Three effective open questions to ask customers

Organisations have an insatiable appetite for customer feedback and with good reason. Asking effective open questions, however, is easier said than done.  Customers are being asked several times a day what they think and with our customer hat on we all know what that feels like.  It’s therefore commercially vital that the questions we ask in those surveys make it easy for customers.  And yet one of the most popular questions used today is also one of the most difficult to answer.

There are variations in the wording, but to ask “What’s the one thing we could do differently?” would appear to be a good starting point.  It is certainly better than nothing or simply focusing on the scores.

Its flaw however, is that it’s a question that has been transposed from the performance management frameworks of corporate HR departments.  Back in the day, my boss and I would seek the views of my peers and stakeholders (my “internal customers”) on what I should do more of, do less of and do differently.  They all knew me well and they knew what I should be trying to achieve in the context of the culture and company.

Giving customers the same line of questioning assumes that they live and breathe the brand, its operational limitations and regulatory mandates day-in day-out.  It assumes that they know what the business and its purpose is all about and that they know what the limitations or ambitions of the company are.  They don’t, and in fairness I see many companies where the employees struggle to articulate the purpose and customer strategy, let alone their customers.

It’s a little ironic therefore that at the very time when we’re trying to find out about our customers, this question is all about us.  At best therefore, it seems an unfair question to ask customers to comment on things they are not familiar with.  At worst, customers will try and second guess or make assumptions of their own. Responses might give a sense of direction and indeed, some qualitative context is better than a void, but either way there are other questions that will produce better results.

Here are three effective open questions that might give your feedback programme better insights:

 

What would you say to a friend about what it’s like to do business with us?

The first one here is a question I always urge my clients to ask.  It gets straight to the root of what a customer feels.  It’s easy for them to relate to as the starting point for their observation is familiar ground.  It’s personal, empathetic and is asking for the whole truth, however uncomfortable that may be to hear.   Of course, the follow-up question “Why?” is on hand if extra colour is needed but often this simple question generates rich insights on its own.

 

What do you think our employees would say about you?

I’m indebted to Piers Alington of Feedback Ferret for sharing this one and is a brilliant litmus test of the real culture versus what the leadership team believe it to be. It also strikes at the heart of what it feels like to interact with a business.  Ordering the widget might have been easy, the product might work as it is supposed to but if there’s even a hint of contempt or lack of understanding – issues that silently send customers to competitors – this question will flush that out.

 

If you had 2 minutes with our CEO what would you say?

Jamie Ziegler of Convergys reminded me of this searching question in a CXPA forum recently.  It really focuses the customer’s mind on what’s important and reaches out to either end of the spectrum of what’s brilliant and what’s terrible.  As Jamie says, it also creates a human connection.  It increases the sense that the feedback is listened to and passed on, something that is a welcome change from the clinical nature of most surveys.

 

If we are going to the effort of creating a survey, getting buy-in for an internal governance framework to act on the insights and we are going to get the most from a customer’s limited attention span, the questions need to work really hard to be really easy.

There will be other great questions to ask – let me know your thoughts so we can share those too!

 


If you’d like to know more about getting the right type of feedback or how I might be able to help with any other strategic or tactical aspect of customer experience do please get in touch – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  I’m a CX consultant with a real-world background, I run workshops and speak about customer experience at events across Europe.ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and thought-provoking, and please feel free to add your own views below.

Jerry Angrave, CCXP


 

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