Customer Service Surveys, What a Waste of Time

The company I work for runs a management health screening scheme.  Once a year they pay for me to go to see a doctor who looks at me with disdain.  I was screened last week.  After an hour or so of checks and analysis (and not inconsiderable expense) the doctor told me:

  • I drink too much
  • I need to lose some weight
  • I should exercise more
  • I should stop smoking

I guess what he said was true, in one way or another, for most 40 year old men.  He certainly didn’t tell me anything I don’t know.

On the way back home I drove a couple of junctions down the motorway.  I stopped at a service station.

  • There was a queue of people waiting to be served
  • The tables were dirty
  • The food was over priced
  • The coffee was spectacularly tasteless
  • The staff were bored
  • And the toilets needed cleaning

As I left I was handed a customer service survey card, “Your comments count”.

Somebody somewhere is busy compiling reams of data to feed back at a senior management meeting in a multi media slide presentation.

The results are going to say:

  • There was a queue of people waiting to be served
  • The tables were dirty
  • The food was over priced
  • The coffee was spectacularly tasteless
  • The staff were bored
  • And the toilets needed cleaning

I will bet my mortgage on it.

Of course the information won’t be portrayed quiet that starkly, it will be buried in a maze of graphs and analysis.  Worse still, when the management team read it, they won’t like what they see, they will say that the questions were badly structured and that the sample size wasn’t representative.

Then lip service will be given and nothing will happen, it hasn’t yet, their toilets have needed cleaning for years.

Customer surveys are just like visiting the doctors, we know the answers to the questions, we just don’t want to face them.  Every operation I have ever seen is:

  • Too slow
  • Could deliver better quality
  • Costs too much money

Admit it, the same is true of yours.  Do you really need a customer survey tell you how good you are when you can see for yourself?

Are you using the survey for real insight or just to keep you busy, to debate, to have something to argue about?  If that is the case could your time be better spent fixing something?

Or at least going to the gym?

Customer Satisfaction SurveyRead another opinion

Image by BaronBrian


  1. Hi James,
    I would agree that surveys are a waste of time unless you do something with the data and it causes you to take real action. Unfortunately, most surveys are constructed for the benefit of the business and not for the customer and therein lies a challenge and a reason behind low response rates.

    Another issue is that too many executives spend too much time in meeting looking at presentations about survey data that has gone through too many hands and brains leaving them too far from the operation they are responsible for. If I were to recommend them to do one thing it would be this: ditch the meeting and survey data presentations and get out there more and mystery shop or just visit your own operations it’ll give the best data that you could possibly hope for. Being responsible means taking responsibility for something.


    • James Lawther says:


      I really could not agree more.


    • Kev Randle says:

      I couldn’t agree more with you more in respect of spending too much times on graphs and analysis. Albeit there is some value in the understanding the trends and reassurance for internal and external stakeholders (I highly recommend an agent selected ‘random’ process for this purpose, as opposed to blind survey).

      Your verbatim feedback comments should be reviewed, identified back to a specific service station and action taken. It’s not rocket science to make a difference, if you really want to and, as Maz highlights, the actions you need to take fit alongside other corporate priorities.

      Totally agree with your point around sample sizes, it only takes 1 individual to highlight a problem, which some root cause digging can highlight something systemic and open up a world of improved service for a whole stack of customers.

      Maz – would also agree with your acid test if its not being done for show and something tangible is going to happen as a result of this time invested.

  2. Hello James

    You make an essential point in a great way. There are a few companies that have the creating superior value for customers at the centre of their culture and business model. These companies are the ones that end up at the top end of customer satisfaction ratings year after year. The rest are merely going through the motions. Why? As you rightly point out if there is a clash between what customers want/say (including surveys) and what fits with the corporate business model and culture – we know which will prevail.

    Incidentally, my acid test is simply this: how much time does the CEO spend on the front line interacting with customers: serving customers in the retail store, listening to calls in the call centre, walking in the shoes of the customer (and front line employees) by doing what customers (and front line employees do).



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