Saturday, August 22, 2009

Forget Surveys

William Cusick, CEO of Vox, Inc. has written an opinion article that states that satisfaction surveys don't work. His premise is that customers are irrational based on what he says is recent evidence that "fully 95 percent of our cognitive processing is subconscious." From this he notes that customers are pretty poor at telling others what they like or don't like and why they feel that way. He sums it up pretty well with the statement "how can you get closer to the truth, to determining real, actionable steps to drive customer behaviour, when you don't know what they're thinking in the first place?"

His next point supports his premise when he says that our actions are driven by emotion much more than logic but behavior leads to the truth. He makes a strong case for employing observation of customer behavior over other techniques like surveys. He doesn't ask customers. Instead he tracks customers out in the field to the actual retail stores and notes their behavior in real time. I think he sums it up when he says "to get to their hearts' desires, its much more effective to devote your company's time and resources watching customers actions, and not probing their feelings."

The key point that Mr. Cusick is making is true and we have known this for a long time. The hidden agenda behind Mr. Cusick's opinion article is that his company sells analysis of online businesses. He makes a good point that customers can be accurately tracked online and grabbing the web tracking numbers is not difficult.

The bottom line is that customer actions are definitely more powerful than a survey. As my mother used to say "actions speak louder than words." The drawback that keeps every business from observing their customers is that it is very expensive, especially if you want a large sample and your customers are located throughout the United States and possibly around the world. In addition, customer perceptions may not give you the whole truth but there is knowledge found in large samples of customer feedback. If this were not so, the many companies who use surveys would have quit surveying and saved their money long ago. Obviously, many companies have seen benefits gained from what the customers reported on their surveys. I can personally attest to this truth. I don't think it is time to stop surveying our customers.

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