Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A viewpoint on designing Customer feedback surveys

Because I travel a lot and stay lots of hotels and fly with lots of different airlines  I get asked to complete a lot of customer satisfaction surveys.  I also from time to time get asked to design customer feedback studies myself and so out of interest in the topic I have started to collect them.

They fall generally into 2 camps the small piece of cardboard with a handful  of close questions and a small box to add any comments,  favored by many hotel chains and the online survey variant favored by airlines,  where I am bombarded with often hundred or so obsessively detailed closed questions and at the end of which normally a single open ended comment box asking my opinion.  

In both cased I think generally there is some massive room for improvement.

The hotel customer feedback survey...

Take the situation of a hotel owner designing a customer satisfaction survey for the people who stay in their hotel.

The standard approach to doing this is working out what are the key questions to ask e.g. how would you rate your stay, how did you rate the cleanliness of the hotel room, how do you rate the quality of service etc.

The problem you have is often trying to work out how to condense all the questions you have into one survey so you might whittle it down to say 10 questions that you think are most important.

Then from that point onward you asked everyone staying at the hotel just those 10 questions. Now tell me after say 20 people have stayed in your hotel and on average they give the hotel a rating of 4 out of 5 stars, is that rating going to change much? No not really, certainly not very much over a 2 or 3 month period unless you are making some radical changes to the hotels structure or services. So why bother carrying on asking these same question to every person who stays at your hotel?

The questions asked are often what I would describe as "slap on the back" questions.  They give you good news about how much your customers like your hotel and they can rapidly turn into sacred cows in surveys that nobody can remove as we get addicted to hearing that people like staying in the hotel, it massages our ego and so the question remains but are often of little strategic value, in that they do little to advise on how to improve and develop your hotel.

I would challenge you to think about a different approach, instead of having one questionnaire that several thousand people complete, how about having 52 different questionnaires that you change every week to focus on different specific issue and each week you gather fresh incites.  You can repeat some of the questions across some of these questionnaires depending on the frequency with which you need to be updated.

Now think about it a different way, when someone answers your hotel survey you are potentially talking to people who have stayed in different hotels from around the world. Think about them as consultants that you could borrow 2 or 3 minutes of their time. Surely what you really want to know is how to make your hotel better, more efficient, more popular, more profitable. So why construct the survey to start mining your customers for ideas and information that will help you improve your hotel.

This means a total rethink about how you construct the questionnaire. The focus should be on working out how to motivate your guests to proffer their real opinions, feed you with thoughts about their experiences of staying in different hotels that they think you could adopt. Getting them to think analytically about your hotel in the context of others, encouraging them to observe. To achieve this is where the real skills of survey copy writing come into play.

The first question in a survey is like the opening lines of a novel, it either grabs you and makes you want to read on or not. The question you ask needs to capture the imagination. That means for a start avoiding the cliche's of language, it also means test and control experiments to work out what question people would most want to answer.

I would also encourage a rethink about how these surveys are delivered, often at the moment we are rushing to leave a hotel or discretely placed on the bed in your hotel room.

You got to think about a good time to reach people, when they have a few spare moments to think.    I don't completely have the answer to this as it would take some research but I would hazard a guess that if you gave people the feedback forms to people in the restaurant just after taking their food order when they have to naturally wait about 15 minutes for their food to arrive might be a good time.

I also think the staff in the hotel or airline are probably your best feedback mechanic.  setting up staff wide polling or prediction market protocols to anticipate customer satisfaction issue is a really good way I think of involving everyone in your business in the process of improving customer satisfaction.

For example you could run a prediction market where the staff have to predict the main customer feedback issues. One up and running this become a very useful management tool to assess ahead of the curve the changes and improvements needed.

The airline customer feedback survey...

My biggest bugbear about these types of surveys is that I feel that I bombarded with loads of questions but never the ONE question I want to be asked!

When I have been on a plane journey and there has been an issue, frankly the first thing I do when I open the custom feedback survey is get that issue off my chest.  There is nothing worse than answering a whole survey with loads of question and them not asking about the one thing that bothered me about my journey.

The other thing that frustrates me is being ask the same question over and over in slightly different ways.  For example there was one Airline survey I completed where there were 6 question about the service I received from the cabin crew , were they courteous, did they anticipate my needs, were they friendly etc.  On that particular journey I had no interaction with them what so ever so had no opinion.  On another journey I may well have had some minor issue or other for which I may have wanted to give feedback.  The way you tackle this is through more thoughtful branching.   By ask me one simple question was I happy with the cabin crew or was there something that could be improved allows me to either skip part this question if I was happy but stop and give feedback if I was not.

I ask you to recognize that I what I want to do and say in a customer feedback will vary depending on my experience and so the survey needs to assess my mood and adjust itself accordingly right from the very start.

The way I think you achieve this is by offering the people an emotional choice e.g.

How was you flight?
There were some issues I would like to give some feedback about

And from that point you adjust the survey accordingly.  The people who say it was perfect are emotionally onboard and so you might challenge them to think of ways to make it even better.  Those that said they had issues you allow them to explain them up front.

But main thing I am astonished about Airline custom sat  surveys is how poorly designed many of them are, akin to filling out an insurance form, no pleasure what so ever, ney an arduous experience to complete.

Considering the amount of effort these companies put into marketing themselves, I think they need to recognize that the customer feedback survey is as important piece of marketing communication as any of their multi-million pound advertising campaigns and they should invest more in their design and copy writing.

A customer feedback survey is an opportunity for building a longer term relationship

The one other thought I have is that a customer sat survey could be an opportunity to build a longer term feedback relationship with the people who make an effort to complete the survey.

If for example they are regular customer why not turn them into a task force of mystery shoppers or if they travel on a lot of other airlines and visit a lot of other hotels you could incentivise the them to give you feedback and ideas from the experiences they have travelling with these different airlines and staying in these different hotels.

e.g. we will give you a discount on your future hotel stay if you give us feedback every 6 months on other hotels you have stayed it to help us gain ideas to improve our hotel.

Generally speaking I think there is an opportunity to be a lot more ambitious in the way customer feedback is gathered.

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