Getting the Straight Scoop From Your Customers

Getting the Straight Scoop From Your Customers

You know what your customers think of you. Of course you do, better than anyone. You know the ones who couldn’t be happier with the work you’re doing and you know the ones who have a few complaints— some with good reason, some because they’re just a pain in the neck.

Yes, you know what your customers think of you better than anyone. So you don’t need some survey person to go around asking your customers what they think of you. Because you’ve never been blindsided by a customer who pulled business away from you without warning or sufficient explanation. You’ve never heard through the grapevine that a customer is unhappy with your company. And you’ve never missed out on an opportunity with a customer or solid prospect because you found out about it too late.

That’s you, and you certainly don’t need a customer survey. But for managers who may not know everything their customers think about them— or for managers who think they know more than they do— a customer relationship survey can provide many benefits, including:

  • Candid feedback. It’s human nature that many of your customers would feel more comfortable telling a relative stranger what they really think of you and your company than they would telling you to your face. Very few people like to deliver bad news, especially if it’s to someone with whom they have a longstanding, friendly business relationship. But by having a survey expert ask strategic questions of your customers, you can head off any minor problems before they grow to threaten the relationship. And if you can save a single customer relationship, it’s almost certainly going to justify the time and expense of a customer relationship survey.
  • Reassurance. For most good companies, positive feedback usually outweighs the negative in a customer relationship survey. And while everyone loves a pat on the back, there’s also measurable value in this type of feedback. A well-designed customer relationship survey can provide you with needed reassurance that most of your customers think you’re doing a good job. You can then take that information and concentrate on making sure you keep doing the things your customers like.
  • Inside information. By surveying your customers you can find out about unannounced projects or opportunities, trends in their industry, and actual leads on new work. During a recent survey I did for an engineering firm, I interviewed a manager who had just been hired by the board of an organization my client wanted desperately as a customer. This manager felt stuck with the board’s choice of consultants and he told me, “If your client can do anything to help me get rid of my current engineering consultant, I’d be indebted to them for life.” As soon as I hung up the phone, I called my client and relayed the manager’s comment. My client said, “That information just paid for this whole survey.” Surveys aren’t always this fruitful, but you’ll usually get some leads if you ask the right questions the right way.
  • Marketing goodwill. Believe it or not, people like to be asked about what they do. Think about it. People spend day after day after day at their jobs, but unless they’re celebrities, they’re very rarely asked to talk about what they do. So when you survey your customers about what’s going on in their company, when you ask them for their opinion about your firm and your work, it shows that you’re interested in what they do and that you care what they think. I’ve never conducted a survey of any size that didn’t include at least one interviewee saying something like, “Tell them I think it’s great that they’re doing this.”

A customer relationship survey can offer you many other benefits, but only if it’s done right. A third party with excellent interviewing skills and an understanding of business should conduct the survey. The questions should be open (to allow for elaboration) and not be leading or softballs (e.g., “Did we meet or exceed your expectations?”). And finally, you need to determine the most cost-effective method for conducting the survey— in person, by phone, electronically, or by mail. (In most cases, the phone is the way to go because you get high-quality feedback from a reasonably sized sample that you can control.)

Oh, and another thing…you may have heard that a customer survey has to be confidential to be effective. Don’t buy it. In my experience, the benefit of knowing exactly what every interviewee says about your company far outweighs the risk of having one or two customers hold back information because they know their comments are not confidential. Most interviewees tell me they don’t care if it’s confidential or not. So why lose the incredible value of direct feedback from customers and prospects on the dubious assumption that a confidential survey will yield more candid results? It doesn’t make sense.

If you want to hear more about the benefits and process of conducting a customer relationship survey, give me a call at 781-718-2403 or e-mail me at


Jerry Guerra
The JAGG Group
Updated July 28, 2003