Why your email surveys are not working

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Okay, let me get one thing out of the way before I upset a lot of people: e-surveys are a great tool to gather customer feedback and one of the few ways, especially for ecommerce businesses.

However, for all other organisations that still operate within the confines of the physical world, e-surveys are one of many tools in the toolkit. Although there has been much ingenuity in the big data revolution that has helped businesses answer “what” customers do, the irony is that active feedback methods that aim to answer the “why”, remain quite antiquated.

If you are a business with a physical presence where you interact with customers, these 4 reasons may provide insight into why your e-surveys are not providing as much value as you thought.

  • You are fighting for your customers’ attention when they least care about you.

Once you choose to go down the e-survey route, realise that you now have to play by the rules of the game. The game is the internet and rule #1 is ‘everyone is an enemy’. Those cat videos seem harmless right? Well, believe it or not, in the digital world they are competitors who are constantly fighting for your customer’s most valuable resource: time.

Think about this – when you send an e-survey to a customer, you’re effectively saying: “Hey, I know this is supposed to be your downtime to do other things, but can you spend that time to answer my questions?” Not only are you asking customers for their attention, but you’re also asking them to perform an action on their own time. That seems like a lot of work, I’d say.

  • E-surveys have natural limitations.

We aren’t asking the right questions, and if we are – it’s extremely difficult to link responses to the actual experiences felt by customers in the real world. Questions such as, “How was your customer experience?” provide little to no value. If your business has received positive ratings on such questions, how accurately can you pinpoint the factors that resulted in those favourable outcomes? Answer truthfully.

On the other hand, if you were to ask more specific questions, two issues will surface: a) Your survey will go from 10 to 20 questions, sending potential respondents running in the other direction and; b) You will have to depend on how well your customers can recall their experiences. Unless you can get a customer to respond within a specific timeframe, the quality of responses you receive will be highly dependent on the speed of response. How reliable, accurate, and useful is that feedback? As I write this, I just received a phone call to answer a few questions for an e-survey I filled out in…wait for it…April 2017 (this really happened, I won’t take names). I don’t remember what I ate for lunch two days ago, let alone what I was doing over 18 months ago!

  • You will not get a statistically accurate representation of how your customers feel (Godin, 2015).

If your email open rate is above 10% then you’re doing a marvelous job. Unfortunately, typically less than those who have opened your email will go on to start your survey, and even fewer will go on to complete it. Effectively, this means that you are missing feedback from the majority of your customers and have no idea what they’re thinking or what contributes to a positive experience from their perspectives.

If your response is, “Well, we’re keeping our brand loyalists happy and that’s where 80% of our revenues comes from,” I hear you loud and clear. However, isn’t it just good business sense to try and convert as many customers to become brand advocates and loyalists?

  • E-surveys are more reactive than proactive.

As mentioned earlier, e-surveys are great. However, one of the biggest limitations is the inherent retrospective nature of the feedback method. If you receive poor feedback through an e-survey, you can only ever improve your offering in the future, not the present. You will never be able to improve or rectify the customer experience as and when feedback is given, which becomes especially important if you receive negative feedback. Ask yourself, what is the cost of losing out on months, weeks or even days of valuable feedback? What is it worth to your business to find out how you can improve, and how timely should those insights be?

Customer experience expectations are continuously evolving. We know that customer preferences dictate how businesses model themselves and so there isn’t ever a right answer. As businesses, we can only iterate and improve our methods of customer feedback and try and minimize as many gaps across the customer journey. In my next post, I will explain when and why in-moment feedback will play a critical role moving forward in enhancing the customer experience.