Improve customer loyalty by ditching surveys and solving problems, including the silent ones


I was going through some old bookmarked and saved articles whilst thinking about what to write today and came across: The Customer Aggravation Index: Predicting Customer Loyalty Without Surveys.

The author of the article, Mark Graham Brown, offers an interesting perspective where he challenges the value and use of customer surveys as predictors of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

He makes some great points and I think he is right when he says that:

  1. Most of us don’t like filling in surveys;
  2. We only fill them in when we are either very happy or very unhappy; and
  3. Surveys are a poor predictor of overall satisfaction, particularly when response rates are so low (a 30% return rate is considered good – how does your response rate compare?)

He also goes on to say that satisfaction is not necessarily a good predictor of customer loyalty given that

“Loyalty is often driven by laziness, risk aversion, habit, and a lack of better choices.”

Instead, Mark suggests that we should track the things that aggravate and upset customers as these are the things that, ultimately, will be the things that drive our customers away.

His theory is simple: track and fix one-off and persistent customer problems and that will improve your customer loyalty. Or, at the very least, reduce the level of customer churn that you have.

This is supported by another piece of research undertaken by the Temkin Group and published by Bruce Temkin on his Experience Matters blog in Customer Service Drives Sales, where they found that customers that had a better customer service experience with you are much, much more likely to buy from you again (See the chart below for more detail). I also wrote about something similar before in: Give your customer loyalty bounce by managing customer complaints better.

Customer Service Repurchase Intent

I think it is a really interesting idea and one worth considering. But, if I think about it from a customers perspective or my own (as a customer) I would ask you to consider the following:

Remember those situations, you know the ones, the ones where we have bought or experienced something where the product or service or delivery or something was not quite bad enough for you to make a complaint but it was bad enough for you to silently vow (and tell a few friends) never to go or do or use that thing or service again.

Sound familiar?

If you’ve felt this as a customer, as I have, then it’s highly likely that some of your customers may have felt this way too about your business.

So, rather than just fixing the obvious aggravations and problems, if you want your business to shine then go further and go searching for the silent aggravations too.

Thanks to markuz for the image.

18 comments On Improve customer loyalty by ditching surveys and solving problems, including the silent ones

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  • Hello Adrian

    There is no magic formula, no silver bullet when it comes to generating customer loyalty and advocacy. Yet there are guidelines: make products that show up as great in the lives of customers; make it easy for them to buy from you; be there for customers after the sales; help your customers to get great value out of your product; now and then say a genuine thank you; now and then give something to your customers without expecting/demanding anything in return; be known for awesome service.

    And it is the way of organisations to take the simple and make it complicated. Where there is the need to evade doing what is necessary someone will show up to complicate things. And more people will show up with complex/expensive solutions to this self-created complexity. Isn’t the organisational world fascinating!


    • Hi Maz,
      You and I agree there is no silver bullet.

      I would go further when you say “it is the way of organisations to take the simple and make it complicated” and add that it is not only organisations that suffer from this but we as individuals too.

      Moreover, I would share two quotes with you from Charles Mingus (I hope you like Jazz):
      “Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
      “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

      Is it, therefore, creativity and bravery that we need to nurture?


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  • Adrian

    I think there’s one point that’s under-developed here, and I suggest Mark’s first assertion should more correctly read “People don’t like filling in BAD surveys”. Sadly the majority are badly designed, which I guess leads to that general conclusion. However I was happy to complete one recently (for the Tune hotel in London) it happened to be a great experience overall but the survey was so short and well designed that I would have been happy to complete it anyway.

    The key was that the company obviously cared, they had made it easy for me, and so I wanted to help them by giving constructive feedback.

    The dilemma is that even if you reject the concept of surveys, you still have to find out what it is that you need to fix to improve the customer experience and in the absence of telepathy, a short, timely, well designed satisfaction survey is an excellent way of doing that. That’s what I found when I ran a FTSE 100 services department and it’s why I then set up CustomerSure to provide a tool that’s not only about excellent satisfaction surveys, but also about helping with the prompt response or service recovery that, in my experience, DOES generate loyalty and referrals.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    • Hi Guy,
      Thank you for your expert comment. I must admit that it was a little tongue in cheek so I am glad that it made you think.

      Thanks again for your response it really added to the post 🙂


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  • Today’s Customer is king, so satisfaction is a good term to attract them….
    Toronto Painters

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  • Adrian,

    I started to curse to myself as I read your post.

    Not that it is a bad post, it is a blindingly obvious point, yet few people have the sense to see it.

    Why would anybody bother sending out survey after survey after survey and never think to fix some of the things that upset customers?

    Are these people stupid?

    Clearly you hit my hot button


    • Hi James,
      I’m glad that the post generated an emotional reaction. It was thus intended 😉

      Much of the stuff that I do and say could be construed as common sense and blindingly obvious.

      However, if it’s so common and obvious then why are more people not doing it? Why does some of this stuff still persist. Personally, I think it’s to do with the systems, processes, culture and incentives that we have and create in our organisations that get in the way. What do you think?


  • Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote
    the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the
    message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is excellent
    blog. An excellent read. I’ll definitely be back.

  • Taking your customer’s suggestions is an integral element of the industry. This will help develop your service thus, improving client satisfaction. You can find online customer surveys coming from

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