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Can Customer Satisfaction Surveys Measure Customer Decisions?

Curtis Smith
08 Feb, 2018

Problem: Customer Satisfaction surveys are massively used by B2C and B2B companies alike, but they tend to overlook crucial facets regarding the overall customer experience and decision making process.

In this post I discuss how adding a decision-based survey methodology to traditional surveys can help enrich customer experience feedback and deliver insight on what drives customer decisions.

Click here for a comprehensive guide to creating surveys that explain customer  decisions ›

Let me tell you about the time I took my wife out for our anniversary dinner at a new spot in town that was exceedingly hard to book. I felt pretty good about myself for scoring that last-minute reservation and as I walked my wife through the trendy halls and cool atmosphere, I thought everything would be perfect. Until I found out we had been seated next to the restroom.


As our server started us on apps and drinks, the smell of sewage dampened my appetite, and my mood. By the time entrées were set down, I sat brooding as my wife glared at me from across the table. She didn’t want a scene. She stood her ground, and I begrudgingly conceded, but the date was ruined.

At the end of the meal, while clearing the plates and inquiring about dessert, our server asked us if the food was to our “satisfaction.” --“The steak was succulent and cooked to perfection.” I said sheepishly, because in fact it was.

But that’s where the trap lies. While the server was probably well-intentioned and asking a simple, almost rhetorical question, she probably related to the chef that we had had a great experience when in fact, the evening had been an utter disaster.

The food had been amazing and the server, solicitous. But our table basking in un air de toilette every time someone came and went had transformed what would otherwise be a wonderful date into disaster.

The Same Goes For Any Product or Service

The restaurant allegory is just the same as any other product experience. So much more goes into it than can be measured by satisfaction surveys alone. My feedback definitely WAS important to the chef and establishment, but how could it have missed the mark by so far on my overall experience?

The point is that I didn’t go out to eat to buy food. I could have done that at a supermarket. I went out to buy atmosphere, convenience, romance and time. Those are the experiences that needed to be measured if the restaurant wanted to understand my decisions.

Let's say I had answered a questionnaire at the restaurant. Here’s how a Customer Satisfaction Survey (which you’ve probably seen a million times) would look after my meal.


Notice how, although I was able to squeeze my complaint into the comments, any survey processing platform would consider this to be an “excellent” score and my comment might end up being irrelevant to my satisfaction score. More importantly though, none of these scores reveal whether the experience was worth it to me and whether or not I’ll return. 

How Can We Measure The Decision?

So how can companies gather the feedback that actually affects customer decisions? One way is by using a survey methodology that is based on explaining decisions as opposed to satisfaction alone. My decision to spend money at a restaurant was about fulfilling several experiences, and food was just one among many.

Satisfaction surveys do play an important role in verifying process conformity (whether the staff is following the rules) and quality control (if our product or service is good or bad). But while the restaurant might have verified how I felt about one, specific element (food), I still have a bad taste in my mouth (nose, actually) about the restaurant and might not go back because of it.

Now, which elements of my experience would in fact lead me to spend my money at that restaurant again? For one, I loved the one-of-a-kind atmosphere and ambiance of the place. That alone might make it worth it to go back. This is where a decision-based survey methodology could have been used to discover the very experiences I value most as part of my purchase.

The Power of the Decision-based Survey

A decision-based survey focuses on the motivators, or drivers, that lead customers to spend money. These drivers are cost-benefit analyses of our lives that weigh on our decision-making processes.

When used together, the satisfaction survey and the decision-based survey can be very powerful tools to evaluate both product processes and customer buying decisions.

Solution: In order to evaluate customer’s interactions with processes and services a satisfaction survey can be deployed (in the form of an email or SMS micro-survey), which asks a question(s) about how the staff performed or the quality of the food. This will provide key feedback to the company about how to train and develop their customer-facing resources.

At the same time, decision-based surveys should be used throughout customers’ journeys, which will uncover which experiences its customers in fact value the most. Most importantly, customer service experiences will also be uncovered by the decision-based survey and can be compared with findings.

If you haven’t read my previous post that talks more about the decision-making process and how it influences prices, click here.


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