What’s the best satisfaction survey scale?

Guy Letts

© Depositphotos/Zestmarina

It turns out that some people have very strong views on the scale that should be used for satisfaction surveys and customer feedback forms.

I find myself answering questions and discussing it quite often and I’m always struck by the strength of feeling amongst people for whom it’s an issue.

I applaud the concern to do the right thing. But is it really that important?

Well, we always aim to save you time by demystifying tricky issues because we want to help you focus only on things that make a difference to customer satisfaction and sales, and liberate you from things that don’t.

So I thought it was time to apply the CustomerSure clarity filter and distinguish between what is important – and what’s not.

If you’re strapped for time, the short answer is this: The scale for satisfaction surveys doesn’t matter. Just choose one you like.

But at the sound of a thousand hackles rising – please let me clarify, because I don’t mean to offend those who do feel strongly about this.

Here are three reasons why, for customer satisfaction specifically, the scale you choose is not a big issue:

1. The choice of satisfaction survey scale does not influence the outcome for the business.

Measuring customer satisfaction is different from market research.

In market research, sometimes the scale does matter very much. In order for the conclusions drawn from general research to be safe, the questions have to be structured and framed carefully to avoid biasing the responses.

In the specific case of measuring satisfaction the answer to why scale is not important lies in how measuring satisfaction is (or should be) different from general market research.

Satisfaction is about how I feel, and it’s usually influenced by my most recent dealings with someone in your company (or your online or telephone based systems).

My level of satisfaction can swing dramatically in a short space of time.

That is quite different from my preferences, values and opinions which, in general, will change slowly over time, if at all.

So more general market research is concerned with gaining information which is statistically significant, about what and how customers will buy, and on which business decisions (potentially involving large investments) can be made with a high level of confidence.

Customer satisfaction, in contrast, should be about securing your future revenue and growth by making absolutely sure you will retain each individual customer. And that each customer, individual by individual, is happy to spend freely with you, and have no reservations about recommending your company to others.

Customer’s willingness to remain loyal

No amount of marketing, no amount of market research statistics, can help you improve customer satisfaction. Because as a customer my willingness to remain loyal and my propensity to recommend you to others is based on my personal experience, not the overall average of customer experiences.

So satisfaction measurement and market research serve two completely different purposes. For one the scale is important and the timing of follow-up is not so important, for the other scale is not important but timing and follow-up is critical.

And when it comes to satisfaction, what really impacts business performance is not measuring satisfaction to two decimal places, but whether someone is at one end of your chosen scale, or the other, what you then do about it – and how quickly you do it.

2. The customer doesn’t care what scale you use.

There is one exception which I shall come to.

But broadly speaking as long as you get the overall process of checking for satisfaction right, your customer will just be pleased that you have made it easy for them to give feedback.

3. The customer satisfaction score doesn’t matter.

Surely I don’t really mean that?

OK, in one sense the number does matter. Of course it matters whether the score is one star vs five stars, or 2/10 vs 10/10.

And it matters in respect of how satisfied that customer is at that time and what you do about it.

But knowing the average of all customer scores to two decimal places does not help you, your company or your customers.

And knowing how it compares to your competitors, or any other satisfaction benchmark, does not help either. A comparison is interesting. But it’s useless.

It comes down to being clear about why you’re measuring it.

Then the answer’s obvious.

So valid reasons for measuring customer satisfaction are those that lead to a business benefit, for example:

  1. To take immediate action to improve a customer’s satisfaction.
  2. To make sure a customer is not going to leave you.
  3. To make sure there are no reasons preventing your customer buying additional services or recommending you to others.
  4. To learn what’s important to customers.
  5. To find and fix problems in your business processes.
  6. To make sure everyone on your team’s delivering to the standard your customers expect.
  7. To discover opportunities for sales, cost reductions or improvements in customer experience.
  8. To motivate everyone by confirming that you’re on track.

Note that in all those cases, the measurement of satisfaction is a means to an end. Not an objective in itself. And that’s why we say the score doesn’t matter. It’s a temperature check. You just need to know whether it’s at the zero end or the 10 end.

Measuring customer satisfaction does not improve it.

What you do next, after the measurement, is much more important.

It can improve satisfaction (if you act immediately) or impair it (if you don’t).

It’s why our software was built from day one with integrated features for following up on customer feedback, not just collecting it.

Some satisfaction scale tips.

Whilst there’s no right or wrong scale for satisfaction, we have found some things that you can do to get the best results, once you’ve chosen the one you think is right for you and your customers:

  • Don’t mix scales within the same survey. Use one measure of sentiment consistently. Otherwise the customer has to think not only about the question but about the form in which you’re requiring an answer. You’re making them do more work and it slows them down. Apart from being inconsiderate it can reduce the response rate.
  • Always have an open question with a text box for the customer to provide a comment. One box is usually enough – do not ask about every area of your business individually because again, it lengthens the survey or feedback form and slows down the customer. If they have something to say, they will find a way to say it in the one box you give them.

The one scale you should avoid.

Binary satisfaction scale

This scale has several problems. We know because we’ve received it quite a few times from one of our suppliers.

It forces you to say come down as either ‘completely satisfied’ or ‘completely dissatisfied.’

Every time we’ve received it, we’ve been somewhere in between and it’s been quite frustrating.

We worry that if we say ‘satisfied’ that we’ll hear nothing back even though we haven’t had the resolution we need. But we fear if we say ‘not satisfied’ that we will alienate the person who we still need to help us because our problem’s not fixed yet.

So it’s missing two things that are important to us – a middle option to reflect more accurately how we feel, and a text box so that we can say why and (hopefully) get something done about it quickly.

What scale do we use at CustomerSure?

Well, of course we have a wide choice of options. But the one we chose for our product has worked well for us, and our customers…and their customers!

We use the 0-10 scale because:

  • it’s quick to use and easy to understand;
  • it’s quite common so people are familiar with it;
  • it’s compatible with Net Promoter Score®, which is a popular loyalty indicator for companies;
  • it’s easy to convert to a graphical 5 star review format, and it’s compatible with search engine ‘rich snippets’, for our customers who choose to display their feedback publicly.

I hope that helps. Now instead of worrying about what scale to use, why not use the time to get some feedback from your own customers and focus instead on improving satisfaction and sales?

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