What’s it to ‘ya? How a survey can set customer and employee expectations

Have you ever used one of those “How was our service?” questionnaires to register a complaint, then never heard back from the organization that sent it? When it comes to enterprise feedback management (EFM), this is a cardinal sin. EFM centralizes the collection, analysis, and distribution of customer and employee feedback to make good decisions and respond accordingly.
By James Martin, chairman and CEO, Inquisite March 2, 2009

Have you ever answered one of those “How was our service?” questionnaires to let someone know you weren’t happy with the experience you’d had, and then never heard anything back from the business that asked?

Or maybe, as an employee, you received a survey from your employer asking for input about an organizational matter, such as the most important insurance benefits to you, only to have the company move forward simply by choosing the lowest cost provider.

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.

Enterprise-class online survey and feedback management software—an emerging solution space known as EFM—ensures the right people have the right data at the right time to make informed business decisions. EFM gives organizations the ability to centralize the collection, distribution, and analysis of customer and employee feedback.

The 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. If used improperly, customers and employees alike can be lost.

Definitions first
It is important to first distinguish between EFM software and the more consumer-oriented utilities you may find online.

Not all survey software is created equal and only a handful of vendors provide an enterprise ready platform. If the ultimate goal of your survey activities is to gather feedback and other information that will then be shared throughout the enterprise, you should be aware that this is not what the lower-end survey products do—nor do they claim to do this.

Consumer-oriented survey tools are missing the functions that make EFM an enterprise application, including role-based, custom views of survey data; sophisticated reporting and data sharing capabilities; and integration with enterprise databases and CRM platforms.

Successful EFM adoption isn’t just about the software; it’s also about the way that software is used. Listed below are survey-question best practices that will help your company set the correct expectations when using an EFM application to survey customers and employees.

Every question sets an expectation.

When customers and employees of an organization feel their voices are being heard, they will be more loyal and engaged. That’s a good thing at any time but particularly today, in a challenging economy, it’s a must. Customer service can be a key differentiator influencing purchasing decisions. When customers take time to complete a survey, the data that they are giving 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 opinion—or their business—in the future.

Focus, focus, focus.

It’s fair to say that most organizations strive to make better decisions, create a better product, or offer a better service. In the desire for continuous improvement, EFM offers great insight. When implementing an EFM application, it’s important to focus on a limited set of predefined key metrics. For example, shortly after a purchase is made, ask a customer about the 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.

What’s my motivation?

So how does one go about identifying the right questions to ask? First, 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 the 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.

Enable action and automation.
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. Optimally, your EFM solution 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 also can be used to initiate regular customer ‘”checkups” and intermittent customer satisfaction measurements—i.e., pulses—identifying any potential shortcomings before they become real problems and reinforcing the customer’s identification with your brand.

What’s good for customers can be good for employees.
Those executives keeping their finger on the pulse of the employee base also will benefit from such automation. One organization I know of in particular 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.

Closing the loop
The actions that an organization initiates, and the way the organization communicates this back to the survey respondent, is the last step known as “closing the feedback loop.” Action can take many forms:

• Sharing key findings;

• Communicating specific actions and acting upon them; and

• 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.

Remember: When you put your organization on a path toward becoming more aware of—and responsive to—customer and employee mind-sets, 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.

About the author:
James Martin is chairman and CEO of Inquisite , a supplier of enterprise feedback management applications. Martin has collaborated with hundreds of market researchers during the last 11 years to help corporations collect, analyze, and act on feedback.