Actions Speak Louder Than Surveys

Have you ever answered one of those “how was our service?” questionnaires to let somebody know you weren’t happy with the experience you’d had, and then never heard anything back from the business that asked? Or maybe this holiday season your boss asked where the staff wanted to go for the office party, only to have him pick his favorite spot regardless. If you’ve had one of these experiences, or one similar, then you know what it feels like to be asked your opinion and have it ignored. When it comes to Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) this is a cardinal sin.

In short, EFM gives organizations the ability to centralize the collection, distribution and analysis of customer and employee feedback, ensuring the right people have the right data at the right time to make informed business decisions. EFM software transforms surveying from a single-event data collection process into an automated, ongoing discipline that continuously collects and monitors customer, employee and partner experiences. It can be a very powerful tool if used properly.

How It Works

Every question sets an expectation of action. When customers and employees of an organization feel their voice is being heard, they’re more loyal and engaged. That’s a good thing at any time, but particularly today, when we’re all working within a challenging economy, I’d argue it’s a must. Customer service can be a key differentiator influencing purchasing decisions. When customers take time to complete a survey, the data they’re providing the company is invaluable. And if their feedback isn’t at least acknowledged, they’ll feel their time was wasted and will think twice about giving you their business — or their opinion — in the future.

I think it’s fair to say that most organizations strive to make better decisions, produce a better product or provide a better service. In the desire for continuous improvement EFM offers great insight. When implementing an EFM solution, it’s important to focus on a limited set of pre-defined key metrics. For example, shortly after a purchase is made, ask a customer about their salesperson’s product knowledge and service. Keep the scope fairly narrow and focused. Otherwise, companies may find themselves with massive amounts of data, the overwhelming nature of which actually stalls any action that might be taken, wasting an opportunity for the organization and frustrating survey respondents.

Ask the Right Questions

So how does one go about identifying the right questions to ask? Clarify your business purpose. Identify the motivations for implementing a survey in the first place. What is the organization trying to learn and what actions might be taken once the results are received? The clarity and specificity organizations bring to their goals and objectives should be carried through to the questions themselves. For instance, earlier this year, a friend of mine received a survey from a hotel looking for feedback on everything. With the misguided use of branching questions, the more feedback he provided the longer the survey seemed to become. Pressed for time, he ultimately abandoned the survey. So, be brief; focus the intent of your survey and make questions clear and specific. Don’t use acronyms or otherwise write above the level of your audience. Be vigilant in watching for and preventing any assumptions or phrasing bias that might work their way into the survey.

Of course, collecting the data is only the beginning. Once you’ve asked the question, you must be prepared to act on the answer. An EFM system can be extremely valuable here, too. Optimally, your EFM software will make it possible to set-up automatic triggers and alerts, ensuring individuals within an organization are aware of customer feedback, particularly negative feedback, fast. The same software can even automate the initial reply to negative feedback, which gives your organization precious time to investigate the problem’s source and react before a customer is lost. The usefulness of this automation isn’t limited to a customer crisis, as valuable as it may be in such a situation. Automation can also be used to initiate regular customer “checkups” and intermittent customer satisfaction measurements, or pulses, identifying any potential shortcomings before they become real problems and reinforcing the customer’s identification with your brand.

Survey Employees, Too

Those executives keeping their finger on the pulse of the employee base can also benefit from such automation. One organization I know, a regular on Fortune magazine’s “Most Admired Companies” list, makes survey data an integral part of their one- and three-year planning process, driving meaningful changes. For example, survey data showed that scores for “career development and mobility” were lower than anticipated for three consecutive years. As a result of monitoring this measurement and its impact, the company dedicated resources to drive the corporate strategy for Talent Management and Career Development.

The actions an organization initiates, and the way they communicate this back to the survey respondent, is the last step in what we talk with our customers about as “closing the feedback loop.” Action can take many forms:

  • Sharing key findings
  • Communicating specific actions and acting upon them
  • Following up on specific issues raised

The speed with which organizations close this loop is essential in building a trusted dialogue. All of us as consumers have come to expect quick turnaround and immediate action when sharing our feedback, and long delays can signal a lack of care and responsiveness.

So remember, when you put your organization on a path toward becoming more aware of, and responsive to, customer and employee mindsets, start by asking the right questions. When developing those questions, always think ahead to what your follow-up actions might be given the range of possible responses.


James Martin is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Inquisite, a leader in Enterprise Feedback Management.


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