Friday, December 14, 2007

Long-term customer satisfaction surveys would provide valuable feedback

A better approach to understanding the customer experience would be long-term feedback over the life of a product. Initial surveys are only a small part of the picture and are often tainted by excitement or frustration and provide no indication of the product's durability. Why don't we do long-term satisfaction and reliability surveys to help us better understand how to win repeat business?

Come on, man, we live in the now. Why do we care about what people think long-term? Haven't you noticed that we're just focused on hitting our numbers for the quarter, even if that means cannibalizing sales for the quarter to come? Besides, what would happen to our sales numbers if the products we sold last year and the year before lasted forever? Do you really want to be out of a job just because you built a piece of hardware that was less perishable than a banana?

If you're struggling with this, take a look at the automotive industry. When the trade publications are doling out their various "sedan of the year," "truck of the year," "sport utility of the year," (repeated ad nauseum for every conceivable segment and manufacturing origin) awards, they're not thinking about long-term quality. All they're concerned with is placating their advertisers--the manufacturers--by giving them a boost any time they come out with a model redesign.

And don't think the manufacturers don't have this figured out either. Is it any coincidence that there are three big automakers in each region, model updates typically occur every three years, and only updated models are eligible for the awards? The manufacturers cooperate with one another such that each time one of them redesigns a vehicle, they get an award. Anyone who's not part of this elite club has to target their vehicles to a specific segment, such as crunchy urban transplants living off the grid in Oregon (Subaru), or hip new moms who want to appear to be conscious of their child's safety all while hoping that a euro wagon will keep people from noticing that their boobs aren't as perky as they used to be (Volvo).

And of course all of these awards lead consumers to believe that they are getting a quality product, so each year's award winner gets a nice little bump in sales while the others continue selling to their loyal customers and wait for their turn to capture the swing business.

Politics are the same way. If you are firmly entrenched in one party or another, you have probably noticed that during the primaries the ads and stump speeches really jive, but once the general election rolls around, you wonder who on earth the candidates are talking to. That's because in politics and commerce, the assumption is that the core is locked up, so the marginal investment to capture incremental customers or voters needs to focus on the swing.

Back to the original point, we don't waste our time or money with long-term surveys because long-term customers don't use this information to make a decision. They're sticking with us either because they like our quality or because they like something we alone offer and don't care that our quality is lousy. But those swing customers, well, we don't really want them to know what the long-term data says--we just want them to see the fancy ad that was ostensibly placed by an objective third party (but in reality was some outfit who took our money to conduct some surveys so we could win a contest where we were the only entrant).

Thanks for the suggestion!