Saturday, November 6, 2010

Who Cares About QBE?

I think many fall into the trap of naivete' when it comes to customer satisfaction surveys. The belief is that the customers are NOT influenced by the survey questions. In the normal course of purchasing and receiving products and services many people do not give much thought to their level of satisfaction, would they purchase again or would they recommend the product or service to a friend or colleague. It is not until the survey arrives (call/Internet or hard copy) that the customer begins to think a little deeper in order to answer the questions on the survey.

This phenomenon is referred to as QBE or "question behavior effects." In other words, the questions themselves induce responses which may cause customers to think more deeply about the answers and may even impact current or future behavior toward the company who sent the survey. This topic came up in a research article by Dholakia, Singhand Westbrook from Rice University titled "Understanding the Effects of Post-Service Experience Surveys on Delay and Acceleration of Customer Purchasing Behavior: Evidence from the Automotive Services Industry" and published in the Journal of Service Research Issue 13(4) pages 362-378.

One interesting outcome of the research was the difference noted in the quality evaluations when the customers are forewarned that they will soon receive a survey versus those who receive the survey with no forewarning. The customers who were forewarned reported lower evaluations and reduced their willingness to purchase and recommend the service. The authors suggest that this phenomenon is "negativity enhancement." What the authors are suggesting is that customers who are forewarned tend to focus primarily on negative aspects of their service experiences since they have the time to reflect on their event. Whereas those customers without the forewarning don't have the time to dwell on how they will respond and hence they are more likely to give a more balanced response.

The bottom line is the reminder that surveys are not simple. Yes, it is easy to write questions that may have simple flaws but even the best written surveys must be viewed with the perspective that there may be some customer behavior that will result from the questions themselves. I will have more to say about QBE in future blogs.

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