customer surveysCollecting customer feedback can be trickier than it sounds, as you navigate through decisions for sample selection, timing, frequency, numeric rating and open-ended questions, and so forth. Among your decision criteria, a frequent request of your stakeholders may be: “please interview the ‘right’ customers”. But what is a customer survey’s target audience? Do ‘wrong’ customers actually exist?

“Consider the potential career path and future role of each customer”, advised Tracie Scott, Symantec’s Director of Customer & Partner Insight & Measurement Architecture & Analytics. In her presentation at the 2011 Miami Satmetrix Net Promoter Conference, Laying the Cornerstone — Tactical Approaches to Designing Your Program Architecture, Tracie explained that a balanced sample, with consistent demographics each time you survey, is more important than screening out respondents. For example, some stakeholders are reluctant to pay heed to customer feedback about older versions of a product, but Tracie reminds them about the rich opportunity that awaits them in learning from these customers’ inputs, to eventually migrate them to successive revenue streams. My view: after all, when it comes to accepting customers’ money when they make purchases, we’re very open-minded — this open-mindedness in ongoing management of customers is a key to customer-centricity.

Repeat participation by customers is positively influenced when they see that your question set is about you helping them be more successful. Symantec has discovered that each page turn in a survey is a leaky pipe for survey abandonment, so they limit their survey to four pages containing only key drivers of Net Promoter, emphasizing customer-centric questions.

Open-ended questions may not be very useful at the aggregate level, but customer comments can be quite useful for the business units’ efforts to make improvements, Tracie explained. She reminds stakeholders that customer feedback might not have scientific cause-and-effect characteristics, as human beings’ behaviors and decisions are much more complex than that; yet customer opinions are an important input to running a business. Symantec uses the Satmetrix support site to conduct data analysis, segmenting their survey results to the individual stakeholder level, and enabling anyone company-wide to see their customer feedback charts, and add to the analysis according to their interests.

“Start with the end in mind”, Tracie advises. Put more effort into executive sponsorship and stakeholder action planning, and be creative about solutions to your program management challenges. Know your gaps between current and desired skills, passions, and performance. Symantec makes strategic use of hard and soft skills from vendor partners and internal subject matter experts for many aspects of their program. They have a multi-year plan which they clearly communicate at every opportunity, and they maintain flexibility to adapt their plan as the business evolves. “Every program is like a snowflake; no two programs are alike”, she says, in describing the adaptability of methodology decisions to fit specific business needs.

A fitting quote from Sun Tzu is: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Remember the big picture as you design and refine your customer feedback methodology.

Originally published on CustomerThink as Who is the Right Customer? Decisions for Managing Customer Surveys.

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