Saturday, March 9, 2013

What Customers Say

There's been some interesting research performed Dr. Wes Schultz and Dr. Robert Cialdini that suggest the answers that customers provide might not always be correct. If you politely ask a customer a question regarding what they're thinking or what they may doing in the future, customers will most likely give you an answer.  According to the research, the answer the customer provides has a reasonable likelihood of being wrong.

In many satisfaction surveys customers are asked to provide reasons why they gave a specific answer or what they are likely to do in the future. Some of the confusion that may arise when asking for comments comes from the fact that the customer may currently be considering the response to the current survey while at same time being asked how he would behave in the future. While this has not  been specifically studied by Drs. Schults and Cialdini, it's the first step in recognizing that we often ask too much of customers during the time they are taking a survey.

These scientists performed a study of several hundred California homeowners and asked them to predict which of four messages would be most successful at persuading them to take steps to conserve energy and reduce their overall energy consumption. The four messages were 1. Conserving energy, helps the environment; 2. conserving energy protects future societies; 3. Conserving energy saves you money; 4. Many of your neighbors are already conserving energy.

The results of the study suggested that the message about what the neighbors were doing was the least likely to influence their behavior. The researchers, however, discovered that this was the most effective message when it came to changing the behavior of the neighbors. One conclusion was that even though most of the neighbors denied its effect, the desire to keep up with the Joneses was the real driving force.

While there is much to be said about the other experiments performed by these researchers, the bottom line maybe simple. One conclusion that might be drawn from this research is that people don't always act consistently with what they have said.  If this conclusion has merit, those who are performing customer satisfaction and loyalty surveys may want to reconsider both the design of the survey and interpretation of survey comments. In the end it may be more important to watch the way the customers act rather than to act on what the customers say.  We are sure someone's mother must have said at one time or another "it's not what you say but what you do that counts."

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