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Are Customer Satisfaction Surveys a Good Thing?

Witten: October 2020

Surveys have the potential to be very useful tools for any organization to gain insight about their customers, products, and services. The number of surveys presented to us is on the rise but, in my opinion, most are misdirected. The typical survey basically asks two questions. 

First is “Based on your most recent interaction with our customer service team, how likely are you to recommend our product or service to friends or family?” I remember back 25+ years ago when this question emerged from the bowels of marketing research firms. The question was shown in some studies to have the most accurate correlation to customer satisfaction. The question has lingered now for decades as the gold standard for surveys. I don’t like the question because I don’t feel it is my duty to make recommendations, pro or con, for any product or service I may have purchased. The question just doesn’t tell the real story about the quality of the product or service.

The other focus of most surveys is to ask about the customer service representative and how they handled your interaction. The questions are focused on the rep, not on the product or service. For example, AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum, Verizon, and other carriers have terrible customer satisfaction. It is not because their reps are bad, it is because their service price, quality, terms and conditions, etc. are terrible, yet they don’t ask about any of that. 

Apple and Amazon understand. Although they both survey about their reps’ responsiveness, they also survey about their products and services. Telecommunications providers are not alone as providers of terrible services. Financial services companies also survey about their reps, not the quality of their products and services.

Healthcare is on a level of its own. Medicare requires all patients to receive a survey called hospital consumer assessment of healthcare providers and systems (HCAHPS). It sounds comprehensive but is not. They ask about the quality of the food, the level of noise in the hospital room, communications from doctors and nurses, and the level of understanding the patient had. As healthcare has become more digitally oriented with mHealth and Telehealth, none of the HCAHPS questions ask about how well video consults have worked. I have had five video consults and none of the five had working video, although millions, including children, use Zoom every day with less problems. The survey does not ask how easy it is to retrieve data from lab or imaging studies, how easy it is to transfer information to another provider, or how easy it is to schedule an appointment. I don’t take most surveys because I don’t want to add evidence leading to a rep getting fired because their company’s product or service is terrible.

I practice what I preach. I have created a short five-question, less than one minute to complete, survey about johnpatrick.com. I really want to know what my readers think about it. Are my e-briefs too long or too short, are they informative, etc. All responses are anonymous, and I share the results.

My reflections – 2022

I continue to believe surveys are misdirected, and customer satisfaction is often not great. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), from 2010 to 2019, about 70% of the companies tracked by ACSI had declining or flat customer satisfaction scores.[i] Since then, American customers have become even more dissatisfied. As of the fourth quarter 2021, almost 80% of the companies have now failed to increase the satisfaction of their customers since 2010.[ii]

All of us can expound on examples of poor customer satisfaction. My latest example was with a major bank. I called to get some information about a financial transaction from some years ago. I was told the bank can only search back four years ago. If you are looking for something older than that, you cannot call, you must provide a request in writing. I sent them a fax with all the information they requested. After not hearing anything for several days, I called to confirm the bank had received my fax. I was told I would hear something within 20 days.

A final thought about customer satisfaction is about comparisons. AT&T should not compare itself to T-Mobile or Verizon. Wells Fargo should not compare themselves to Bank of America or Citi. Hospitals should not compare themselves to other hospitals. They should all compare themselves to Amazon and Apple and other companies with a net attitude. Companies with a net attitude don’t have great customer service because of regulators telling them they have to or because of competition. Their leaders are inspired to be as great as possible. They walk the talk. They put the customer first. They make sure the customer is satisfied with their products and services.

Now, it is time for me to practice what I preach. I have created a short survey about johnpatrick.com. It should take 1-2 minutes to complete. I really want to know what you think about it. Are my e-briefs too long or too short, are they informative, etc. All responses are anonymous, and I will share the results over the coming weeks. Please take a minute to click on the image at the top of this story or here. Thanks!

[i] “American Customer Satisfaction Index,”  American Customr Satisfaction Index (2022), https://www.theacsi.org/the-acsi-difference/us-overall-customer-satisfaction/

[ii] Ibid.