"An insightful and refreshing look at the way consumers and retailers interact in this modern age.”

Sir Stuart Rose,
Chairman of Marks & Spencer plc

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Has anyone else fallen for those sweet, seductive words, “Would you like to participate in a short survey at the end of your call today, to help us improve our service?”


Or have you by any chance answered a text message enquiring about the service you have received only to be hit by another and another?


I have just moved house to beautiful Herefordshire and consequently have had to update everyone that supplies me with my change of address. The telephone remains the easiest way to do this with most companies and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to transact with everyone. In this respect it really does feel like the influence of customer satisfaction is a force for the good between us consumers and the brands that serve us.


I have just one complaint. The insidious march of “customer satisfaction surveys” into each and every transaction. Can no-one see the logic that if I spend around four minutes on the phone getting something done (and two of those are probably waiting to be spoken to, at the start of the call), the very last thing I want to do is to extend that call by “no more than five minutes” describing how I felt about what just happened? Why is that so counter-intuitive?


Speaking to other consumers, I am not alone. People feel that this approach to gathering feedback is disrespectful and patronising.   They are being asked to give freely of their time and to pay for a longer phone call just to satisfy the data gathering whims of the customer satisfaction gnomes of every brand that they deal with.


Such a strong, emotional reaction from consumers to this means of data gathering must have an impact, not just on the quality of the garnered results but potentially on the consumer’s relationship with the brand itself. So the feedback process may itself be harming the very thing that it was designed to enhance!


When did things get so complicated? The simple premise of Net Promoter Score, on which all of this was based, was to ask one simple question, “Would you recommend us to your family & friends?” Empirical research carried out by Harvard Business School demonstrated that this one question alone predicted consumer’s future purchasing intentions than any other. Subsequent research found that an uplift in NPS correlated with increased brand revenues.


But then the gnomes of customer satisfaction got greedy. The chief executive turned the corporate spot light on them and instructed them to “Go forth and gather data” and they duly did, dreaming up lavish quantities of additional and generally less relevant questions that they could waste customer’s time with whilst making themselves look more important! Or at least that’s how it seems to me.


What is the point of asking every customer every question? If the most important answer a customer can give tells you that they will buy from you next time, why analyse further? If a customer is so unhappy that they have no intention of repeating their purchase, rather than asking a whole series of generalised questions almost calculated to upset them further why not create a much simpler means to capture concerns and deal with them immediately, maybe even have someone talk to them?


A suboptimal NPS score should certainly make a red light flash on the CEO’s desk and get those gnomes scurrying around but upsetting all of your customers, satisfied or no, with lots of irrelevant questions, the answers to which are generally unactionable, is not the answer. Isn’t this where sampling should come into play? Or what about predictive algorithms? And what about asking your front line troops, the people who have to deal with your customer’s every day of their working lives? Or don’t you trust them to give you straight answers?


And what happened to common sense? An awful lot can be deduced about a customer’s level of satisfaction by the words that they use, their tone of voice and if they are physically present, their body language, posture and so forth.


Brands need to be respectful. Customers are time starved and experience hungry. Why not wow us by showing how insightful you can be? Any questions asked should be ones that make us think positively of the brand and see the way that our supplier is striving to serve us better. Let’s dump the clichés and the hackneyed surveys. Brand, if you can use your intelligence to infer more, understand more and ask less then we will all be much more satisfied.