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The one survey that matters

I cringe when I look at some of my older columns. Time has made some of my thoughts so contradicting, I wonder what song sheet I was singing from back then.


I cringe when I look at some of my older columns. Time has made some of my thoughts so contradicting, I wonder what song sheet I was singing from back then.

One area where I’ve changed my tune is the value of customer surveys. In the past, I have penned how essential they are, insisted they be done annually, and made a lot of important business decisions based on their results. Fast-forward a decade and I think customer surveys of any kind are totally and utterly useless. The reality is they are rarely accurate (just like any other single method of collecting customer feedback). It still surprises me that almost every ISO Quality System makes annual surveys mandatory for registration.

I understand the allure of a customer survey. It’s almost like comfort food. Need to know whether your customers like you? No problemo! Just have sales whip up a survey. They’re fun to put together, easy to implement, and quickly provide loads of “important” information about how you’re doing.

They’re also a waste of time.

Imagine going door-to-door and asking your neighbours to rate key areas of your character on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 you’re a buffoon, 10 you’re Godlike). Surveying your own customers isn’t much different.

Even if your survey is blind and anonymous, filling it out takes time and effort your customer just doesn’t have. Honestly, how much do you enjoy filling out surveys? How many do you actually complete? If you’re like me, it’s zippo. I won’t even do the ones that try to con you by offering the lucky draw for a free trip to Vegas. Let me get this straight: I’m going to tell you how bad your service is and you’re going to thank me by sending me to Sin City for a free weekend of fun and sun?

My favourite tactic is when the surveyor phones and has you paged out of an important meeting. I get so bent out of shape that even if I were a fan of Company A, I’d quickly convert to the dark side.

Survey Yourself

People are way too busy these days to tell you what they think you should already know. I don’t know many customers who get excited over the call from a carrier’s quality manager looking to set up a meeting to discuss their disturbing survey results. By nature, we’d rather keep our mouths shut than open up about something that’s really not very important or pleasant to do. There are so many competitors banging on our customers’ doors that it’s easier for a customer to switch than to lay their cards on the table.

My suggestion is to lose the customer survey and do an internal survey by asking yourself the following 10 questions. It’s easy, simpler, and far more accurate.

1. If you were a transportation decision-maker, would you use the services of your trucking company? (If you wouldn’t, don’t worry about the next nine questions.)

2. Is your top- and bottom-line business growing with your existing, long-term customers? (It’s the fastest, cheapest, and most profitable way to grow. The 80/20 rule is A-OK.)

3. Are customers presenting you with new and exciting business opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone? (Shows a high level of trust and compatibility.)

4. Does your company get unsolicited calls from positive word of mouth? (Word of mouth is better than advertising and absolutely necessary to grow your business today.)

5. Would your company have the courage to implement an unconditional 100%-money-back guarantee? (Takes big nuts but makes a huge statement about your company.)

6. What do your competitors think of you? (It’s easier to find out than you think.)

7. What’s being said about you on social media sites? (No news is not necessarily good news.)

8. Do you get a lot of one-shot wonders, people who give you a trial shipment only to turn into Casper the Ghost, never to be heard from again? (A real litmus test. These customers were underwhelmed by their first experience with you.)

9. Does your product solve problems? (On-time service does not build loyalty. It builds vanilla, neutral, bland relationships.)

10. What’s your gut tell you? (Almost never wrong.)

Surveys are inaccurate, they irritate people, and most people don’t complete them when asked. If you need your customers’ input to tell you how your company is performing, it’s way too late. You probably already have a lot fewer customers to ask than you used to.

Mike McCarron is one of the founding “M’s” at MSM Transportation (www.shipmsm.com) in Bolton, Ont. He can be reached at mmccarron@shipmsm.com or @AceMcC on Twitter.


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