[Image of: RetailWire Logo and Tagline (for print)]

Consumer Satisfaction Survey Fatigue?

February 27, 2012

In one of his "New Rules" segments on his hit HBO show, comedian Bill Maher took on the practice of companies asking consumers to take a "short survey" to rate their customer experience.

He tells the nameless company, "I'd love to help you improve your customer relations. But a) I don't work for you and b) I don't give a (expletive). You know, I was actually pretty happy with your customer service, up to the point where you asked me to take a survey about your customer service."

The joke went viral after the video was posted on Huffington Post in 2010. Some have used the video to illustrate the backlash against such requests,

Two separate articles this year by The Associated Press and NBC San Diego listed a variety of reasons why customer satisfaction surveys can irritate consumers:

  • Like Mr. Maher, some seem perturbed at the volume of such requests as well as the principle of being asked to do a time-consuming chore for free;
  • To some, feedback about major purchases such as trips and cars makes sense, but rating the shopping experience around more trivial purchases wasn't worth the time;
  • Others felt the surveys were a perfunctory request, the questionnaires overly scripted, and overall doubted their responses do any good.

Any rising complaints comes as satisfaction surveys have risen in recent years because of technology as well as a greater zest by brands to seek out and learn from customer input.

Jack in the Box, which includes online survey requests on the bottom of their receipts, gets a survey back every 25 seconds, resulting in more than a million responses every year. Within an hour-and-a-half, the restaurant manager, district manager and franchise owner all receive e-mail alerts if there was a problem during a customer visit. As an incentive, those filling out an online survey enter a contest to win up to $10,000.

"There is a lot that guests want to say to us," Eric Tunquist, VP of operations, told NBC San Diego.

Some responders also find value in the process.

Seth Miller, an information technology consultant and travel blogger, finds customer surveys sometimes bring specific responses. He told The Associated Press, "Feedback surveys can offer an easy and efficient way to raise an issue."


Discussion Questions:

Discussion Questions: Does the benefit gained from retailer customer satisfaction surveys outweigh the risk of turning off customers? Are there ways to gather feedback without being so annoying?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How often should retailers ask shoppers to participate in customer satisfaction surveys?


These are poor attempts at gauging customer service metrics. Customer service isn't damage control and if it is, I'm sure those customers know there is free food waiting for them if they complain.

Mystery shops that are competently trained are much more honest, but costly. The best is having engaged managers and employees who know a customer's satisfaction by "I'll take it" or walking out.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

It's great that retailers now care so much about customer satisfaction (and other realted metrics), but these "old school" surveys have become a crutch and a burden. Retailers need to become more capable of inferring similar measures from naturally occurring data sources, e.g., POS transactions, ratings/reviews, customer service interactions. There is such a rich array of such data that, with a little IT resourcefulness, can be linked at the customer level. This kind of granular "360 degree" view of the customer will be a lot more powerful than a standalone survey anyway.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Peter Fader, Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School of the Univ. of Pennsylvania

The problem usually comes from badly written surveys. Having done my share, as I'm sure many of us have, they can be written in such a way that most of what they ask is irrelevant. That shows a lack of understanding of how the shopper interacts with the retailer and a lack of respect for the responder.

And short needs to mean short. I just did a great one from a great hotel (Queens, in Leeds, UK). They asked me if my room was okay, they asked me if I liked the breakfast (and gave me the option to say I didn't have it), and was the hotel staff nice and helpful. They asked if I would like to tell them more and gave me the option to do so or not. Took me two minutes maybe -- that's short.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

The incentive scheme is crucial as consumers expect to be compensated for their time, and rightly so. People who find survey irritating may not take them. The brand may promote its survey, but should never force its customers into taking it. Lastly, these surveys are designed to help the brand improve by engaging in a dialogue with its clients.

Dr. Emmanuel Probst, Vice President, Retail, Empathica

Flying back on Delta Friday night, the flight attendant came on the loudspeaker, told us her name, and asked us in no uncertain terms to go take the Delta survey, call her out by name and talk about how wonderful she was. She was funny about it -- but it's still a turn off.

There are so many ways to game the system and so much badgering to get surveys filled out it seems hard to believe the information is very valuable. I, for one, only respond when I'm really angry about something which certainly doesn't give a company a good overall sense of what's going on in their business.

To me this is where social media really shines. So much feedback already exists: it seems to me asking clients to "tweet your experience" is less invasive and time consuming for the user than an endless set of survey prompts. Clearly this only works if the company has set up a social media response and is fairly certain there will be positive comments communicated out but if there aren't far better the brand know the problem than not. SMS codes could be another interesting quick survey tool: text two different codes based on whether you're happy or not. From there, companies could ask respondents if they're willing to take a longer survey. To me it's best to wait until you have a hand raiser who wants to share feedback vs. harassing everyone who deals with you to tell you what they think.

Lisa Bradner, Chief Strategy Officer, Geomentum/Shopper Sciences

It's not that difficult to opt out of customer surveys when they pop up onscreen -- I almost always do. The question is the reliability of the data from the remaining consumers who opt in. Is it representative of the customer base as a whole, or does it primarily express the views of the malcontents? Hopefully the statistical techniques being used help marketers end up with actionable data.

Retailers and marketers should find better ways for customers to opt in rather than opting out. Building an ongoing consumer panel with data from your most engaged and committed customers is likely to provide more meaningful feedback, whether good or bad.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

Maher has a point. In a perfect world, retailers would know who I am and how often they have asked and received feedback from me. But, as Maher frequently forgets, we don't live in a perfect world. Retailers should be uncovering every possible way to get their shoppers involved. Remember, most retailers have to replace more than 30% of their customers on annual basis. With those kinds of odds, I'd take my chances on being over eager for feedback.

Bill Robinson, Principal, Bill Robinson Associates

In most ways I'm with Maher. I had an oil change at the Mazda dealer and, as usual, the service guy said there'd be a survey and the 'right answer' is a '10' or 'excellent' -- I forget which. First it was very helpful for Mazda to give me the right answers for the test. Where were they in 9th grade when I needed them?

I have since been contacted four (4) times about my oil change experience. It's a freaking OIL CHANGE not a heart transplant! In this situation the survey has nothing to do with the customer, it's all about their internal bureaucratic games. You can't get more pointless feedback.

What we need is a way through which a "community" becomes engaged in a dynamic process that shapes the future, not simply evaluates the past. There's a big difference between my interest in the success of the local Jack-in-the-Box and my interest in how my city or employer or church is doing.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

If consumers were so turned off by customer service surveys, why are they completing them? No one is forcing them to take the time to answer some questions.

A more important question might be, what are retailers doing with the information they gather? Are they making real changes in their stores? Is their costumer experience getting better?

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Those irritating people at the malls who want us to do a survey, rank right up there with telemarketers. If I want a survey of my customers, I'll spend more time on the floor actually engaging them in real conversation. You can learn more from the real folks than any survey, which most folks hate doing anyway.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

All sellers should want independent measurement of their customer service. Many have internal numbers such as fill rate, transaction time and in-stocks. In many companies, these internal numbers are controlled to keep management happy.

Retailers have used mystery shoppers for independent evaluation of the shopping experience. No question a large sample of customers is ideal, but it needs to be done without annoying the customers. First, the survey should be short and easy. Second, the consumer should be rewarded in some manner. Some use a weekly or monthly drawing. Giving the customer a coupon may be a better approach. The research shows that consumers tell 10 people if they have a bad shopping experience and only 2 or 3 if they have an exceptional shopping experience. Average or normal does not change the bar.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
W. Frank Dell II, CMC, President, Dellmart & Company

The ability to provide feedback is appreciated, however, a few common courtesy rules should be followed:
- allow responders to be anonymous at their own choosing
- provide an accurate estimate of the length of time it will take to complete the survey
- think about correlating survey length to purchase price, and even giving the respondent the choice of "short" or "long" survey
- realize that if you expect feedback, respondents who identify issues will expect a response as well, if they haven't submitted anonymously
- if you maintain a "customer profile" that the customer can edit, think about allowing the customer to choose to opt out of surveys

As with any customer communication, whether it be in-store or over the web, the customer will expect respect and if warranted a relevant response. Retailers risk turning off customers regardless of channel if not handled in a genuine and appropriate manner.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Verlin Youd, Managing Principal, Verizon

Ask when it matters, not with every transaction. Ask for certain types of transactions -- based on size of transaction, or if a return was involved, or if the order was highly complex, or if the length of time to complete the transaction online was longer than normal. Repetitive inquiry is beneficial to audit performance and satisfaction, no doubt. For some industries such as QSR or casual dining it is a no brainer to prompt response and leverage a coupon/free appetizer or "chance of winning" a grand prize for a toll free survey completion. For those who are game players, you be the judge how valid the response is -- truly insightful or perfunctory.

Insight from customers is essential to uncover truly awful customer service or operational issues. Better to have this practice in place encouraging input than to not ask and have the customer tell 100 of their best friends or post in social media about a truly horrible experience. Those who keep their dissatisfaction to themselves can cause considerable harm.

Best practices in customer recognition and reward programs is to leverage soft points good toward incremental benefits for those that share their insights -- on service experience, product satisfaction, product ratings, etc.

There is little risk of turning off customers, if done right. Have a plan for what you are going to do with the information and that should include follow up communication to those who engage in a two-way dialogue.

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

I guess it wasn't my imagination that every time I ordered something this week from movie tickets, to office supplies, to a couple of gifts that one of these now ANNOYING survey pop-ups surfaced. I used to answer them when they came up occasionally, but now they are a pure annoyance. (Even more annoying are the ones that promise me a CHANCE to win something if I answer the survey.)

Here is the answer to all the surveys ... when I use your website for the 10th, 67th or 133rd time, I am happy. If I stop using it I am no longer happy. That is when you should survey me!

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

I agree surveys can be annoying, particularly on small purchases. The fundamental question is how else can a retailer monitor service quality besides asking customers? I can't think of another way for online retailers to get feedback than to ask. Brick and mortar retailers can conduct in-person interviews at the store; this is another advantage they have because of their personal contact with the customer.

Brick and mortar retailers can offer a "suggestion box." Online retailers can make their "Contact Us" link much more visible. Both these methods gather customer feedback while not requiring it. I think companies can also do a better job of transparency, offering either a blog or merely a list of the comments they receive. A blog that allows other customers to say "me too" or refute a comment may be more valuable than responding to solitary input.

Bill Bittner, Principal, BWH Consulting

As a turned off customer, I refrain from participating in customer satisfaction surveys.

To inquisitive retailers, I suggest to just check my purchases at your store against what the average customer is spending at your store and you will learn my satisfaction level. Work forward from there.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

No. Just because we can wallpaper our communication with opportunity for consumers to give us feedback doesn't mean we should. Especially, the mere presence of apparently passionate replies doesn't mean they are useful replies. Surveys like these follow the online feedback guideline: you'll hear from the most disgruntled, and designing your marketing around them is a dead end.

But perhaps the worst impact on marketing is survey exhaustion. Consumers are beginning to doubt the validity of any survey. Political push polling is a part of this problem.

And finally, results from this work merely feed into the information overload at companies. But heck, it's much easier to get promoted by showing a big pile of meaningless data than with several truly insightful understandings. :-)

Doug Garnett, Founder & CEO, Atomic Direct

Sure, I might complete your (short) survey, but why do you want to interrupt me while I'm trying to buy something from you?

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

This seems like a false issue, except that many companies do use lengthy questionnaires that seem to be inappropriate for the situation.

Consumers should appreciate that companies want feedback on their satisfaction with the purchase of a product or service. This is a potentially good way for a company to identify problems it might need to correct.

If the consumer does not want to participate in the survey, they can simply ignore it. What is the big deal?

Bill Maher's comments should not be taken seriously. He bases much of his humor on silly twisting of actual situations so that they look preposterous.

ron kurtz, President, American Affluence Research Center

Yep. Most satisfaction surveys are stupid and meaningless and rife with sampling bias. Bill Maher makes good sport of out this in his comedy bit, poking a stick in the eye of the self-serious surveyors who really haven't got a clue about how to design meaningful research.

You know you may be going off the rails with your research when the methodology is designed in the IT department. My personal peeve is the pop-up that appears prior to my on-site session asking if I'd be willing to participate after I'm finished. Would I really have to explain to any serious researcher why the answer to that query is "click to ignore" accompanied by an unprintable obscenity?

By extension, then, the few people likely to cooperate with requests like these are individuals who have so little else going on in their lives that they are actually motivated by the one-in-ten-thousand chance to win a $50 gift card. These are the people whose opinions inform your decision making? Really?

This seems like an appropriate moment to review one of my Laws of Retailativity: Just because a thing is measurable, does not make it meaningful.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

Surveys can be effective as all human beings like to make their preferences and opinions known. The challenge today is in survey execution.

* Surveys must be kept brief. Ask one or two questions only.
* Timing must be good. Serve up surveys only in circumstances where the customer is likely to be willing to respond, i.e. on a reward page or following redemption or enrollment.
* Offer an incentive to cure "fatigue," but limit expectations that you can "bribe" anyone for an answer. Never train your front line personnel to "wink" and ask for a "10."
* Use game theory to spice up surveys, make them more fun and deliver results in real time.
* Show that survey results are read and execute follow up communications with customers to show that you listened. Transparency of concern for customers will end up standing out in the crowd.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Bill Hanifin, CEO, Hanifin Loyalty LLC

I feel what's missed from the online retail VOC surveys is a "true" VOS (Voice of the Shopper). Most gather information from ones who successfully complete a purchase, and miss listening the lost sales shoppers -- who walked out without completing a purchase.

Many managers of retail chain stores are judged and bonused partly on VOC scores. There will always be some store managers who unfortunately "game" the scores, but more importantly, lose sight of importance vs performance of the individual questions.

Chain retail management may wish to consider combining input from independently conducted lost sale opportunity surveys, mystery shops and performance/importance scores to arrive at a better pulse of the customer and prospect. Let's also not forget the value gained from listening to those closest to our shoppers -- the retail associates.

Bert Silverstein, President, Janastar

Reading everyone's replies just reminded me of a new annoying trend -- the recorded phone prompt to complete a survey and share your impressions of the service experience. This message prompt happens within the first 60-90 seconds while you are on hold. Hit 1 to take the short survey, hit 2 if not interested. Why would I want to stay on the phone even longer to complete a survey?

This weekend I got this prompt from Comcast, that told me I was a valued customer, though I cancelled my service 45 days ago and their system is clearly unable to recognize this, even though I entered my registered/Comcast issued phone number when prompted! And I was told the wait time was between 2 and 5 minutes. 25 minutes later (I have lots of patience on a Saturday a.m.) I finally talked to a representative! Purpose of the call was to get on their do not mail list as they are sending offers to upgrade my services to Business Class. See any problems in their data management, offer and service solution?

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

Jack-in-the-Box is on the right path. Maybe others should follow their lead. Bill Maher said "why should I help you out for free?" He is correct. Jack in the Box gives everyone participating the chance to win $10,000. That makes me wonder if anyone has ever won or if that is the gimmick to attract responses.

Courtyard by Marriott gives guests checking in a fortune cookie with free points as the prize when they check in, not for a survey. That is what will attract people to participate in surveys. Free points involving travel, I like it and participate every time.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

You left out:
1. Surveys that promise to be brief and are actually 30+ minutes. That was W Magazine's latest.
2. Insulting rewards like $5 at Amazon.
3. Ignoring WIIFM? I know what the brand is getting. What's in it for me?

Jody Byrne, President, Trends & Sources

I love receipt tape based surveys, as they put control in my hands without bugging me. But the constant email barrage of "you stayed in my hotel (or whatever) now rate it" is certainly annoying.

Before I started actually analyzing data from those opt-in surveys, I would have assumed the respondents are a hopelessly biased sample and therefore not useful for generating insights. Having now done a lot of analysis, I can say that the respondents are hopelessly biased, but they are biased the same way over time. So while absolute levels aren't very meaningful, changes can be extremely useful.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Jonathan Marek, Senior Vice President, Applied Predictive Technologies

Yes and yes.

Customer satisfaction should be measured periodically and benchmarked to both the past and to your competitors. Why? Because otherwise you are always talking to yourself. Retailers need to hear from their customers (beyond the 800 number), and surveys can be a great instrument for this.

Using an online community is a fabulous alternative method for gathering feedback and members are highly engaged, not annoyed. A community also has the added benefit of unexpected discovery, as members continuously engage with you and with each other about topics of interest to you and to them.

If I could only choose one, I'd choose an online community, as it can provide the depth of understanding, the whys, and the color needed to address the issues that are uncovered.


Perhaps the development of loyalty rewards has lead consumers to expect to be "paid" for their responses. Falling response rates means the value of surveys has declined for understanding what the typical customer is thinking.


The risks outweigh the benefits when:

1. The survey is disproportionately long in comparison with the experience the consumer had;
2. It's inconvenient to provide the feedback, such as taking a receipt home to do later;
3. Questions on the survey are not applicable to the consumer's experience.

Yes, it's easy to gather feedback without being annoying.

1. Make feedback easy by optimizing your survey for phones and tablets;
2. Invite customer feedback with QR codes and text codes;
3. Respect the consumer's time by only asking necessary questions.

I love how Jack-in the-Box routes negative feedback to management to be addressed. Well done.

Mark Salsberry, CEO, JetJaw, Inc.

So many surveys have meaningless, abstract questions not allowing for the real issues to be discussed. The prospect of winning something is so remote that most people do not believe it's a real possibility for them. And for people who are management consultants ... well, it's free consulting. Stores must break the paradigm and provide a meaningful set of questions and then reward the behavior of submitting it every time.

John Hyman, Overseer of Order, Zen Marketing Inc.

Read the social chatter on your brand/store. That's all the feedback you need. If there isn't any chatter, then THAT'S a type of feedback, too.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

While the instinct to learn from customers and the market is a good one (otherwise we're just sitting around making things up), there are some definite disadvantages to customer surveys. Not only the irritation factor listed here, but also surveys have sample bias (those choosing to take them are either super involved and therefore biased or pissed off about something and therefore biased) and suffer from the distortion that always accompanies self-reported information. That's one reason that more and more retailers are going out of their way to gather and learn from the huge quantity of performance data that store inevitably generate. These data are not just sales at the register but also information about traffic to the store and behavior within the store. By correlating these data back to such factors as marketing and promotions, staffing, cyclicality, and even the weather, retailers have actionable intelligence they can use to improve performance without irritating their customers or suffering from the other disadvantages listed here.

Tim Callan, CMO, SLI Systems

Search RetailWire
Follow Us...
[Image of:  Twitter Icon] [Image of:  Facebook Icon] [Image of:  LinkedIn Icon] [Image of:  RSS Icon]

Getting Started video!

View this quick tutorial and learn all the essentials...

RetailWire Newsletters