• Mike

(I Can’t Get No) Customer Satisfaction*

Updated: Apr 28, 2020


Travelling via a major UK airport recently, I found myself invited to rate my travelling experience. There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, you’re probably thinking, why would any business not want to know how well it was doing? And I’d completely agree with you.

My problem was with the method: a choice of three buttons on a console. They looked something like this:

That was it – just those three choices. No follow-up questions.

“… some useless information”*

I can see why a system like this has its appeal from the airport management’s perspective.

It’s quick and easy to complete, so passengers can respond in less than a second. That ought to make for a higher rate of return than more detailed surveys and, of course, you don’t need to pay anyone to ask people questions.


It’s instant feedback, so I’m guessing someone can track this in real time, and its simplicity means you can measure performance comparatively:

‘How’s our traveller satisfaction index today?’

‘Smileys are up 1.5% and grumpies down 0.5% on the same time yesterday.’

‘Great, we’re kickin’ ass out there!’

(Apologies for that slip into American vernacular. It just seemed appropriate somehow.)

“… supposed to fire my imagination”

To be upfront here, I’ve researched some of the providers of this type of customer feedback software. Some of them provide a much more comprehensive feedback process than this, which probes further into the customer experience.


But I can’t see how this one question approach delivers anything of any value. I’m all in favour of eliminating unnecessary data, but this is minimalist to the point of being meaningless. There’s no opportunity to specify what you’re happy / unhappy about, so the organisation can’t prioritise any improvements. And there’s nothing to stop multiple responses from the same individual. I know, because I jabbed several buttons on multiple consoles throughout the airport. It’s about as scientific as astrology.

Isn’t this just seeking feedback as a box-ticking exercise? Doesn’t it say that the act of asking the question is more important than the answer?

Can the entire travelling experience really be distilled down to three bland emoticons?

And anyway, doesn’t academic opinion on quantitative social research indicate that an odd number of response options encourage respondents to go for the middle one?

(The answer to that last one is 'yes,' by the way.)

“Can't you see I'm on a losing streak?”*

And what happens to my responses? I can’t tell, because there was nothing saying what the data was telling them or what they were going to do about it. So, no, I can’t see if they’re on a losing streak.

Approval ratings plunging or soaring? I’ll never know, which in itself makes me feel:

“… no, no, no, hey, hey, hey”*

So, if you’re thinking about seeking customer feedback, please don’t do it like that. Think carefully about:

  1. what you really want to find out

  2. what you’re going to do once you’ve gathered the data, good or bad

  3. how you’re going to inform customers about the results and your actions in response

If you want any help with this, give me a call. I've got some background in social research, and I can help make your customer feedback process both valid and worthwhile.

*With appologies to Richards and Jagger. lyrics © Abkco Music, Inc


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