Customer Service

Surveys become the scourge of customer service

By Mark Lusky | October 14, 2013

Once again, corporate America has taken a great concept –regular customer feedback – and morphed it into an omnipresent annoyance. It seems like a survey request accompanies just about every customer service interaction. Feedback questions are becoming as integral to customer service as the service itself.

Some people are more likely to comment on passionate, positive service, while others will only comment when really angry or frustrated. Given these varying motivations, it can be hard to know if the tally accurately reflects customer opinion or is just a compilation of polarized views.

This, in turn, can make reps nervous. While many are trying harder to provide a positive experience, sometimes the situation itself is so frustrating that no amount of hand-holding will produce positive feedback.

Job performance evaluations, promotions and raises all can be substantially impacted by survey feedback, so an accurate picture is of the utmost importance. Recorded customer service transactions can provide “objective” information about what was actually said, but in an ever-more-time-pressured customer service environment, going back and reviewing conversations may prove impractical in some cases.

How can smaller companies get important feedback without relying solely on surveys? Here are some ideas:

1. Reach out instead of reeling in. Identify a core group of customers that you feel are a microcosm of your entire customer population, and one by one, invite them to breakfast or lunch. This can serve several key purposes, including: a) acknowledging their importance; b) thanking them for their patronage; and c) giving you an opportunity to pick their brains about product and service quality, and anything else that may be on their minds.

With everyone accustomed to digital communications, in-person contact can be a welcome change of pace. Many people view it as a favor to the company when they complete a survey. Showing your appreciation face-to-face will help make people open up and share valuable information without feeling imposed upon.

2. Encourage negative comments. At first glance, this may sound nutty. But think about it. Despite the number of contentious customer service interactions, at the end of the day many customers never register their dissatisfaction – they just go to a competitor. You don’t get the opportunity to correct the problem and keep a customer; and they are out there complaining to everyone but you, which ultimately harms your reputation and revenues.

Customer service reps identifying clearly dissatisfied customers should be empowered to utilize higher-level resolution techniques – instead of just trying to close out the conversation and move on to the next. These can range from suggesting a conversation with an escalation supervisor to more in-depth exploration of options directly.

By showing customers a sincere interest in problem resolution versus just paying lip service to problems, companies can wind up with positive reviews for a “can do” spirit – instead of a “won’t do” reputation. And this can occur even when the ultimate outcome isn’t 100% to the customer’s liking, such as frequently happens when technology challenges are involved.

Bottom line: Customers are much more likely to value, respect and like support reps who demonstrate a clear, authentic desire to help than those who only pay lip service to the process, and come across as unhelpful and/or incompetent.

3. Make surveys a special event instead of a routine occurrence. In the interest of frequent feedback, many survey models now emphasize brevity, with the idea that it will only be a minor inconvenience. While this initially worked, it’s now being done to the point of overkill.

Instead, make it an event. Consider mailing selectively (not emailing or texting) an actual invitation that clearly states the recipient’s status as a valued customer coupled with an offer to participate in a special survey that can be accessed online. For their time and trouble, offer some type of perk (not just their entry into some innocuous drawing). For example, invite them to complete the survey online over coffee, and enclose a $5 Starbucks gift card.

Don’t make the perk contingent upon completing the survey. This puts customers on the “honor system.” Some will use the card without doing the survey. But the ones who do complete it will see your invitation as genuine appreciation and likely they will fill out the survey with more dedication.

Surveys can be a great tool to improve customer service. Just keep it in perspective, and don’t club your customers over the head with it every time there’s a service interaction.

Tammie MacLachlan contributed to this report.

Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels since 2008. Tammie MacLachlan is the customer service manager of Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA. she has been in the printing industry for 19 years and with Lightning Labels for more than seven years. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label printing news.