It turns out there are dumb questions

There’s no truer a believer in customer surveys than yours truly. Transforming customers into partners and guides is one of the most effective tools for strategic planning and implementation and it’s available to essentially every company.

It’s also a fundamental step in Quadrant Five methodology, so it would be really weird if I wasn’t a big fan.

Of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way to ask a question. Too frequently, I’ll run into a manager who proudly declares that his firm surveyed customers, but is unable to tell me one insight gained from the process. Why? Often, the survey doesn’t match the goals of the company—or the customer.

Here are a few of the more common mistakes we’ve seen over the years:

  • Point system. Often, customers will be asked to rank something on a 10-point scale, with 1 being bad and 10 being great. After all the numbers are collected, though, nobody knows why different customers gave different scores. Ten-point scales have their uses, but they are very limited when it comes to identifying the “why” behind any answers.
  • Direct Questions. Direct questions lead customers to focus on data points and specifics, which might sound great on the surface. It isn’t. If you want to know who the customer would vote for if the election were held today, ask that directly. If you want to know how they would respond to a 10% price increase, more subtlety is needed.
  • Nuts and bolts. Questions that get too detailed or overly focused on internal operational issues put the customer in the position of figuring out your business for you. It’s one thing to ask a customer about your delivery service, but another to ask if you should add an evening shift of drivers.
  • Loaded questions. If a question is almost guaranteed to get a specific type of answer, why bother asking it?

There are other potholes and landmines, of course, but this is a short list for starters. Of course, it also makes a difference if you do your inquiry by phone, fax or email, when you do it, which customers you ask, and so on.


Written by Michael Rosenbaum on July 19th, 2012. Posted in Performance Improvement, Strategic Insights

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