The Benefit, Or Danger, Of Doing Client Surveys



client surveys

So you want some feedback from your customers. That’s great! Are you prepared for what you might hear? And are you setting up the survey so that you can actually gain valuable information?



Preparation Needed When Doing Client Surveys

How you structure your survey can work for you, or against you. Here’s an example.

I received an email from my Internet/landline/TV vendor asking me to take a survey. They, of course, said they were interested in learning about my experience with their company. Well, I’ve had some difficulty with them so I considered this a positive event. I thought, ‘Wow, they are actually asking for information. Maybe that means they are interested in making some changes.’ So I clicked the link in the email and set time aside to take their survey.

In addition to asking for some demographic information, the survey consisted of two questions. The first was how I would define my satisfaction with their company. I gave them a 3 on a scale of 1 -10 where 10 was extremely satisfied. The second question was how likely I would be to recommend them to my friends and family. Here I gave them a 2 on the same scale.

And that was the end of the client survey.

What did they learn? They learned I was unhappy and wouldn’t recommend them. But they didn’t learn why I was unhappy. So, again, what did they learn? Nothing. They cannot make any significant changes to their service or programs to get those numbers to change. They don’t know where to focus energy. They have no idea where they’ve gone off the rails.



There’s one more problem with this, and it’s a biggie. I gained very valuable information. I confirmed that they don’t care at all about how their customers feel. They were going through the motions. Someone, somewhere, in the executive suite decided it would be a good idea to survey their customers. So they did. If surveyed again, I would give lower ratings.

The next time I have to deal with them, and negotiate my package, I will be hardened. I will not give. They have created a worse relationship with me, their customer.

Good Survey Questions Get Thoughtful Answers

As small business owners, we can learn from this client survey experience. We can ensure that we craft questions that will truly garner valuable information from our clients. First off, we want to know their level of satisfaction. The key is this — once we have that number we need to discover, what is behind it. Even if it is a 10, we should want to know what makes it a 10.

When the number is low and we find out why it’s low, we now have information to work with. We know where we need to make changes. We know where we are falling down. And when we ask for that depth of information, we are letting our clients know we care enough to ask.



When the number is high and we ask why we are discovering what is working. We can then bounce off of those attributes to market and sell to more prospects. When we know what works, we can use those things to make ourselves attractive to future clients. We now have stories to tell.

If you are going to conduct client surveys, do it so you get the information you need and can use to improve your company. This process will help you improve your relationships with your clients as well.

Survey Photo via Shutterstock
6 Comments ▼



Diane Helbig Diane Helbig is a Professional Coach and the president of Seize This Day. Diane is a Contributing Editor on COSE Mindspring, a resource website for small business owners, as well as a member of the Top Sales World Experts Panel at Top Sales World.

6 Reactions
  1. I guess it is better if they ask why? This will give them more of a feedback to improve their services. Asking if they are just happy or unhappy is meaningless lest you ask why.

    • Yep, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Unless you ask why you are telegraphing that you really aren’t interested in improving the quality of your product, service, or customer service.

  2. Diane,

    The question you were asked is part of the Net Promoter System, a system that identifies Promoters (those that responded positively) from Detractors- yourself in this case. This system teaches its users how to reach out to their detractors personally to learn the basis of their discontent. Turning detractors into promoters turned Enterprise Car Rentals into the #1 in customer satisfaction.

    At 13hats, we limit our WiFi based surveys to 5 questions, always ending with the NPS question. One of our restaurant clients contacted their detractors (you would be surprised how many voluntarily submitted their contact info) and listened to their complaints. These customers voiced their appreciation and most returned, willing to give this establishment a 2nd chance. But more significantly, they made changes to their server training based on the feedback and saw a rise in check averages.

    The failure was not in the question you were asked, it was in the lack of follow up.

    • Marcy, I agree completely. I don’t mind the two questions. I mind that they didn’t lead to asking more questions. What was the point? they didn’t learn anything other than that I was unhappy. They still, to this day, have no idea why. Opportunity lost AND clear telegraph about the level of caring they have about providing their customers with good service. That level would be 0 or lower. Unfortunate. However, the valuable part of the experience is that it gives us a big lesson in what not to do!

  3. Diane, great article. I’ve worked a number of years in the customer satisfaction survey area and have frequently run into situations where the purpose of doing a customer satisfaction survey was simply to check off a box on a list – to do a customer satisfaction survey.

    I also advise to differentiate a true survey from taking a poll or straw vote. The goal of conducting a customer satisfaction survey is to obtain actionable feedback through which you can implement positive change. It also includes closing the loop with the customers and letting them know the results of the survey and the areas you are going to be working on.

    The poll or straw vote is simply to give a score. During election season we have many polls occurring weekly to let us know which candidate is favored in which state.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Diane,
    You are absolutely right – it was a double-whammy in that they didn’t get any useable feedback and demonstrated that they really didn’t care.
    We sell surveys and have a number of free guides that have been assembled into a free book. One of the guides is a 10-point pre-survey check-list. Point number 1 is – If you have to conduct a survey because your quality standards say that you have to, or any other outside influence is telling you to, and you feel that, maybe, your company, your organisation, is lacking the commitment to make any changes, then consider running an in-house paper-based survey. This way your customers won’t expect any commitment from you, and won’t feel let down when nothing happens.
    Maybe your vendor should have gone with a paper-based survey……..
    There is also a chapter in which we damn the Net Promoter Score as a complete waste of time for any business that is more complicated than a shoe store.

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