Where most businesses go wrong with their surveys

I love a survey. I’ve just filled in a customer survey for the Co-operative bank about their ethical policy. Presumably, the Co-operative are trying to reinforce their marketing message about being an ethical bank, to try to keep hold of customers like me who only put up with their terrible online banking system because we don’t want our money invested in nasty things.

Especially since most Co-operative bank customers must have thought about getting their money out recently, what with the bosses doing coke and the bank nearly failing.

What we can learn from the Co-operative’s survey mistakes

You can call me a cynical old business advisor, but I’m guessing I’ll never hear from the bank again about what I said. They don’t really want to know what I think. They’re probably just sending out the survey to remind me that they’re the ethical bank so that I don’t move my accounts.  If I’m being really cynical, I could easily believe that they’ll just throw the spreadsheets in the bin as soon as they get them.  So, what should they have done…

Give people the results

The first thing they could do with the survey, is send the results out to the people who filled it out.  And the people who meant to, but weren’t filling out surveys while putting off writing blog posts this afternoon. This would accomplish two things.

It would acknowledge my time in filling out the survey in the first place, make me feel appreciated and therefore more likely to stay.  And secondly, it would make me think again about their ethical policy, which is what they wanted me to concentrate on in the first place. I’d be genuinely interested in what other customers found important.  Do they all want the Co-operative bank to support the co-operative movement (a low score for me) or are they more interested in human rights?

Tell them what you’re doing after the survey

One of the things I ticked in the survey was that I thought protecting the environment should be an important part of their ethical policy.  If lots of other people said this too, then it would be good for the Co-operative to tell me what they’re doing about this.  Are they going to aim to become carbon neutral?  Are they going to stop sending me those paper statements all the time?

Pick up on the little things

One of the problems with most surveys is that people only say nice things.  At Brighton Chamber, we did a survey after a new event venue.  I thought the venue was rubbish and didn’t want to use it again.  Only 3 people (out of 25) said they had a problem with the food or the venue. But they cared enough to type in specific comments which told us that the venue had been pretty useless.  So we’re not using it again.

Maybe no one else suggested to the Co-operative bank that if they want to be ethical, they should make sure that they pay their top staff no more than 5 times what their lowest paid staff get. And maybe that’s a crazy idea, and you can’t get a good bank CEO for 120k pa.  But maybe it’s worth thinking about. Maybe they could do 10:1.  Or give a pay rise to the lowest paid, in part paid for out of a reduced salary from the Chief Exec.  Brighton Council did this to fund the Living Wage, so why not a bank.

If you do a survey of your customers, pay attention to the little comments they make. Give people an option for you to contact them to follow up, so you can ask them what they really meant.  Or so you can explain why you can’t do something they’ve suggested.  Otherwise, you risk ignoring important information, misunderstanding or losing all the customer goodwill you wanted to engender in the first place.

Don’t miss a trick with your marketing

We all get busy. Distracted. We do a survey, and then look at the results, but sometimes the impetus has passed once we’ve seen the first set of results. It takes some effort to put the results into an understandable format, and to talk to people in depth.

I saw someone recently who had gone to all the trouble of making a SlideShare of his survey results and sent it out to everyone who had filled it in.  And then he responded straight away, explaining what he would be doing as a result.  That was a nice piece of marketing.  In fact, it was several nice pieces of marketing (survey request, survey, thank you for completing my survey, results video, and outcomes) spread over time.

Help with your marketing

If you’d like some help with your marketing strategy, including how to do surveys properly and as part of your marketing and business development, why not book in a coffee and chat (in person or online) and we can talk about how I can help.

Photo credit – D Coetzee