Every day, everywhere, companies send email surveys, smiley face surveys, or call to request our customer feedback. It’s overwhelming. However, as we enter the holiday season, let’s acknowledge that when an associate is incredibly helpful, it’s nice to be able to say “thanks!”

Consider when an associate goes the extra mile: it feels good to reciprocate with a “sure, I’d recommend” or a 5-star rating that the associate’s boss might see.

What I’m talking about here is a social contract.

Social Contracts are Mostly Good!

A social contract is an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate in exchange for benefits. It’s basic reciprocity.

In this case, if the associate does what the customer wants in terms of providing a good answer or helping with a refund, many customers, including me, will say thank you by giving a top rating on the email survey.

And there’s nothing wrong with fulfilling social contracts. Our society is built on them and they generally make our lives easier and better.

Giving is Good

In the case of email surveys and other feedback prompts, this kind of reciprocity gives the associate what they need to bolster their case for a raise or a promotion, and I get to feel like I helped.

Adam Grant, renowned psychologist and author of Give and Take goes further and says that being asked to help is really an opportunity to help ourselves and advance our own careers. So, give and then give more!

However…

While it feels good to reciprocate, let’s be clear: a Thank You Survey isn’t capturing objective facts about the customer experience. Read on to find out what all Thank You Surveys have in common.

1) The Associate Decides Who Gets the Survey

If your associates email the survey or, at the end of a call, take customers to a screen to provide feedback, you’re doing a Thank You Survey. Or, perhaps there’s a survey link in the associate’s signature. But the point is, associates at least appear to elect who takes the survey. And this appearance alone is enough to influence the resulting data.

Microsoft provides an egregious example of the associate playing a heavy hand. At the end of each tech support call, the associate stays on the phone while they take me to my portal where I’m asked to rate the support I received. I imagine that if that tech support call went poorly, they may not take me to this screen.

And certainly, if the support went poorly, I am apt to put my foot down and just bail out of the call and not give the associate what they want. Giving associates control over which customers take the survey is a sure-fire way to get skewed data.

2) It’s Phrased as a Favor!

If your associate’s feedback questions are built directly into the exchange, they are simply asking for a favor. In the picture below cropped from the end of a customer support incident, it’s clear my response will go directly back to the associate. This transactional exchange makes it extremely unlikely that if I answer it would be with anything other than “Great!”

Email-Survey-Ex-Interaction-Metrics

If I didn’t have a good experience, the most socially comfortable thing to do is just avoid taking the survey altogether. Often it may feel like a small gripe isn’t worth the damage it might have on an associate’s performance review.

But if the associate was especially kind or generous, I’m inclined to say “great” to return the favor. Skewed, transactional exchanges don’t give companies any real sense of how their associates are doing.

3) The Questions are Leading

In the picture below, there is nothing objective about the associate’s request. “Let me know if I was helpful” is simply a request for good feedback. It limits customer feedback to the topic of helpfulness and assumes that the associate was, indeed, helpful.

Email-Survey-Pic-Interaction-Metrics

Thank You Surveys can be Awkward 

Sometimes Thank You Surveys are just plain awkward. For example, recently I had a recall on my car and while my car was in the shop, the dealership gave me a loaner from Enterprise. Upon returning the car, with tablet in hand the associate asked, “how would you rate our customer service?” Put on the spot, I said “everything was perfect!”.

However, the day before, the associate said they’d pick me up in 10 minutes. Instead, I waited more than an hour for them to show up. I was mad. But there’s no way I would discuss that with an employee who was about to shuttle me back to the dealership.

There’s a lot of social pressure that comes from an associate asking you to rate them. I discuss this in “Answering NPR: Why 5 Star Rating Systems Don’t Work”, but, bottom line, just like the Microsoft example, my “everything was perfect” summation fails to help Enterprise collect facts about its customer service.

Fact Surveys Uphold the Pillars of Objectivity  

Unlike Thank You Surveys, Fact Surveys uphold the pillars of objectivity by: offering the option of anonymity, removing subjectivity, and ensuring even response representation.

For example, when we’re running Customer Surveys and using gifts to boost completion rates, we allow customers to remain anonymous while still getting their gift!

Fact Surveys also work hard to remove leading statements, skewed scales, double-barreled questions, and other subjective constructs.

For example, instead of asking me “how satisfied were you with tech support” (a question that suggests I was at least somewhat satisfied) a Fact Survey asks me to “rate the engineer’s expertise”. The latter question is specific and asked in a neutral way.

With Thank You Surveys, respondent populations tend to be highly skewed by who the associate chooses to ask for feedback and/or more enthusiastic customers who are simply more likely to respond.

In contrast, Fact Surveys strive for statistical validity and aim to collect data that are representative of the actual customer base.

Know the Difference 

There is value to Thank You Surveys. It feels good to thank an associate for their effort and help them do well in their job. But let’s not mistake this with scientific metrics and objective customer experience fact-finding.

By understanding the difference between the two, you can decide which to use and when. While there will always be a place for a well-served thank you, if you want to make real improvement, using Thank You Email Surveys should not be your sole outlet for feedback.

Toward using the right surveys at the right time for the best information!