11 Customer Satisfaction Survey Mistakes to Avoid

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If you're curious about your customers' thoughts and opinions about your company, it's best to ask them yourself rather than waiting for them to reach out or post a public online review -- which may be negative and end up harming your reputation.

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The perfect way to gauge customer satisfaction in a way that is both private and actionable is by sending out a customer satisfaction survey. These surveys are simple for your customers to fill out and can be analyzed to help you gain important insights about your customers' experiences.

Purpose of Customer Satisfaction Survey

Customer satisfaction surveys are surveys that track how delighted your customers are by your company or a certain experience with your company. Based on these results, you can measure customer satisfaction score (CSAT) which determines a customer's satisfaction with your company, typically on a scale of 1-10.

Analyzing customer responses to questions and CSATs can help you calculate how customer satisfaction has changed over time and how you can make changes to improve the customer experience.

However, formatting this survey is tricky. There are several mistakes that can make your results unhelpful. You can ensure your survey will be as effective as possible by preparing yourself to avoid the following common customer satisfaction survey mistakes.

11 Customer Satisfaction Survey Mistakes to Avoid

1. You don't clearly define the goal of the survey.

Once you decide you want to issue a customer satisfaction survey, it can be easy to jump right into drafting questions. However, take a step back and consider why you are creating this survey in the first place. Any good researcher knows that the first step in a research process is to select a research question that guides the entire survey.

Perhaps you are concerned about why your subscriptions have decreased significantly this month. Or, maybe you're wondering why more of your customers have been interacting with you on social media. Whatever the case may be, find the reason behind the survey and ensure that every survey question will directly help you answer that research question.

2. You include too few or too many open-ended questions.

Open-ended questions can get tricky. On the one hand, it may seem inefficient to have open-ended questions. Those can't be immediately analyzed by a survey tool for you to examine. Instead, you'll have to sit and read through them all.

On the other hand, open-ended questions leave room for customers to broaden on a topic if they felt they weren't able to properly clarify. This can be good or bad -- perhaps, they had a particularly stellar experience that they want to highlight. Or, perhaps, they want to use that space to write out a lengthy complaint. Either way, the open-ended response can provide insights into your customers' minds.

That being said, it's important to find a balance. You physically may not have the time to read through and take note of every single open-ended question that your customers answer, but one or two can add a great deal of value into customer satisfaction and help you improve in the future.

3. You forget to analyze customer demographics.

While the questions directly related to customer satisfaction are important, it's equally as important to understand your target customer base. Take this opportunity to ask your customers a couple questions about their demographics, such as their age, gender, ethnicity, nationality -- if your company is global -- and current occupation. This will help you have a better sense of your current base so you can better target your market.

Don't forget to add options for "Prefer not to say" and "Other" with room for explanation. While these responses might hinder your overall research, they will help your customers feel more comfortable to share what they choose to share. You never want to put them on the spot; in that case, they may choose to not complete the survey at all.

4. Your questions are too vague.

What's the difference between, "How was your experience with us?" and "How would you rate your interactions with our customer service and support teams?" The former is very vague, while the latter is a lot more in-depth. Each question you ask is an important aspect of your research and should be crafted to pull the most accurate response out of each customer.

Vague questions are, frankly, a waste of your time and your customers' time. You aren't going to garner any interesting finds. By focusing closely on your research question, you can design questions that direct customers in the right direction and ensure that your data is as precise as possible.

5. Your questions can't be quickly analyzed for tangible results.

Another mistake that can lead to equally inaccurate or incomplete data is choosing questions that have multiple parts. For instance, a question like, "How would you rate your experience buying from us, and would you recommend us to others?" can be confusing to customers. They might forget to answer one or select an answer that is only an appropriate response to one of the two questions.

To avoid this error, ensure that each question only elicits one response. This will help your data to be more quickly analyzed. For closed-ended questions, you can immediately compare results for each separate question, rather than having to weed through the confusing responses.

6. Your survey is too short or long.

The length of the survey can make or break your research. Some customers may see a survey with 20 or more questions and veer away from filling it out. You never want to overwhelm customers with a survey the length of the Constitution. In addition, on your end, this will add additional, unnecessary time to your analysis.

However, a survey that is too short can also be ineffective. More customers may fill out a survey that only has three questions, but will you really make any profitable observations from those three questions? If you're going to invest the time to design a survey, you want it to be as resourceful as possible. Find a solid harmony and create a survey that won't take off a year on your customers' lives, but will still help you answer your research question.

7. Your questions include a bias.

Yes, you want your customers to gush over the amazing experiences they had with you, but you want that to be the truth in their own words. Trying to sway your customers one way or another can result in inaccuracy. For instance, asking, "How great is it when your customer support rep answers your question in under 10 minutes?" is an example of a leading question that immediately causes the customer to view immediate customer support as a positive thing.

Instead, you might phrase the question as, "How important would you rate immediate customer support to be?" This lets the customer determine their response based on their genuine opinion on the matter, rather than trying to buy into what your company wants or feeling pressured to answer positively.

8. Your questions make assumptions about the customers.

You never want to presume any information about your customers in your survey. This can immediately offend them and cause a backlash. That's why it's so key to ask for customer demographic data.

Some examples include assuming specific pronouns, how long they've been a customer, and that all customers have shared a certain experience. While these may not all necessarily offend, they may negatively influence your data if, for example, you ask a question on how their experience was interacting with customer support when they've never actually reached out to your customer support. Take into account these scenarios and plan questions that can be answered by all and leave room for "N/A" options.

9. You force your customers to take the survey.

Once you create a customer satisfaction survey, it's natural to send it in your email newsletter, post it on your website and social media, and publish it on your blog. However, attacking them daily with requests to fill out the survey might make them uncomfortable. You have to accept that some -- or even many -- of your customers will not fill out your survey, no matter how easy and simple it is or how many incentives you provide.

You'll have more success gently reminding customers to take the survey. Be genuine, and tell them how the survey results will help you improve all customer experiences in the future. When customers see that there is no hidden agenda behind the surveys, they will be more inclined to complete it. And you'll have data from customers who filled it out honestly and accurately, rather than from customers who were annoyed by your barraging.

10. You make assumptions about the larger population based on a sample that is too small or non-diverse.

A big red flag when conducting research is assuming that the opinions of a sample are accurate for the entire regional, national, or global consumer population. No matter how many people your survey -- whether it be five or 500,000 -- you have to clarify that the results are based on your survey respondents.

It's impossible and ridiculous for you to try to survey the entire world, or even your entire consumer base, especially if you are a large, global company. That's why collecting customer demographics can help you determine how diverse your respondents are. It may be more accurate to state that the results are based on a sample of a specific demographic if you have an overwhelming population of a certain age, gender, or ethnicity. The most important thing is to ensure that you're being clear that, while your research findings are interesting and valuable, they can't predict what everyone believes.

11. You don't create change based on the survey results.

Finally, the biggest mistake you can make is doing nothing with your data. After all the tireless work of building a research question and hypothesis, designing survey questions, getting customers to complete it, and analyzing the data, it would be a total waste to take no action in response.

The point of conducting a customer satisfaction survey is to learn about what your customers enjoy about your company and what has dissatisfied them. After all, it's unlikely that every respondent has solely glowing remarks to submit. Learning straight from them what has bothered or upset them about working with your company gives you the opportunity to reevaluate and adapt that part of your customer process. Maybe that means building a larger support team to accommodate customer support at a faster rate or increasing your employee training on the use of live chat. Whatever the next steps are, make sure you discuss and actually implement them to, hopefully, foster growth for your team and increase the level of customer satisfaction.

Next, read this post on customer satisfaction survey examples.

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