We always knew that CX leaders and the brands they represent are poorly served by typical customer surveys.

Why? Because of what CX pros tell us about low response rates associated with traditional surveys. And because of all the knock-on effects this generates. From unreliable results to out-of-date insights, self-selecting bias and making customers resent being asked to fill them out.

The days of the long-form customer survey are numbered

Now more compelling evidence has arrived in the form of a newly published McKinsey & Co study among more than 260 senior UX professionals.

In short, customer surveys are very important but generally unfit for purpose.

“While surveys themselves are a valid means of gathering customer insight, they fall short as a management tool for measuring CX performance and identifying and acting on CX opportunities.” (McKinsey, Feb 2021)

We’ll get to some of the headline stats in a moment. Here’s why most surveys aren’t delivering what they should in terms of valuable, actionable customer feedback:

“Leaders pointed to low response rates, data lags, ambiguity about performance drivers and the lack of a clear link to financial value as critical shortcomings.” (McKinsey, Feb 2021)

CX research survey response rates feedback customer McKinsey

Grim reading for CX leaders wedded to aging survey-based systems

According to the study, 93% of CX leaders use a survey-based metric as their primary means of measuring CX performance. However, only 15% are fully satisfied with how they measure CX. Just 6% are confident their system enables both strategic and tactical decision-making.

In terms of response rates, the only surprising thing about the figure of 7% found in the study is that it’s so high. Many organizations insistent upon the ‘big survey’ approach struggle to achieve 5%. By contrast, a more lightweight and dynamic survey system will invariably perform many times better.

Another beef with traditional surveys is the lack of granularity in customer insight. Just 16% said surveys provide granular enough data to address root causes of CX performance. For us, that speaks to the deficiency of a once-and-everything survey cadence versus a little-and-often approach.

Finally, the study reflected the difficulty of using survey-based measurement to determine CX ROI. Only 4% of respondents believe their CX measurement system enables them to calculate the ROI of CX decisions.

In fairness, calculating CX ROI is not straightforward for all sorts of reasons, not least of which aligning the correct CX goals with business objections, but 4% is pitiful. It infers barely any confidence at all in using survey data to justify past decisions or influence new ones.

Where do we go from here?

When it comes to finding solutions, we are very much in the “art of the possible” camp. Survey-based systems are never going to be perfect. But we know there is significant upside in moving away from traditional approaches to more agile survey interactions, and then iterating based on what you learn.

Customers think and feel certain things. It’s critical to develop a continuous understanding of all that, probing into how their decisions are made and even anticipating future behavior. How else can you hope to do that than by asking your customers? You then apply this alongside other data you gather about their interaction with touchpoints, buying habits, preferences, etc.

Bringing all this together is the basis for a “data-driven” CX system.

The McKinsey blog post that summarises its study acknowledges this:

For organizations to lead from a customer-centric position, they increasingly need a comprehensive view of the full customer journey, as well as the ability to obtain deep, granular insight on what is driving customer experience. They need immediate and individual signals in order to take action “in the moment” and to create relevant experiences for each customer…” (McKinsey, Feb 2021)

The future of CX?

The bigger picture in McKinsey’s research takes the idea of alternative sources of data and runs with it. The forecast centers around the emergence and adoption of predictive analytics in CX strategy. This fascinating area is certainly one to watch. Not least as it chimes with parallel trends in AI, machine learning and big data analytics in general.

However, in the here and now, dealing with customers every day, we agree with the assertion that surveys are imperative. It’s how you do them that makes all the difference.

McKinsey’s study shows how bad many present survey approaches perform. But survey-based CX doesn’t have to be like this. Regular readers of this blog will know Customer Thermometer is different – trusted by brands for precisely the reasons long-form surveys are not.

If you want data-driven insight and action get your free trial of Customer Thermometer’s real-time, transactional feedback here…