When is the right time in a company's growth to put in place a customer feedback program?
Not every company needs or would benefit from surveys. Very small businesses may be very intimate with their customers and wouldn't learn anything new from a survey process. But as organizations grow in size and complexity, the need for a survey program becomes greater.
The role of a survey program is to provide the organization with visibility into how it is performing from the customer's perspective. So the right time to think about a survey program is when the company no longer gets that visibility in the ordinary course of business.
Here are two questions to ask when deciding if it's time to start surveying your customers:
- Is there any one person in the company who personally interacts with a significant fraction of the customers? In a smaller company, there are usually people who directly touch a lot of the customers. For example, a B2B consultancy where the CEO meets with all customers, or a pharmacy where the pharmacist personally talks to a large percentage of the people who walk through the door. This direct personal contact gives a lot of customer insight and intimacy, and probably means that you won't learn anything new from a survey. But if your business is big enough that no one person has the time or ability to touch more than a few percent of the customer base, then the only way you're going to get the big picture of how your customers feel about you is through a survey. This is a good application for a relationship survey, where you can take the temperature of your customers from time to time and make sure everything is on the right track.
- Is there any one person in the company who personally oversees all customer-facing employees? Just as a larger customer base makes it harder to see the big picture of your customer relationships, having a larger number of customer-facing employees makes it harder to see the big picture of how your employees are relating to your customers. If you're big enough to require at least a couple of supervisors, you should also have a transactional survey in place to collect data on specific customer interactions. This will provide more visibility and insight into how well the employees are dealing with customers, give better opportunities for coaching, and minimize the chances that a poor employee will slip through the cracks.
Smaller companies with fewer customers and simpler operations often don't need to perform customer surveys.
The time to think about a survey process is when you get big enough that you lose that customer and operational intimacy. When there's nobody who personally knows your customers or is personally responsible for supervising all the employees who deal with your customers, a formal feedback process gives you back some of that visibility you had as a smaller organization.