bought envelopes, the nice clerk handed me a receipt and said, “Please take a few minutes to fell out the survey on the receipt. It will help me personally.” She seemed pleasant enough but not enough for me to have a vested interested in helping her. I just wanted envelopes.

How did they expect me to rate this shopping experience? Compared to other envelope-buying initiatives? Compared to dining at a five-star restaurant? Compared to checking into a maximum security prison? That part wasn’t clear.

Then, yesterday the cable person who helped me take HBO off my bill asked me to fill out a survey at the end of the call. This woman was what the Irish nuns used to call “a bit slow,” and they and I didn’t mean this in terms of velocity. In the time it took her to remove the service from my bill, I think an average person could have built a garage. She’s lucky she took so much time doing her job that I ran out of time to fill out the survey. But she seemed nice.

Add the events this week to the onslaught of survey requests I receive, and one wonders if we could improve the global economy just by eliminating the time it takes to fill out surveys. Apparently this uptick in survey requests is tied to some misguided attempt to improve customer service. It won’t.

For years I have helped clients improve relationships with their customers, and not once have I suggested they send a survey. Here are some things that work better:

  • Have your sales team call your best customers periodically. When a person asks another person for feedback, miraculous things happen. People exchange truths. It’s an ancient approach, and it’s crazy, but it just might work.
  • Business owners and leaders should also call their best customers to check in, not to sell them anything new. Don’t wait for a complaint or the end of the project, ask your customers if your people are delighting them, not just satisfying them.
  • Shop your own business. Most senior leaders have no idea what their customers’ experiences are like. Why not visit your website and try to buy something? Use somebody else’s cell phone and call the customer service hot line. Call the sales department and be a demanding customer with unreasonable requests. See how you’re treated.
  • Talk to the people who talk to your customers. What are they hearing?
  • Try to call yourself. See whether you get lost in the “Press one if…” time warp. Sometimes senior leaders simply don’t know what’s going on because no one can reach them.

In an age when so many people want to talk about innovation, few want to consider conventional wisdom. Sometimes the things that have always worked will still work.

I think I read about that in some survey results.