Vocalabs Newsletter: Quality Times



In This Issue


The power of a customer service survey comes from its credibility.

Credibility is what convinces customer-facing employees that they need to listen when a customer says he wasn't served well. Credibility is what gives executives the confidence to make decisions based on the customer feedback.

Unfortunately, many customer survey programs lack credibility. Without credibility, negative feedback (which is normally a gift!) is easy to ignore. Some common things which undermine credibility in a survey are:

  • Survey results aren't available until weeks or months after a customer interaction.
  • Obvious flaws in the survey process.
  • Manipulation of which customers take the survey, or even outright cheating and misreporting results.
  • No way to connect an individual employee's actions with the results of the survey.

These are not theoretical. I have personally observed:

  • Call center employees only allowing "good" calls to go to the survey. There are lots of tricks for influencing whether a customer takes the survey or not, and some are extremely subtle even if you're looking for them.
  • An executive who misreported survey scores in order to hit his target. He had been given a customer satisfaction goal which (arguably) was too aggressive--so instead of improving customer satisfaction, he reported a slightly different metric which was easier to hit.
  • Survey scores delivered three months after a customer experience. Not only is that not helpful, by that time there's a good chance the employee has already quit.
  • Survey questions so confusing that nobody knew what they were supposed to mean--not even the people who wrote them. This seems to be a particular hazard when trying to operationalize mission statements and marketing messages. Just what does it mean to receive "innovative" customer service?

When employees see these things happening, it gives them license to ignore the feedback process because they perceive it as no longer meaningful or relevant.

Here are some tips for making a survey process more credible:

  1. Collect feedback as close to real-time as is appropriate and practical.
  2. Connect individual surveys to the customer experience which the survey is about.
  3. Deliver data in real time to all levels of the customer service operation.
  4. Update survey questions regularly to keep them relevant to current business needs.
  5. Get input from throughout the organization about how to improve the survey.
  6. Monitor for signs of manipulation and cheating.


It seems that when talking customer feedback programs, all the discussion is around what questions to ask and what technique to use.

Where the rubber meets the road, however, is often in the reporting. There are a lot of ways to get good data (OK, maybe not great data, but at least usable data). But without some basic reporting capabilities it's almost impossible to use that feedback to actually drive improvement.

I see a surprising number of customer feedback programs where the reporting is barely more sophisticated than an Excel spreadsheet. For that matter, I see a surprising number of programs where the reporting is an Excel spreadsheet. Let's be clear: Excel is not a reporting platform.

Here are some of what I consider must-have reporting capabilities in any customer service survey. Without these, your program is going to be stuck at maturity level zero or one, and you will be realizing very little value from the effort.

  1. Real Time Alerts and Notifications: The reporting system needs to be able to send an immediate notification when a survey comes in, to the person (or people) who need to see that particular survey. In particular: if a customer was dissatisfied or asked for a follow-up, that survey should be sent to a service recovery team right away; and front-line managers should be notified when a survey is completed on one of their employees. This is a critical first step in closing the loop on the survey, and the faster it gets done the more effective it will be.
  2. Easy Drill Down to Individual Surveys: Statistics are great, but (most) people don't think in terms of percentages and margins of error. We think in terms of people and their stories. In order to make sense of the feedback we're getting, it's often necessary to read a customer's comments and responses in the context of that one customer's experience. If it takes more than a couple clicks to go from statistics to individual surveys, most people won't bother, and they'll have a hard time understanding what the data means.
  3. Survey Records Include Other Data About the Customer's Experience: Each survey record needs to include the data necessary to put the survey in the context of the customer's experience with the company. For example: who did the customer interact with, what was the transaction, where did it happen, how valuable is the customer to the company, and so forth. Every company has different customer data, so the reporting platform should be flexible enough to accommodate whatever data is available and potentially useful. Without this information it is almost impossible to figure out what (or who) needs to change to improve the customer experience.
  4. An Exact Record of Each Customer's Feedback, in the Original Format: Whatever format the original survey was conducted in, the reporting system must make available an exact record of the survey. That means:
    1. For online surveys: Each question on the survey, exactly as presented to the customer with the exact wording and showing the options available, and in the order shown to the customer.
    2. For phone surveys: An audio recording of the original phone survey from the time the customer was asked to take the survey to the time the call ended.
    3. For pencil-and-paper surveys: An image of the survey form showing all marks the customer may have made on the paper.

    This is important because information is lost any time we present summary data or move a survey from one medium to another. Without that original record in the original format, it may be difficult or impossible to fully understand what the customer was trying to communicate.

  5. Individual Reporting at Multiple Organizational Levels: Reports have to be available for individual employees, managers, functional areas, executives, regions, etc. Without this level of detail, there's simply no way to get anyone to take ownership of the customer feedback. It's human nature to believe that we're doing a good job, and if there's a problem it must be someone else's fault. So if the survey data winds up in a single statistical blob, nobody will ever believe it's up to them to improve things.

Remember, these items are not optional. This is not my list of nice-to-have reporting features. These are things, without which, any customer feedback program will have only limited impact and effectiveness.

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