Vision Critical

The customer insight platform
for customer-centric companies

Request a Live Demo


Jon Reed, the co-founder of the website diginomica, is sick and tired of surveys.

“Every customer interaction, no matter how trivial, triggers a survey,” he grumbles in a recently published article. “If my toothpaste company knew when I finished brushing, they would send me a freaking survey.”

Indeed, as Reed’s headline proclaims, “The survey epidemic is upon us—and something must be done.”

Scott Miller, CEO of Vision Critical and author of the ebook No Spam Surveys: Why Ad-Hoc Surveys Don’t Work, agrees. In an interview with Reed, Miller shares his thoughts about the sad state of survey research and what companies can do about it.

Why are ad-hoc surveys everywhere?

The traditional survey is still big business, worth tens of billions of dollars annually, and Miller has a provocative theory why: “technology-enabled laziness.” Surveys, according to Miller, are a clunky, outdated approach to determining sentiment and aren’t in tune with the behaviors and attitudes of customers today.

Thankfully, disruption is coming—and customers are driving it. The rise of social, cloud and mobile technologies has given customers more opportunities to voice their opinions. It has also given companies more engaging ways of talking to their customers.

“Survey research has been dramatically disintermediated,” says Miller. “That disintermediation started about a decade ago when customers—for the first time ever—started being able to talk about brands and companies and products without the company engaging in the conversation.”

The survey industry, however, is still stuck in its old ways. Despite of advances made in the customer intelligence software space, many companies are still relying on surveys. (RELATED: Download The Enterprise Guide to Customer Intelligence for more info on the various sources of intelligence about customer behavior and attitudes.) 

“The conventional survey research world still doesn’t understand what [the notion of customer empowerment] means,” says Miller. “It doesn’t mean ‘gather more intelligence from that person because that person is now more powerful.’ It means embrace the idea that you have to engage that person on their terms.”

But because companies have been slow to understand this change, ad-hoc surveys are still dominant today. Unfortunately, most of the surveys that companies send out are spam. As Miller notes in his ebook, spam surveys that fit these criteria are contributing to the survey epidemic:

  • They are one-way conversations, strictly about the results the survey maker wants to acquire, not the interests of the customer
  • They appear out of nowhere, uninvited, and most often, unwelcome
  • They are impersonal and generic, not connected to the data or experience of the individual customer
  • They are often overly long, not respecting the time and effort required of the customer

The result of the survey epidemic? Customer annoyance towards surveys and, as a further consequence, declining response rates. Even the venerable Pew Research has seen its response rate plummet from 36 percent in 1997 to only nine percent in 2004.

The antidote to the survey epidemic

So how can companies battle the epidemic of surveys? According to Miller, the first step is to examine the aspects of human relationships and apply those to your approach to customer engagement.

“Our belief [at Vision Critical] is that the closer our engagements are to actual human behavior, human conversations, the more accurate they’re going to be,” Miller explains.

When conversing with each other, people draw on what they already know about the other person. That intelligence is what keeps the conversation going and what, ultimately, builds a relationship. Unfortunately, spam surveys do the opposite of this process because they ignore who the customers are and what they’ve said in the past.

Companies must build better surveys. Miller says companies must demonstrate an understanding of their customers, and reach out only for relevant activities. They also need to ensure that customers can answer surveys on any device and in any platform. Finally, building quality surveys means asking only for pertinent information.

That said, companies must also recognize that customer engagement and surveys play a bigger role in the brand-customer relationship. “Companies should no longer be out trying to gather information about the customer experience or the customer product,” explains Miller. “They should be trying to make that process part of the customer experience.”

Unfortunately, most ad-hoc survey software in the marketing technology landscape are not up to these tasks. That’s because these platforms usually rely on one-off interactions with customers instead of allowing companies to build authentic, long-term relationship with their customers. Companies need a more robust customer intelligence software that will allow them to build on what they already know about their customers over time.

As for consumers like Reed who have grown tired of surveys? Miller predicts that the business world will “police” spam-like activities in the future. In the meantime, however, customers should use their own power to force companies to change their ways.

“You have to decide to not participate in the things that don’t matter to you,” says Miller. “That will help purge the bad behaviors out of the marketplace.”

The 10 Smartest Brands: How They Use Customer Intelligence

Text Size

- +

Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria was the former Content Marketing Manager and was responsible for Vision Critical's blog and social media marketing program. Before joining Vision Critical's global marketing team, Kelvin worked at Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm. His experience includes working with lifestyle, real estate, and non-profit clients to develop social media marketing and PR strategies. Kelvin has a Bachelor of Business Administration from SFU's Beedie School of Business.
Say hello:

Subscribe & Stay Informed

Can't get enough? Want to be notified as we continue to publish new content? Subscribe now and get insights straight to your inbox.