How to ruin your customer satisfaction score

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You’ve probably heard that one in three customers walk away from a beloved brand after a single bad experience. Some cancel even when their overall experience with the company is ‘satisfied’ or ‘completely satisfied’.

So what is the point of customer satisfaction scores? How can you use them as a warning sign pointing to potential cancellation?

Asking many different questions, in the right place and time, strengthens customer relationships. Surveys provide a window into customer preferences; it’s on you to provide an excellent experience based on that data. If you do that well enough, cancellation won’t even occur to your customers as an option.

But if you want to understand what the customers need, you have to say goodbye to perfect scores.

Why would you want to lower your customer satisfaction scores?

Customer satisfaction surveys are a tool. They have a variety of uses, including bolstering your reputation. But the main purpose is to help you understand the customer’s point of view in a variety of contexts.

If you’re always getting a perfect score, something’s gone wrong. It’s not a realistic reflection of what your customers are thinking: there are no products or services that are flawless.

Customer satisfaction feedback is subject to positivity bias:

  • Happy customers are likelier to leave feedback, as they feel positively inclined toward your business. They are often very generous, rating you highly even if they encountered some issues.
  • Unhappy customers simply move on with their day. Why should they waste time on giving you feedback? They’re already disappointed by your brand.

So to get accurate data, you want to encourage less-than-satisfied customers to respond to surveys. Show them that you’re taking their unhappiness seriously. Make it easy for them to share their thoughts precisely. Ask surprising questions that cut through the noise.

At the same time, you also want to gain more nuanced answers from the satisfied customers too. They have nothing to complain about, sure, but are they dazzled? What else could you be doing to keep their loyalty?

Questions for more constructive feedback

As a starting point, here’s a list of unconventional questions you can use to lower your customer feedback average. In addition to multiple-choice questions, consider using open-ended followup questions (which allow the customer to write in their thoughts).

🆚 Comparison questions:

  • Are we your favorite vendor?
    • If yes: We’re so glad to hear that! What makes us stand out from the competition?
    • If not: Thank you for the feedback, we hope to do better in the future. What change would you most like to see
  • How likely are you to switch to a different service if it was offered at a lower price?
  • Would you still use our company if the price went up 5x?
    • If yes: Thank you for your loyalty, we truly appreciate customers like you. Could you tell us what makes our product so valuable to you?
    • If not: We’re sorry to hear that, what would it take for you to say yes?
  • Are we leading or lagging behind our competitors?
  • What are the top three reasons you chose our company over our competitors?
  • What is the maximum price increase you would consider acceptable before seeking alternatives?

👍 Usability Questions:

  • Should we use bots or live customer service?
  • What features of our brand do you find least useful or redundant?
  • What features do you think we should invest in the most?
  • If you could change one thing about the user interface, what would it be?
  • How outraged would you be if our pricing increased by 50% with no new features?
    • What features would make it worth it?
  • How satisfied are you with our rate of innovation?

👑 Loyalty Questions:

  • Do we make your life easier? 
  • How many people have you referred to our company? (0, 1-3, 4-7, 8-12, 12+) 
    • What would make you recommend our company more often to your friends and colleagues? 
  • If you could change one thing about our product/service overnight, what would it be?
  • What’s the one thing we don’t offer that you wish we did?
  • If you had to sum up your experience with us using a single emoji, which one would it be, and what does it represent?
  • How disappointed would you be if we ceased operations tomorrow? 
  • If we were changing our motto, what should we change it to? (What makes us stand out in the crowd?)

Questions NOT to ask

Be bold, and experiment freely with the questions you pose to your customers. You’ll eventually pin down which ones resonate the most with respondents. And of course, your survey can include negative questions about your company – the whole point is to learn about customers’ sources of frustration!

But don’t ignore the danger of acquiescence bias when combined with overly specific negative questions.

People have a natural tendency to say yes to questions. They want to be agreeable, and the answer feels true to them, in the moment.

The same person might agree with contradictory statements if you ask them enough questions. (“Do you see yourself as a rational planner?” “Yeah.” A few questions later: “Do you tend to make impulsive decisions?” “Yes, I do.”)

Acquiescence bias causes obvious problems if you ask the customer things like:

  • Would you say our customer service is sloppy?
  • Do you think we’re taking you for granted?
  • How frustrated were you with our slow response time
  • Do you regret choosing our product?
  • Does our marketing make you cringe?

The feedback you get won’t be truly constructive because you asked a leading question.

But more importantly, you might accidentally convince the customer to think badly of your brand. You don’t want to create negative associations out of thin air.

Other ways to solicit useful customer feedback

In addition to asking more varied questions, here’s what you can do to lower your feedback scores and increase your understanding of your customer base.

1. Just ask.

Customers respond well to sincerity. Simply asking for honest feedback will make a difference! Let them feel appreciated, and emphasize that critical feedback helps you grow.

2. Offer more general questions (especially about customer service).

When it comes to collecting feedback about your customer service agents, you want a two-tier approach.

Ask the customer to rate the customer service interaction immediately. Fresh impressions are important, and you can follow up on the feedback in case of any problems. But this feedback tends to be unrealistically positive: customers don’t usually like the thought of getting agents in trouble, even if they’re not fully satisfied with their experience.

That’s why you want to ask them about it a second time, in a more general way. For example, you can use quarterly NPS surveys to ask about their experience with customer service. That will feel less like putting the spotlight on a particular agent.

3. Experiment with the rating scale.

More options mean more nuanced results!

To encourage more constructive feedback, consider varying your rating scales in customer surveys. Offering a mix of 5-point, 7-point, and 10-point scales can help capture nuanced responses.

Simple yes/no questions also have their role in surveys, as do 3-point scales. They can help you gauge specific customer preferences! But relying on them exclusively leads to artificially inflated feedback averages.

4. Use forced ordering.

Offer surveys that order your services or key attributes in a list (from highest to lowest priority). This approach prompts customers to make decisions about their experience; you gain valuable insights without making your customers uncomfortable.

Similarly, you can use the “one thing to improve” approach. As a follow-up to other questions, ask the customer to suggest one thing you should work on.

5. Stay committed to following up on feedback.

Most importantly: customers need to see that their feedback is useful.

Reach out immediately when you receive negative feedback, and offer solutions or workarounds. If it’s a problem that will take a longer time to solve, keep the customer in mind and alert them as soon as the change is implemented. Mention customer feedback when you make public announcements of new products/services/features.

Also, never skip out on thank-you messages. Whether the feedback is positive, negative, or mixed, customers like knowing that you appreciate them.

Don’t worship the numbers

It’s natural for decision-makers to appreciate concrete, measurable progress, relying on charts and milestones.

Of course we put effort into increasing our customer satisfaction scores! A high CSAT average tells the world that our customers are content with our service; a high CES proves we’re providing a seamless experience. And most gratifyingly of all, a high NPS score expresses customer loyalty and the promise of word-of-mouth brand promotion.

But it’s a mistake to focus only on the numbers. Our customers are complex and multifaceted, and our surveys need to reflect that!

🤗 If you put genuine customer relationships to the forefront of your feedback strategy, your averages might sink but you will gain clarity. Best of all, your team will be more motivated if they see exactly what needs to be improved and why. Remember, perfect scores lead to complacency.

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