The Best Ways to Carry out a Customer Satisfaction Survey


Customer satisfaction surveys are a great way of getting feedback from your customers.  But how do you ensure that they give the best responses and are not avoided like the plague?

Felicity Hunter interviewed Simon Gray from Virgin Media, Paul McWeeney from Barclaycard and Alan Weaser for their opinions.

Keep surveys short and sweet

A key area to look at is the length of your surveys, as customers like nothing less than a long and drawn-out questionnaire, which they will quite often either fail to complete, or will provide false answers just to get it over and done with.

Virtuatel’s managing director Alan Weaser, said “questionnaires should have strictly no more than five questions and should be no more than three minutes long – with one-and-a-half minutes being the optimum time-scale. The customer should also be told immediately that it is going to be short and sweet.”

“There’s nothing worse than a long drawn-out survey,” he said. “Our normal rule is five questions plus a verbatim recording, where a customer can leave a message about their experience of our service.”

Barclaycard’s Paul McWeeney, head of UK sales and service, echoed Alan’s minimalist rule, with the company using between six and eight queries for text surveys.

“Our response rates are typically strong providing the questions are not going to take too much of the customers’ time,” he said. However, he said up to 30 questions are asked in an outbound call-type survey but only if “the expectation has been set,” Paul added.

Happy staff helps

A happy team of staff also passes on a good vibe to the customer, and will in turn encourage them to give their opinion on aspects of the service they received.

Simon Gray

Simon Gray

Simon Gray, customer operations manager at Virgin’s Teesside Centre, said: “We had one worker who recently won a trip to Marrakesh because of the results from his customer satisfaction surveys.”

Simon added: “The customers who dealt with him on the phone obviously thought he was professional and thorough and were pleased with the service he provided so were in turn helpful themselves and filled out the survey on his performance.”

In other words, happy staff means happy customers who are more likely to help out a call centre by taking time out to be surveyed.


One way around having huge lists of questions – all of which contact centre bosses are desperate to get answers to – is to use “rotation”.

As customers are unwilling to give up their precious time to help, questionnaires can be broken up by “cycling the questions across multiple callers”.

This means that if 20 questions need answering, the first caller gets the first set of five questions, the second caller gets the second set of five questions, and so on. It means that after four calls, managers do get the answers to their 20 questions.

Don’t change the scale

Alan says some of the worst surveys he has come across are those which “change the scale”, and he advises call centre managers to avoid this at all costs.

For example, if customers are invited to rate one question between one and 10, do not ask them to score the next one from one to 7.

“It’s important to keep the scales constant,” he said. “It’s important because people can’t take the information in over the phone in telephone services. “It’s too much different information so they won’t give a true answer or they will make a mistake and could give a false opinion.”

Steer clear of ‘melting pot questionnaires’

Another off-putting feature of some questionnaires is when the questions in it are completely irrelevant to the customer’s call. So, it is wise for call centres to avoid creating a survey where several departments have chipped in with a melting pot of ideas.

Some surveys have obviously been worked on by a committee of managers, with the IT people throwing in some questions, the sales people adding some.

Get in there early

Another golden rule when it comes to boosting survey take-up rates is to ensure they agree to take it right at the beginning of the call.

Alan Weaser

Alan Weaser

Alan said: “If you don’t, if you leave it until the end of the call, then the nature of the call itself will influence the customer’s opinion on whether they complete it, and you don’t want to do that. Asking early is essential and key.”

Paul said that in Barclaycard’s automated surveys customers are currently asked during the call, but it is moving to asking customers “ahead of the call”.

We’ll call you

Offering customers the choice of completing the questionnaire at a later date can also be helpful if it is more convenient for them, for instance, if they are busy, or sometimes – in these cash-strapped times – worrying about the cost of the call, which they may have made to the company. Whatever the reason, front-line staff should still ask the customer at the outset in order to get the best possible completion rates, and ultimately feedback on businesses.

Alan said: “The customer may be busy or worry about the cost of the phone call, so having a call-back avoids that problem as well.”

Don’t entice with treats

Some companies believe that if they want to glean much-needed information then offering presents and prizes will entice service users into completing surveys,  but Paul and Alan say they couldn’t be more wrong.

“This would harm the credibility of the results,” said Paul.

Alan added: “It’s not such a good idea to incentivise the survey with prizes or presents. You don’t want the incentive to influence how the customer responds to the survey. Sometimes a small thank-you is enough, and I have known some companies offer Nectar points to say thank-you.”

Use clear language

Service users will almost certainly turn ignore a questionnaire if they did not understand what it meant, was long-winded,  and full of long words and ‘industry speak’.

Paul says that Barclaycard ensures its questions are plain and simple and avoids using any jargon which would baffle the client.

“Terrible” texts

Text-type surveys are usually akin to question-and-answer tennis with the customer being bombarded with a different query each time they provide an answer.

This type of survey is “terrible”, says Alan.

He said: “You are just constantly backwards and forwards with questions and answers. Just when you think the last question has finished, another one comes through. It makes the customer feel ‘I can’t be bothered with this’.”

Act on answers

Disgruntled customers, however, would often like to answer survey questions but are put off by the belief that their input is “pointless” and will not result in any change.

So proving that the company has acted on the information given will often encourage customers to answer questions next time round. If you can deal with a problem highlighted in a survey and get back to customers saying you’ve fixed it, then they’ll be more likely to fill one in next time. They’re also likely to tell someone about it, which spreads word about the good customer service they received.

Automated outbound calls

Alan says one of the ingredients of the perfect automated questionnaire is to pick the right voice.

He said that researchers have carried out studies on which accents are best for engaging customers, with male and female voices being put to the test. An all-round favourite is a North-East male accent like the voice made famous by hit Channel 4 reality show Big Brother.

Alan told us: “A female voice is good for making the customer feel comfortable and more emotionally involved in the questionnaire, while a male voice has more authority. But a Big Brother, male and North-East accent is generally quite accepted throughout the country as being successful.”

How do you carry out your customer feedback surveys and what is your customer response rate? Please leave your comments in an email to Call Centre Helper

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 30th May 2012 - Last modified: 22nd Jun 2022
Read more about - Call Centre Management, , , ,

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  • I normally get very cross when I receive surveys because they don’t conform to these guidelines. This is first rate advice.

    What I have also learnt from running a service operation is that there’s something even more important than getting the survey right. It’s acting on what comes in. If you ask for feedback, you raise an expectation that you care. So the worst thing you can do is leave each customer feeling that they’ve wasted their time.

    That probably sounds like a big job, how can I possibly deal with every reply?

    In practice, I’ve found that when you get this right you get more positive feedback than you’re expecting (which doesn’t need a reply but is very motivating), and when there is a problem the customers who do hear back from you quickly are extremely impressed.

    So please don’t stop when you’ve got the questions right, make sure you have the will to follow up and the systems and procedures in place to do it. When I implemented this it delivered bigger and more sustained improvements in satisfaction than all our other efforts combined.

    Guy Letts 31 May at 10:45
  • if your agents are encouraging customers to drop into surveys what targets are you setting them based on what metrics

    Helen Hancock 28 Feb at 15:53
  • If you want, you can get your customer service staff to ask for feedback from customers after each call. It should help you understand what you’re doing right and what you may be doing wrong.

    John Borillo 15 Jul at 06:38
  • please can someone help me with steps for planning and implementation of customer satisfaction survey

    Kyle 21 Jun at 15:55