Surveys: Too Much of a Good Thing


 By Samuel Greengard

There’s no denying that today’s information technology significantly lowers barriers to entry. Capabilities that were once the domain of mega-enterprises—or were way too expensive to use on a widespread basis—are now within the reach of everyone.

But therein lies a problem. Once everyone has access to a technology, its impact is diluted.

Today’s topic: surveys. Buy a product or dial into a support center and only one thing is certain: You will be invited to take a brief survey. Every receipt, phone call and confirmation email now offers an “opportunity” to voice an opinion.

Although the idea of polling customers is a good one—and today’s technology has made it fairly easy to glean feedback—things are rapidly reaching the saturation point. A typical consumer could participate in hundreds of merchant surveys and reviews each year. Heck, maybe even thousands.

Too often, there’s a fundamental level of corporate arrogance intrinsic in surveys: "We charge you for a product or service, but we ask you to provide valuable feedback for free." Yes, some retailers dump respondents into a lottery for a single gift card, and some restaurants offer a coupon or code for a discount or free appetizer. But let’s face it, the ROI for customers is usually zilch or near zilch.

Frankly, I’m surprised that consumers respond to surveys, unless they have a close relationship with a business, a reasonable reward, or a strong motivation to reply based on a great or awful experience. Some industry stats show that response rates hover below 10 percent for basic satisfaction surveys.

Here are a few ideas that don’t require a survey: First, don’t survey too often. Second, consider giving customers an incentive and, if possible, link a reward to a loyalty program. Not only will this boost participation rates (which typically leads to more accurate results), it will engender greater loyalty.

Third, devise surveys that measure what’s really important and then put the information to use. It’s remarkable that so many businesses survey customers endlessly, yet consistently deliver subpar products and services.

The takeaway? If you want to make the grade, think beyond the technology.