Turning Customer Satisfaction Survey Results into Action

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Achieving a high customer satisfaction score doesn’t have any meaning for an organization. As a business owner, I prefer to think that all customers are potentially unsatisfied. Even if they are presently satisfied with our product, once we’ve improved it they will be unsatisfied with the earlier version.

I consider this is an optimistic view. It means there will always be something to improve. If I exhausted all opportunities for improvement, I would be deeply concerned about the future of my company.

Additionally, I find the term “satisfaction” problematic. Since when do people consider being “satisfied” a positive outcome? Being “satisfied” represents a mediocre achievement.

I seek enthusiastic and loyal customers who offer detailed feedback on both positive and negative aspects of our product. I want passion – not satisfaction. As a company entirely dependent on word-of-mouth marketing, we require more than just “satisfied” customers.

Here’s my thoughts on satisfaction and why we are moving away from it at light speed.

Does Customer Satisfaction Drive Change? No.

Without exception, customer satisfaction surveys and feedback systems should be based on a desire to change or take action.

If you set out to measure customer satisfaction what action are you trying to take?

As far as I can tell a customer satisfaction score has no action that can be taken (at least not directly). It represents merely a number without a narrative.

Most companies will not like their score and then brainstorm internally on how to improve it (or worse they’ll like it and do nothing). Those brainstorm ideas will not be qualified with research, they’ll just be put into action, and the company will run another satisfaction score in a year to see if anything changed.

(BTW: If you work in an organization that needs customer satisfaction survey results to tell them they need to improve then I suggest you jump ship as soon as you can. Sometime soon, an innovative company that focuses on continuous improvement will enter your market and knock your current employer down.)

You should be trying to find ways to improve your services to increase brand loyalty, global happiness, word of mouth marketing and drive the customer to buy more. Focus your metrics directly on those initiatives.

A high satisfaction score might make you feel good, but you just lost an opportunity. You used that respondent’s time on a metric that you can’t act on.

If you want to innovate and grow, ask for actionable feedback and ask for it as frequently as possible.

Ask the Right Customer Satisfaction Survey Questions for Your Goals

Like all business we have limited resources (and we think that’s a good thing for a business). With limited resources we need to focus the company’s resources to work where they will do the most good. That’s ultimately what this is all about.

Here are questions that I consider more useful than scale questions about satisfaction. We use questions like these every day, not just in customer satisfaction surveys, but on the phone, in email and through automated feedback systems we’ve built on top of Alchemer. These questions help us decide how to iterate our service, business and management.

  1. How would you improve our product/service?
  2. How can we improve?
  3. If you could change one thing about our service what would it be? Why?
  4. What was one thing you love about our service? Why?
  5. How does our product compare to competitors?
  6. What are a few words you’d use to describe our product or service?
  7. In what way is our product weak compared to competitors?

We pose these questions in the form of essays or open-ended queries. That gives you maximum chance for discovery and actionable feedback. Additionally, it facilitates expressing gratitude in a genuine manner rather than a mechanical one.

Ask Customer Satisfaction Survey Questions Often & Act Often

Many companies only run a customer satisfaction survey once per year. For many this is their only survey they do.

It boggles my mind.

Imagine if we had evolved so we could only open your eyes once per year for a week. We’d have earned a Darwin Award pretty quickly.

Why should our organizations and products be any different? They’re also an organism trying to grow and survive; and companies that spend more time with their eyes open are going to win.

Stop sending out annual or quarterly customer satisfaction surveys. Instead create feedback systems (often using survey software) that provide continuous feedback to your organization.

You also need to act on the feedback you get. Create a culture that loves it and acts on it every day, every week. Create a system for organizing your feedback (so you don’t go into overload) and acting on it in small rapid iterations.

There’s a whole new business movement out there right now developing around Agile and Lean practices.

The idea is that by making continuous small and rapid improvements even a larger organization can stay nimble and act on feedback rapidly. It also helps mitigate the risk of change by keeping all changes small and back-stepping when you need to without guilt or blame.

I recommend looking into the O’Reily “Lean Series” of books if you want to learn more.


Net Promoter Score

If you have one of those personalities that absolutely needs to keep score on feedback then I recommend a technique called Net Promoter Score.

Here’s the format:

?Based on your experience today, how likely are you to recommend [product/service] to a friend or colleague? Why?

Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with this method. The benefit of this question is that it tries to answer a meaningful question for a business: “Will the customer recommend us?”

Just remember that it’s entirely subjective and only belongs in a feedback system, not in the middle of a quantitative survey (where I see them most often). Don’t mix this with statistically valid qualitative questions.

Also, it’s next to useless without the “why” component — which is where most of the value comes from.

Say “Thank You”!

Customers have been trained not to give us feedback. We’ve taught them through years of abuse that giving us feedback is a thankless, emotional task that has no real reward for them. They are never thanked. They rarely see change based on their feedback.

Heck, most of the time customers assume their feedback is never read!

We can change that with one simple step, and improve our customer relationships at the same time.

Just say thank you. Reply, personally to every piece of feedback you receive. You don’t need to offer them anything. Just say thank you.

Your customers took time out of their day to provide feedback to you. They are providing you with information that will drive your organization to better growth, more profitability and save you costly mistakes.

Contact them and thank them for their feedback (particularly for negative feedback).

You’ll be surprised how this little thing will increase your response rate and delight your customers.


Please feel free to use the commenting section below to discuss this idea with me and among yourselves. I will reply!

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