Tag Archives: Market Research

Leading the witness. The unsubtle art of ‘gaming’ customer surveys

22 May


Take a look at this online survey on attitudes to a leading UK bank that popped up a month or so ago when browsing ft.com. I am asked to say if I agree with the following statements (helpfully, I am also told that I can select all 5 responses, if the mood so takes me):


Lloyds Bank…

  • …has the expertise to be a leading partner to UK business
  • …serves and supports UK business
  • …helps make its customers more successful
  • …helps make the UK economically stronger
  • …demonstrates leadership on key issues that matter to my organisation

Now, this is clearly just a piece of fairly innocuous puff to fuel some sort of PR message, and we can all smile wryly and move on. That said, it hasn’t done anything to improve my perception of the bank concerned because obviously, someone somewhere must have felt this was a good idea, worth spending time and money on.

Some surveys that try a little too hard to lead the witness also have a darker side. This is where the outcome is linked to personal reward or recognition.

When the well-intentioned idea becomes hostage to the law of unintended consequences. 

I was recently reminded of this when I picked up a prescription at a leading pharmacy brand. We’re probably all familiar with the scenario: you queue to hand the prescription in, you’re told to come back in 15 minutes, and then you collect it from a different counter. For once I wasn’t told to go away, and the same person handled the whole transaction in around a minute. I mumbled “gosh, that was quick” and then the pharmacist, sensing a happy customer, wrote his name on my till receipt and asked me to take part in the online survey mentioned on the back of it. Now, chances are, if I’d had a very different experience, say where it took much longer than promised or they’d run out of the product, I suspect he’d have acted very differently.


Such stories – when personal intervention can, in effect, ‘lead the witness’ – are legion on the web. Take a look at this example, from the Consumerist site in April, where a pizza company in the US is offering a $1 discount off the next order provided you score the experience you’ve just had a 5 out of 5. As you can see from the photo, the process to claim the discount involves some ingenuity – all helpfully explained – to work around the system.

So, if your organisation is truly intent on listening to the authentic voice of the customer, then avoid the witness being lead! The first rule of survey completion should be to avoid putting the invitation to complete the survey in the hands of people who personally stand to gain from positive responses.   


“Everybody’s talking at me, I don’t hear a word they’re saying”. Are companies really listening?

12 Dec

BLOG listeningSo went the Nilsson song in that great film, Midnight Cowboy. Business 101 says Listen to your customers, and act on what you hear. Not rocket science is it? But even listening still seems like a tall order for some, these days. I have a long drawn out complaint with a major parcel delivery company, and 10 weeks in, no response as yet. I’ve enlisted the help of a nice new service via twitter called ServiceReply30; when I asked them for an update they said that the outfit concerned sometimes responds to their approaches, sometimes not.

But in the press at least, the L word – listening – is big news. Last week, two major and ‘damaged’ brands, Starbucks and Barclays both announced they are listening. Hmm. Big deal. Are they really hearing what people are saying?

In an open letter to customers and the world at large, announcing a plan to pay more corporation tax, the Starbucks UK CEO said “We’ve learned it is vital to listen closely to our customers – and that acting responsibly makes good business sense.” Take a break, Sherlock. Since then, this gesture is already close to being written off as a sham, if the weekend press was anything to go by.

In the same week, a Marketing Week article reported that the retail arm of Barclays is promising a “relentless focus on customers” and is seeking opinions on its products, in a bid to “shape banking” around their needs.

The problem is, we consumers (the 2.0 variety) live in a once-bitten-twice-shy kind of world, and we are increasingly sensitive and alert to PR puff, corporate propaganda and empty gestures. And, isn’t “listening” a bit last century, anyway? Haven’t you heard enough already? When did ‘we’re going to listen now’ become a key strategy?   

Internal vs External Perceptions

The Marketing Week article is interesting though as there is a reference to the gap between the external customer perception and the internal employee view: a spokesperson said “I see what the organisation believes internally and it is not the organisation that is portrayed, the organisation people see from the exterior”. To be fair to Barclays, I’m sure this is right; the desire to do the right thing, to be liked and appreciated will be as strong in the Barclays rank-and-file as it is in other organisations. As the old cliché goes, no-one gets out of bed in the morning determined to screw things up for customers. We all want to do a good job.

This reminds me of Edelman’s 2012 ‘Trust Barometer’ which reported that while consumer trust in CEOs as spokespeople of their organisations had declined, willingness to trust the average employee has increased. After all, most of us will relate far more easily to ‘people like us’ who we feel are more likely to tell it like it is, than we will to your average CEO.

All this prompts two questions;

  • Often the first barometer of public opinion is the workforce itself  – a rich source of insight, feedback and ideas. Ignore at your peril and all that. How are companies like Starbucks and Barclays truly harnessing that voice?
  • What more could companies do to break down the external perceptions, and reveal the good stuff behind the scenes? An insight into the real voice of the employee might be much more powerful in helping convince us sceptical consumers that the organisation is indeed made up of people ‘like us’ and is trying to do the right thing, than any number of ‘we’re listening’ external press releases.

What do you think?

Making unhappy customers happy : it’s not rocket science. BUPA and Net Promoter.

26 Nov

Bupa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A great reminder from BUPA International (medical insurer) that Net Promoter should be about much more than simply ‘market research’. It’s about taking action and fixing things for unhappy customers, day in day out, as this short film demonstrates.

It’s interesting too to hear about how this process challenges conventional metrics, and always nice to hear someone say it’s not rocket science. This is a phrase I probably use far too much, but that’s because it’s true. Most of this is just good old fashioned common sense, and yet that doesn’t make it easy to do, and it is especially hard to do consistently, and weave a discipline like this into the rhythm of business as usual. Enjoy the film.


Net Promoter on a napkin

19 Nov

The Net Promoter napkin, originally drawn by Dave Mitzenmacher, has been around for a while (I’ve shared it at conferences too) but it’s good to see a new take on it from satmetrix in this short film.

The core of the argument is spot on:  that NPS is NRS (not rocket science!) and is really very simple. It’s just a systematic way to capture and then act on the customer voice. Success comes from embedding Net Promoter into the rhythm of the business, firstly in closing the loop and taking action both on the front line and at the executive level, but also in making it relevant to, and connected with, every part of the business, breaking it out of the market research ghetto.

And yes, as the video suggests, the ultimate success measure for Net Promoter is when it gets publicly reported alongside financial metrics (and, of course, when the business truly understands the connections between the two).


Pick your battles carefully to make customer centricity stick

16 Nov

Superb dose of reality from Alain Thys of Futurelab, on how to make customer centricity really stick in large, established organisations, where as he says: CEO’s don’t wear turtlenecks or fly balloons; silos, habits and politics get in the way; thousands and thousands of people need convincing. If this sounds familiar, then read on.

It includes a strong rallying call to talk the right language, the financial one: as he says:

  • DON’T: TALK ABOUT HUGS & CUDDLES – don’t talk about customer-centricity in terms of morality or long term gains.   People will nod, but not be moved to action.
  • DO: TAKE THE FINANCIAL PERSPECTIVE – If your company only really cares about the money, talk about the profits that can be made can from being customer-centric

And, there’s a plea to bring the customer’s voice into the business, literally, as an antidote to aggregated market research and other data that tends to distance the audience from the real customer voice, and the real emotions underpinning it : “while containing extremely valuable data, traditional customer survey and voice-of-customer programmes are often too complex or abstract to inspire executive action.   Even those that wish to act often need to wonder what all this interesting data actually means to them” 


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