The Dos and Don’ts of Killer Customer Surveys

January 10, 2022

Melissa Langworthy

Category: Customer Experience, Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Strategy, Digital Customer Success, Voice of the Team

Voice of the customer (VoC) initiatives have often been owned by Marketing in the past, but Customer Success is taking on more and more ownership in this space. Customer Success teams can (and should!) contribute to creating killer customer surveys no matter who owns the survey methodology in your organization. By following this list of dos and don’ts for customer survey best practices, Customer Success can create an effective and efficient customer feedback loop that benefits every team, company-wide.

Do – Start with your goals and work backward

To create killer customer surveys that provide actionable information you can sink your teeth into, start with your goals and work your way backward. This means you should have a target in mind before you ever come up with questions to ask your customers. Don’t pepper your customers with a random array of “what ifs” and “on a scale of 1 to 10s…” Know what you’re aiming to understand first, whether it’s customer satisfaction or product-specific, you need a distinct, concrete goal.

Don’t – Sit on customer feedback for any length of time

The worst thing you can do is nothing! Customer Success Managers should have access to customer feedback in real-time, as it’s submitted, so they can respond as quickly as possible. Customer feedback should be pushed to an inbox, CRM, or CS tool as it’s collected so that CSMs can react to their customers right away. If survey data is being collected and disseminated in weekly or monthly reports, it’s already way too late for CSMs to address that feedback in a timely manner.

Do – Inform other teams of relevant information

Every piece of customer feedback has at least two different teams that are affected by it. (Seriously, try to think of a situation where this isn’t true.) CS should have a mechanism in place to route that feedback to the appropriate secondary team. If the customer mentioned something about a payment, it needs to go to Billing. If they mention a feature enhancement, it goes to Product. If the customer mentions something they love, Marketing needs to hear about it. An issue they need help with? Support. You get the idea. Ideally, this happens automatically, but in smaller organizations, Customer Success usually takes the lead in getting the information where it needs to go.

Don’t – Ask for information you’re not going to use

If you’re not going to do anything with the data, don’t ask for it! Be respectful of your customers’ time. It might be tempting to add an extra question or two just in case it will be helpful later on, but if you don’t have a plan of action for it now, you really just shouldn’t ask the question. This is especially true when it comes to asking essay-style questions. If no one is going to read and act upon the answers, don’t ask your customers to fill it out. Customer Success is all about earning your customers’ trust. Don’t break it by wasting their time.

Do – Be genuine

Thank your customers for taking the time to give you feedback, both good and bad. Also, let them know what you’re going to do with their feedback. This goes along with not collecting answers for the sake of collecting them but collecting them for a purpose. Let them know that you didn’t waste their time. The next time your organization needs something from this customer, they’ll remember that you really heard them. They’ll remember that you took action and actually did something with their feedback. They’ll remember that you didn’t waste their time!

Don’t – Mix your messages

Be sure that the survey format aligns with the content of the email you’re sending to make the ask, and that this specific messaging aligns with broader company messaging. It seems crazy that we have to say this, but mixed messages happen all the time. If your company brand is very formal and your survey comes out with really kooky, fun language or graphics, your customers are going to think you’ve gone crazy! Vice versa is true too.

Do – Warn your customers and adequately address security

In this day and age, where internet security is paramount, always let your customers know when to expect a survey so they know they can trust the link. This could mean CSMs mention an upcoming survey in a regular check-in meeting or EBR, or they shoot a quick personal email to give their customers a heads up. You should also work with IT to ensure survey links are the same as your private domain or a similar private domain to your organization’s other web pages. This is another reason you want your survey messaging to look like your company messaging. It builds trust and helps to ensure your customers know it’s you, and they will be more likely to respond to your survey.

Don’t – Forget about timing

The phrase “timing is everything” is a tired cliché for a reason. Timing really is important! All aspects of timing – time of year, month, week, day – all matter when it comes to sending out customer surveys. You need to determine the best timing for your surveys based on factors like your industry, your customers, the culture, and the region. For example, did you know that it’s not such a great idea to send customer satisfaction surveys around Valentine’s Day? People actually kind of hate Valentine’s Day. The holidays, in general, are usually too stressful to ask for customer feedback. But you can always get creative with timing. I saw a former client have great success targeting B2B customers during the 5 o’clock commute, just after work when they were checking their work email on Wi-Fi-enabled public transport. This is where Customer Success excels. We know our customers better than anyone else. Think about their needs, their behaviors, and their lives, and you’ll be able to time customer surveys to maximize responses.

Do – Build a frame of reference into the design

The questions you ask your customer inform how your customers respond to them. So, for example, you don’t want to begin your surveys with a big, open-ended question with no frame of reference. You want to tailor your questions to your goal. Again, this is why it’s so important to begin with a purpose in mind. Start with your goal and lead your customer down the path to get responses that make the most sense for what you’re looking for. By framing their reference, you’re letting them know what you’re interested in learning about, what story you want to hear, what you want to know about their experience, and in this way, you’re helping them help you.

Don’t – Throw it all away

After all my years in the survey space, there is one major thing that can go wrong when companies put out customer surveys. Nobody can take it! Nobody can take the feedback from customers. They just don’t want to hear what customers have to say. That, to me, is the biggest “Don’t” I can think of for customer surveys. Don’t ignore what customers have to say! Don’t go through all the trouble of collecting customer data only to toss it out the window because your organization’s ego can’t bear it. Take it in. Learn from it. Grow! Evolve! It’s the only way to get better.