How To Build An Effective Customer Survey

Correctly designed, a customer satisfaction survey is an invaluable business tool. It can tell you what percentage of your customers are:

  • Promoters—loyal fans who recommend you to others and drive your business growth.
  • Passives—those who don’t feel strongly about your brand either way and may only use you out of convenience.
  • Detractors—likely defectors who potentially make disparaging remarks about your brand.

A good survey also tells you why customers have become promoters, passives, or detractors and what should be improved. The best survey also shows you who on your frontline team should adjust their behavior in serving customers.  

Unless you survey every customer, you need a representative sample that accurately reflects the feelings of all customers. In our experience, this requires a 75%+ survey-cooperation rate. Unfortunately, email and cash-register receipt surveys often get less than a 20% response rate and don’t represent the views of the 80% who refuse to take them.

This is easy to prove. Just compare the average future spending of the 20% who take your email survey to the 80% who refuse to do so. If it is different, your email-survey results are unrepresentative. Feedback from this group can still be helpful, but it is not projectable to the other 80% of your customers.  

To get customers to take your satisfaction survey, keep it short and do the work for them. For example, among the Enterprise Rent-A-Car customers who are contacted a week later and asked to complete a one-minute phone survey, more than 95% agree to do so. Why? The survey is short and the person on the phone does the typing for the customer.

You only need two or three survey questions. Your first question should be a rating of the customer’s relationship with you or their feelings about a recent experience. For example, you can choose one of the following to start with:

  • Using a 0–10 scale, how likely are you to recommend this company?
  • Using a 0–10 scale, how easy was it to get your problem resolved?
  • Using a 0–10 scale, how satisfied were you with your most recent experience?

Your second question asks the reason for their rating (e.g., “What’s the most important reason for your score?”) Rather than barrage customers with questions about every aspect of their experience, let them tell you off the top of their head what really stuck out. These are the feelings that count—the ones they remember and that will impact their future behavior.

Occasionally, you’ll come across an unhappy customer. You could then ask them a third question: “Mr. Ross, based on your feedback, one of our leaders would like to call you to learn more about your experience. When would be the best time to reach you?” This question allows managers to learn in detail what went wrong, apologize, and recover the relationship—an excellent way to turn detractors into promoters.

In summary, keep your customer satisfaction survey short so customers will take it and the results reflect the views of all customers.

Ask an open-ended question to learn what’s top of mind for customers and likely to impact their future behavior. And use a follow-up call by a manager to dig deeper into any problems and turn an unhappy customer back into a raving fan.


Engage your team to win the heart of every customer with Leading Customer Loyalty. Register for a complimentary webcast today and learn how companies get their frontline teams to act in a way that builds customer loyalty and drives faster growth.

About the Author

Sandy Rogers

Sandy Rogers leads FranklinCovey’s Loyalty Practice. He was previously Senior Vice President at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. During his 14 years there, Sandy managed the turnaround of the London, England operation and led the teams that developed Enterprise’s marketing strategy and system for improving customer service across all branches. Before Enterprise, Sandy worked in marketing at Apple Computer and at P&G. He is graduate of Duke and Harvard Business School.

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