Want happy, loyal customers? That makes all of us. But for the business with limited resources and a thousand different priorities, building a thriving customer base is easier said than done. It isn’t a one-and-done achievement—you have to devote constant attention to activities that drive customer satisfaction and loyalty. Since modern companies serve customers across so many channels, it’s tough to monitor daily customer interactions and understand their larger business impact, then take action to improve them.

But the fact is, one customer’s negative experience can seriously damage a company’s reputation. We hear complaints about companies all the time on social media and in our daily conversations. In the most extreme cases, individual horror stories explode into headline news, like the United Airlines saga. And while the majority of companies aren’t making such egregious public mistakes, the majority of companies are pretty out of sync with their customers.

So how do tap into how your customers really feel, then work to improve that?

The Average Customer Satisfaction Survey

For a long time, companies have used periodic, generic surveys to gauge how happy their customers are. These surveys usually ask for quantitative feedback in the form of rating questions, like “How satisfied are you with your experience?” From there, they calculate a customer satisfaction (CSAT) score, which sums up the quality of customer interactions across the business. The problem is, the majority of customer satisfaction surveys look like this.

bad customer satisfaction survey example

Impersonal, bland, and lengthy, the average customer satisfaction survey feels like a scantron test and asks the same general questions:

  • How was your recent experience?
  • What do you think about us?
  • What can we improve?

You may be thinking… Those sound like pretty standard survey questions, what’s the problem? But that’s the point—companies are asking their customers the same standard questions about very different experiences.

Why Standard Customer Satisfaction Surveys Are Problematic

If you get asked the same generic questions every time you interact with a company, you’re bound to stop answering thoughtfully, and eventually, you might stop answering altogether. It’s no secret that people don’t really like taking surveys. If a company doesn’t address your feedback, then you’ll probably stop giving it, even if you have something to say. That could change your whole view of the company for the worse.

Because of this cookie cutter approach to surveys, customer satisfaction itself gets a pretty bad rap. Like the penny, many people think they’re worthless and we should do away with them altogether. But we don’t have to kill the customer satisfaction survey! We can just make it better. First, let’s rewind a bit and talk about what customer satisfaction really is and why it’s still so important.

Customer Satisfaction: The Brand Maintenance Metric

Customer satisfaction is broadly defined as the happiness level of a particular customer after a single interaction with a brand. Many factors can impact that. Say a customer purchases something from an online retailer. The quality of that experience could be impacted by the website’s loading time, the availability of products, the ease of checkout, access to support, and a countless number of other things. Those combined factors add up to a feeling—good, bad, or somewhere in between—that the customer has about that experience. We’d call it their customer satisfaction level.

Why Customer Satisfaction Is Still Important

Customer satisfaction is not an end-all-be-all approach to customer experience measurement, but it is a crucial piece of brand maintenance and customer relationship management. Individual interactions carry a lot of weight with your customers. Zendesk found that 39% of consumers avoid vendors for over 2 years after having a negative experience.

For most companies, one lost customer isn’t the end of the world, but that’s not the reality we live in. Thanks to social media, review sites, and other forums, a negative customer experience can spread far and quickly. Zendesk also found that 95% of consumers share negative experiences with at least one other person—and 54% tell five or more people. That paints a bleak picture for brands that are out of touch with their customers. In order to fix the problems plaguing your business, you have to connect with your customers at the right moment and show them that you value their input.

A Better Way to Ask for Customer Feedback

If you’ve ever used Lyft, then you’ve seen the optional survey they give you after every ride, like this one.

Lyft driver rating

You may not have even considered it a survey. It certainly doesn’t look like the one above. However, Lyft is basically trying to figure out the same exact things:

  • How was your recent experience?
  • What do you think about us?
  • What can we improve?

The difference is that they present a short, personalized, relevant set of questions right after the experience is over. In turn, their customers are more likely to give more personalized, relevant feedback that they can act on. So… how can we all be more like Lyft?

Customer Satisfaction Survey Best Practices

Improving the way you ask customers for feedback can make a monumental difference in your business. Even if you’re not a major rideshare company, you probably have important customer interactions every day that you’d like to measure more effectively. There are a number of best practices you can take away from Lyft and other companies.

#1 – Send customer satisfaction surveys in a timely manner.

In most cases, the best time to ask for feedback is right after an experience happens, when it’s fresh on your customer’s mind. They’re more likely to respond and more likely to give you accurate, valuable feedback. If something went wrong and they’re unhappy, this also gives you time to act and repair the relationship. Integrating with your CRM and/or email provider makes it easy to automate survey distribution.

#2 – Keep surveys to 3 questions or less.

Any more, and you’re probably asking for generic information that isn’t super relevant. If you’re using a survey builder like GetFeedback, then you can use survey logic to limit unnecessary questions and skip customers ahead to the right ones. And if you integrate surveys with your CRM, then you can avoid asking for information you already have.

#2 – Make sure your survey questions are about the customer’s experience, not you.

Survey creators often get caught up writing every question they find interesting, and they get distracted from the primary purpose: measuring the experience the customer just had. Focus on gathering info that the customer sees as important: the quality of their experience and what you could have done better.

#3 – Ask customers to explain their rating or response.

What does a “‘4” really mean compared to a “3”? Companies often find themselves asking that question when they’re analyzing survey results. The easiest way to get to the heart of it is to simply ask: Why did you give us that score? Customers’ additional comments often shed light on things you’d never think to ask about.

#4 – Include an open-ended question.

In addition to a follow-up question, it’s also smart to ask customers for any additional feedback or thoughts they may have. If something is top of mind and your questions didn’t address it, this gives them a chance to share.

#5 – Personalize your survey questions as much as possible.

It’s no longer considered acceptable to send generic, impersonal emails to your customers. Surveys should be no different. Whenever possible, use specifics in your survey, like their name, the location they visited, the employee they worked with, etc. Again, if you’re integrating with your CRM and/or email provider, you can pull information in from there.

#6 – Limit the frequency of your surveys when necessary.

If your customers interact with you frequently, you may not want to send them surveys after every single experience. Think wisely about the timing and delivery. If you over-survey them, you risk running into the same problems we discussed earlier.

#7 – Include the Net Promoter Score question when relevant.

You’ve probably seen it before: “How likely are you to recommend us to friends or coworkers?” The Net Promoter Score question segments your customers into clear categories: Promoters, Passives, and Detractors. You can use these segments to filter the rest of your feedback and see what happy customers say compared to unhappy customers.

#8 – Use the right survey tool 😉

Customer satisfaction surveys don’t have to suck. In fact, they can be pretty awesome for your company and your customers if you focus on building something engaging and personal.