Customer Relationship Surveys – Are They Really Necessary?

Share By Suzanne Short and Sachin Shenolikar

The goal of Customer Relationship Surveys is to gain a clear understanding of how customers perceive relationships, be it with their vendor, supplier, or service provider.

But are they really necessary?

At one time, Terry Curtin would have said “no.” Curtin, who leads the Business Alliance Account Organization for a Xerox business group, was confident in his team’s ability to capture and act upon customer feedback through their established practices. The complex and competitive nature of his accounts necessitates close customer contact. Implementing a survey seemed redundant.

Today, Curtin is a customer relationship survey convert. He has learned that surveys not only clarify customer perceptions — they also change a team’s perspective and improve performance.

At a time when competition has never been so fierce and resources never so tight, these are crucial lessons for any business.

A good customer relationship survey is sent to the decision makers and influencers at your customer’s company. Their responses to a standard set of questions offer unique insights into what they think about your company, why they are willing (or not) to recommend you; and why they may (or may not) choose to repurchase your products or services. Armed with this feedback, you are able to address and resolve specific issues and remove barriers to brand loyalty.

“A survey should include free-form text fields to identify novel responses that you may not have even considered and to offer your customers an opportunity to express themselves,” says Micah Solomon, a customer service speaker, consultant, and author.

Solomon’s tips include asking the customer for an overall rating first, before going into specific questions. He also recommends avoiding rating categories like “excellent,” which have vague meanings. “‘Exceeded expectations’ is okay as the wording for your top rating category, or consider calling your top rating something emotive like, ‘Loved it!’” he says.

Finally, end the survey with a strong thank-you that shows appreciation for the customer’s business. The goal is to form a stronger connection with the client.

“Implementing a survey gives customers the opportunity to respond to questions the field may not be asking. It’s like taking the covers off,” adds Curtin. “The feedback gained is candid and accurate.”

How candid? How accurate?

A high-level contact, whose company signed a three-year sole vendor agreement, perceived Xerox to be “inflexible.” Although he was satisfied enough to sign a multi-year contract, he was not a promoter.

“We were already aware of and working through an issue. But armed with this specific feedback, we were able to address his concerns in such a way that he could once again view us in a very favorable light,” Curtin recalls. “The value of the survey really hit home when he subsequently took his restored opinion to another account.”

Solomon recommends offering a small gift to clients for filling out a survey. “In my experience, offering a choice of, say, a T-shirt or a donation to charity in the same amount of a T-shirt is a great way to get meaningful responses, for a company that can afford to do so,” he says.

Now Curtin stresses the importance of survey participation, and challenges his team to achieve a survey response rate of over 20 percent. His people understand why this metric is important, why he pushes for it.

“I want us to lead the charge. We are customer-centric,” Curtin says. “We place tremendous value on personal contact, and on increasing our survey contacts.”

For Curtin, admitting that his reservations about customer relationship surveys were wrong means his team is doing right by their customers.  And that’s feedback worth sharing.

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