Understanding the customer

A few days ago, Guy Kawasaki of “How to Change the World” blog, interviewed, Dave Wanetick, the managing director of IncreMental Advantage. The headline of the interview was “The Art of the Customer Surveys“. In a nutshell, Wanetick claims that most costumer surveys are actually useless because physiological and practical reasons influence the outcome of the surveys and make them obsolete. Actually Wanetick argues that the most efficient survey should consist of one question:

According to Dave, some of the most revealing customer surveys can be quite simple. Dave cites Fred Reichheld’s idea that one can distill customer satisfaction surveys down to one question:

“Would you recommend our service to your friends and colleagues?”

This is a powerful question because it gauges whether or not customers like your product enough to put their own reputations on the line with their friends and colleagues.

I must admit that a lot of what I read in the interview made sense to me. It is true, some people don’t like filling out surveys. There is ample importance to the framing effect in surveys. Hassling customers might irritate them. But do all these facts lead to the conclusion the there surveys are ineffective and should not be used?

Every novice business man knows that adapting the product or service to the client is very important. Some writers like Peter Drucker and Craig Stull, Phil Myers, David Meerman Scott, talk about the importance of understanding the “non-clients” and thier needs. So how are business supposed to do that without surveys? I was not convinced that you can understand everything you need about the client (or non-client) by just one question.

I know that I get a lot of surveys. Some I disregard. But some I fill out. When I do, I try to be as honest as possible. If I fill that the survey might be of relevance to me, I really try to give them my honest opinion. Maybe they will improve because of me – would that be great for me? I know that one time I filled a survey for one of the MBA Schools and actually won an I-Pod for doing it. I answered that survey honestly and it made me happy to be rewarded for it.

How many surveys did you fill out? Did you take it seriously? I guess that most of you will answer that they did. I think most people will.

So, what is the conclusion? I think surveys are a tools. When using a survey, you should know its limitations. You should know that it might help you reach a decision and that it isn’t a tool that makes the decision for you. You should be aware of the technique’s problems and be true with yourself by using it so it will produce accurate results and not the results you want it to produce. You should honor your customers, especially the ones that comply and fill it out.

Most of the tools we use to evaluate process of humans are flawed in some way. Tests like SAT or GMAT, are not always accurate. When I try to evaluate an instructor giving a class, my evaluation will be a little different from my colleague’s evaluation, even if we took the same training. It does not mean we have to stop using it or that the evaluation does not hold insights. It just means we should not fall in love with the tool and use it wisely.


4 Responses to “Understanding the customer”

  1. Phil Myers Says:


    The question on customer referrals is powerful but we agree that there are many steps before that to build a base of loyal customers. The key to get started (and staying fresh) is not necessarily surveys but qualitative interviews with what we call potentials. The old saying of ‘you don’t know what you don’t know until you ask’ is true in diagnosing new market opportunities. We found that face-to-face interviews asking open ended questions helped to find a new problem to solve. Then surveys are valuable to quantify specific requirements and the impact of solving it. You can’t get there with a survey because the real question to ask is often buried or not even on the list. I don’t know about you, but when I get them blindly, I’m pretty sure the data gathered will be useless.

    Thanks for reading Tuned In!

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Hey Phil,

    Thank you very much for your reply. It is the first one in this new blog, and thus, very important to me.

    I totally agree with you. I have no doubt that in many cases qualitative interviews are more effective than surveys. But is that always true? Don’t qualitative interviews have disadvantages to? What I tried to say is that what comes out of the article is that surveys never work and are not effective at all. This represents, in my view, an all or nothing approach that rules a lot of the media and public discussion. Life is made of a lot of gray. I know that it is more interesting to say: “surveys never work” than “surveys sometimes work”, but I believe the later is the real truth.

    What I would have liked to read, after the explanation about the problems of surveys is where to use them and how to do it more effectively or how to integrate the information you get from surveys to complete the information gathered using qualitative interviews.

    Thanks again for the reply.

  3. Framing and Semantics « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] surveys might not be perfect because of the framing effect. But they are still a very important and widely used tool. The question is, when you form a survey of your own, or order one from a company, do you ask why […]

  4. How are you listening to your clients? « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] of this does not mean the surveys are useless or that we should ignore what customers are saying. I think it is more important to understand how […]

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