How Are We Doing?

My team and I working on a customer satisfaction survey for a client right now. This client is a very successful company, with a huge share of its primary market. The company, like most good companies I know, is continually striving for improvement. They see a survey of their customers to be one vehicle for assessing areas for improvement.

In a meeting with the president last week, where we presented the question set, he brought up a very interesting point. He said the the sales VP’s (who had driven the tone and angle of the lion’s share of the questions),

“You guys skewed this set of questions to target the things you know you’re not doing well. Why do you need the customers to tell you something you already know?”

The company is asking several questions about specific areas in which they know they need improvement (processing returns, packaging & shipping, billing), and none about areas where they truly excel (marketing, sales, management).

This brings up an interesting situation. Given that you almost always find what you’re looking for when doing research , is there any value in researching anything other than what you need to improve? How significantly could this (or any) company benefit from addressing areas of strength rather than weakness? Why is it that we so frequently ask people only what we’re doing wrong, instead of also asking what we’re doing right?

Since people are more likely to tell you when you’re faltering than when you’re excelling, doen’t it seem that perhaps the information that most needs communicating is the positive? Can’t we learn just as much by analyzing data about our strengths? Couldn’t we gain by drawing out that which more people are reluctant to share – the things we do well?

4 thoughts on “How Are We Doing?

  1. Jonathan says:

    I just stumbled onto your blog so I don’t know if you’re actually asking questions or it’s just a style of writing. Regardless, survey biases — in which poorly designed questions unduly influence the answer — is pretty well studied and understood. When I help organizations develop customer satisfaction questions, I encourage them to focus on what’s working and what’s not working. I also try to avoid simple ranking questions. Instead, I focus on what outcome the organization is trying to achieve. There’s a specific example on my own blog at

  2. Michelle says:

    This is a really interesting issue. I think that in the competitive environment that most businesses are in right now dictates that a focus on improving the customer experience rightly translates into dollars (depending on how big the issue is–at what point does something bother me so much that I’ll go to a competitor? Or what are the make or break issues for me?)

    Do you guys use regression analysis in your survey data? Basically, it’s an analysis that will tell you which specfic items in your questionnaire have the greatest impact on your desired outcome (e.g., customer satisfaction), which I find is much more meaningful to clients than a bunch of bar charts telling how well they scored on something. So, for example, your company may suck at packaging, but that may not really impact cust sat, so do they really need to focus their resources on fixing it? On the other hand, shipping time could be a huge driver AND they may be pretty good at it, but the data shows that improving this area even more will increase cust satisfaction. So it gives your client a clear roadmap for what they SHOULD focus on to have the greatest impact, whether they are current strengths or not.

    This also speaks to the value of qualitative questions. The other unspoken issue that I think the president in your situation might be expressing is, “Is there anything else that the customer doesn’t like that we DON’T know about.” Having a qualitative question that asks, “What is the one thing that company B could do that would have the greatest positive impact on your experience?” can really yield some interesting data.

  3. Thera says:

    I had to take a management class on coaching to the positive. You will be shocked to hear that the overwhelming majority of the time I spent coaching my employess was spent on itmes that they needed to improve. But they already know what those things are. And for the most part I was rarely if ever praising anyone but the very top performers. It seems that I was not alone in this. I think that when you get into a very results driven environment we seem to think that accomplishments don’t matter if there is anything out there that still needs to be improved. But there will always be something to improve! Isn’t that great! 😉 so now we can all relax and notice the positive every once in a while.

  4. CrankMama says:

    YOu rule, baby! You rule!! And this isn’t a ‘pity’ comment, either!

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