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June 25, 2018

Small Business Advice

A survey may lack important clues about good customer service

"Ask your customers to be part of the solution, and don't view them as part of the problem." ~ Alan Weiss, Ph.D.

Jerry Osteryoung | 11/4/2013

So many firms are starting to understand just how important it is that they know how their clientele evaluates the customer service being provided.

It seems like every day we all get multiple inquires about the quality of service rendered where we shop or do business.

An example is Delta Air Lines. Every time I travel with them — which is often because there are few alternatives out of Tallahassee — I get a survey asking me to evaluate the service I received on that trip. How I evaluate them, however, is a function of both my experience on other airlines as well the specific trip they are inquiring about. Too often, companies that send out surveys do not consider how the person that is evaluating them has or will evaluate their competitors.

With customer service surveys, it is not just about the questions dealing with the specific firm. What is most important is making sure each firm is looking at the right material and coming to accurate conclusions when judging its customer service.

Most surveys include the “net promoter question,” which is: “Would you recommend our business to your family or friends?” This is considered the gold standard of questions, and the response firms typically want to see is “Strongly Agree.” If the firm does not get that response, they take it to mean their customer service is not what it is meant to be — at the very least, with that individual customer.

The problem with this approach is that you are not looking at the results in a relative framework. Let’s say we have two customers, Jim and Jane. When we look at Jim’s scores compared to how he evaluates other firms, he gives all of our competitors a “Strongly Agree” as well. However, Jane gave us a “Strongly Agree” while giving our competitors a much lower score.

What this tells us is Jane really sees our customer service as outstanding and for her, it differentiates us from our competitors. Jim, on the other hand, has trouble seeing any real difference between our competitors and us.

What does this mean? Simply stated: Getting positive responses on your survey does not necessarily mean you are doing a great job. You must go one step beyond this and ask your customers their thoughts about your competitors. This additional insight lets you know if your customers feel the service you provide is better or worse than your competitors.

A simple way to dig deeper is to ask the NPQ as it relates to your competitors to find out how your customers feel about your service in a relative manner.

Now go out and make sure that when you ask your customers to rate your service, you are also asking them to evaluate it against their experiences with your competitors.

You can do this!

Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here.

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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