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Late last night I was in conference with a potential client in South Africa (I’m in Australia, right now).

Towards the end of our conversation, he asked if I thought much market intelligence could be gleaned from customer surveys.

I answered (almost instinctively), data, yes; but, intelligence, no.

When pressured for a more coherent answer, I explained that I had never seen customer survey responses that provide any market intelligence. Never. Never. Never!

My position is that, to qualify as intelligence, survey results must be:

  1. Unexpected (if you know the answer already, why ask the question?)
  2. Actionable (if data doesn’t cause you to do something differently then where’s the benefit?)

Think about the survey results you’ve seen.  How often have you been surprised?  And how often have you been motivated to take some specific action?

Now, of course, I’m not advocating ignorance. Market intelligence is critical. You shouldn’t try to survive without it. It’s just that surveys are a pretty poor way of generating intelligence.

Here’s the thing …

In your business, you bank behavior, not attitudes.

My advice then, is stop measuring attitudes and, instead, measure behavior. Run controlled experiments. Change offers, change headlines, change opportunity-management workflows (not all at once, of course) and measure the impact of changes on, enquiries, conversions and, ultimately, sales.

Now, those who make their living from surveys will argue that attitude is an antecedent to behavior. I’m sure that in most cases it is. And in some, it definitely isn’t (how many smokers genuinely believe that their’s is an intelligent choice?)

But even if this claim is true, this position contains another assumption: that surveys actually measure attitudes. Do they?

Before you answer that question, consider another: which do you think is the more accurate predictor of a client’s future behavior:

  1. Their current attitude
  2. Their prior behavior

Tell me if you disagree but, to my mind, it’s a no contest!

And behavior is much sexier than attitude for another reason too: it’s inherently measureable (in a much more objective sense than the surveyor’s 1-5 scale).

If you value market intelligence, can the surveys. Objective management is a philosophy, not a once-a-year event!

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Home Forums Customer surveys: data, yes; intelligence, no

This topic contains 4 replies, has 1 voice, and was last updated by  Chris Khoo 8 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #2391 Reply

    Bo Lee

    True, behaviors are "sexier" than attitude because it is not ambiguous; however, a single instance of behavior of a random person does not tell you much. However, a set of behaviors of a person can tell you some intelligent information about the person's pattern; this pattern is not yet very concrete to be used to predict whether or not the person will take a desirable action on a matter of your concern.
    A collection of patterns, though, will tell you about the attitude of the person towards certain things; which is a big driving factor, not sole but big. So, I would say the attitude collected by the surveys which collect the perception of the takers on their own patterns, you can draw the true attitude by analyzing the their prior behaviors and use it to understand the market.

    BTW, on the other hand, what about those new concepts, new ideas that market has never had before. There's no prior behavior or no pattern, like iPhone or iPad. But there could be attitude, the attitude of the early adopters, those curious ones with lots of money in their pockets!?

    #2392 Reply

    Well, all data must pass the statistical-relevance hurdle, not just behavorial data.

    My point is that, surveys are a less direct way of making predictions:

    Survey result >> inferred attitude >> predicted behavior


    Historical behavior >> predicted behavior

    I don't know if it's true but I've heard a few times that Apple eshews surveys, focus groups, etc.

    #2393 Reply

    Gerrit Hattingh

    In my opinion, there is no single solution to gaining market intellegence and it all depends on what you want to extract from a customer survey and more importantly how it is being performed. I have find it usefull to monitor longterm shifts and not necessarly the customer's perception, but also an internal measure of whether the company's (providing the service) culture had shifted and to what extend.
    I approach customer surveys targetting the top ten customers at executive level and engaging them in a face to face conversation, observing body language, probing behaviours of sales managers, sales reps and project leaders etc. Thus, the survey goes way beyond conventional metrics and focusess on exploring opportunities for improvement and suggestions from the customer to improve our value offering and what the company can do to making the customer more successful. Considering that I am totally independant, customers almost refer to this conversation as an annual medical and we both use it as an opportuinity to reflect, learn from the past and get an insight into current thinking that might shape the future. Gerrit Hattingh

    #2394 Reply

    Chris Khoo

    Totally agree with you – the current practice of measuring attitude through customer surveys is wrong, and a waste of both your customer's and staff's time.

    Surveys should only be used in the way academics use them (i.e. to help determine a correlation between two or more variables, so you can either accept/reject a hypothesis).


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