4-point response scale blog

Customer Thermometer provides a 4-point response survey solution designed to get high, and therefore more representative, response rates. It has been created to give users real time, actionable insight into their customers.

One of the main things powering Customer Thermometer is its 4-point response scale.

There is much academic debate as to whether even or odd numbered scales are the most effective. Some studies find support for excluding it while others for including it depending on the subject, audience and type of question. Importantly, no one scale is favoured over another, and companies should pick what best suits the task in hand.

Our software’s job is to get customers to speak up. A silent customer or a customer who doesn’t choose to offer an opinion is dangerous and could quickly, without warning, cease to be a customer. Whether that’s someone spending $1,000 with you or $1m/month – the silence still matters.

For all these reasons and more, we built a system around a 4-point response scale, with no ‘neutral point’.

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A 4-point response scale cuts decision fatigue

When conducting market research or an in depth annual survey, multi-question surveys can be a necessity. However, for sensing customer satisfaction in a busy B2B environment, they are dangerously unrepresentative and potentially annoying to customers.

Why? Because no one has time any more. As a result, industry standard response rates for that type of survey are minuscule – typically sub 2%. When it comes to asking customers how they are feeling in order to fix service issues, you need as much feedback as you can gather.

A 4-point scale encourages customers to quickly feed back on how they felt about a particular service. In our testing prior to creating the service, a 4-point scale significantly outperformed a 5-point scale in response rate.

Adding a middle ground/average button in the middle of our four, provides something else for the customer to consider… it makes them hesitate, become uncertain and potentially in that split second, give them too much to think about. In other types of survey, many hit the neutral button out of ease alone, leaving you with potentially misleading data.

Often, when this hesitation occurs, either nothing or the middle ground gets clicked and the opportunity to solicit actionable feedback is lost.

Customer Thermometer’s satisfaction feedback approach

Clearly it is impossible to recommend a single perfect response scale for all customer survey usages, as the optimum scale must be moulded to meet the survey’s requirements. We provide flexibility for the labelling of the points on the scale in all Email Thermometers to enable users to have flexibility in their chosen setup of the 4-point scale.

Odd numbered scales are generally regarded as allowing for a ‘neutral’ option such as ‘neither agree or disagree,’ or ‘don’t care.’ However, much of this academic debate centres on the reliability of these surveys. i.e. would the same survey sent to a different set of the population produce the same result reliably? For us, we are not seeking this kind of reproducibility, we are seeking specific sets of individual feedback so that our users can act upon them whilst providing a benchmark.

Supporters of the neutral point argue that giving a ‘don’t know’ option ensures that respondents do not manufacture opinions instantaneously.

However, advocates of even numbered scales, which include Customer Thermometer, argue that in reality people are never neutral on issues and always have an opinion, even if they had not previously conceived of it.

Moser and Kalton (1972:344) argue that ‘there is clearly a risk in suggesting a non-committal answer to the respondent,’ as they believe that a mid-point allows respondents to ‘opt out’ which in turn provides uninformative data.

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Can customers be 100% ambivalent about a service?

Andrew Messing at Harvard University has stated of midpoint responses, “you get to pretend that this response (like the others) enables you to measure a response.” Many academic studies have concluded that offering a midpoint leads to clustering at that midpoint, (Krosnick, Narayan, & Smith. 1996).

The advantage of a scale, like ours which forces a view is that you are not left with a lot of ‘middle ground’ responses where you’re not sure what they meant (they don’t care, they don’t know, they have no view on it, they can’t be bothered?) and you have specific actions you can take in each case.

Following on from our argument above, we genuinely don’t believe a customer can be ambivalent about an experience they’ve just received. An expression of how someone feels about customer satisfaction is based around emotion – it’s a gut feeling. Generally, it’s not something that needs to be considered or thought through in any detail.

If you’ve just had your house cleaned, come off a conference call, returned from a hotel visit or had an experience with a customer service rep, you will have an opinion on that experience which will either be in some way positive or negative. It just can’t be completely average. It may have been just ok (yellow)… or awful (red)… or ‘fine’ (green) or it might have been excellent (gold). We believe that “OK” is not at all the same as “completely neutral”.

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4-point responses drives action and service recovery within the user’s business

The Customer Thermometer survey approach has been designed from the ground up to drive service recovery action. Most surveys are never acted upon in real time – and one of the main reasons for this is that neutral points give a business nothing to act on.

Say a customer clicked an ‘Average’ on Tuesday at 09:45… his ticket number was 1002356 and the agent dealing with the ticket was David.

The problem here is that an ‘average’ rating gives you no next step because you have no information about how that customer is feeling.

Not providing an average rating drives a workflow around service recovery and it helps businesses to uncover issues, bring them to the surface and make continuous improvement.

In many survey contexts – it would absolutely make sense for a recipient to be provided with a middle ground… Customer satisfaction ratings are fundamentally different to opinion-related surveys in our view.

Our customers typically ask questions such as:

“How was your experience with us today?”, “How was our support team today?”

To answer this type of question – or any other type of satisfaction related question, we don’t believe it’s possible for someone to truly provide an ‘average’ or “don’t know” response because our surveys are sent to someone who definitely experienced our users’ service.

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Our conclusion on the 4-point response

Whilst there are persuasive arguments in both directions (and many others directions such as 3-, 7-, 10- and 11-point scale) our experience firmly shows that in order to elicit meaningful, actionable and useful customer satisfaction feedback, there should be no midpoint.

At its heart, Customer Thermometer is all about getting a firm measure of satisfaction, whilst also providing real time, insightful results, driving action and stopping customers from leaving. We believe the 4-point response scale best supports these aims.

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If you’re looking for a better way to get customer feedback, give Customer Thermometer a try for free. We’re like the Instagram of customer feedback; simple, quick and visually-engaging: