Published in B2B

“Not So Fast My Friend”

Anybody who watches ESPN’s College Game Day has heard that phrase uttered many times.  Analyst and former head coach Lee Corso says this when he is about to disagree with pre-game predictions made by one of his other co-hosts.  I am reminded of this catchphrase each time I read or hear of the imminent demise of customer surveys.

Speaking at an Advertising Research Foundation conference in 2011, Joan Lewis of Procter and Gamble predicted that surveys will dramatically decline in importance by 2020, and that the rise of social media will be the reason.  In an interview following the panel, P&G’s Global Chief of Consumer and Market Knowledge said “the more people see two-way engagement and being able to interact with people all over the world, I think the less they want to be involved in structured research.”1

Maybe, and maybe not.

We are a little under five years away from 2020, and Ms. Lewis’ prediction may very well come to pass.  However, results of the Voice of the Customer (VoC) Challenges and Practices Survey recently conducted by MaritzCX reveal that, as of today, customer surveys are alive and well.

We asked 377 managers in “Blue Chip” companies to indicate “which sources of customer feedback does your company use to determine actions to improve the customer experience?”  More than half of these managers indicated their organizations use the following VoC sources:

  1. Transactional surveys (76%)
  2. Relationship surveys (67%)
  3. Inbound customer calls (57%)
  4. Focus groups (56%)
  5. Benchmarking surveys (52%)

By way of comparison, 42 percent of the managers we surveyed said their companies monitor social media to gain insights into what customers like or dislike about their experiences.  Also, 37 percent of these managers indicated that they currently “are looking for an effective method” to use social media as a source of customer feedback.  So, while social media are not yet part of the VoC mix in a majority of organizations, use of and/or interest in social media appear to be on the rise.

But, what about the “weight” given by decision makers to each of these VoC data sources?

We asked managers “of the different sources of customer feedback your company uses, which one is most closely watched by senior management?”  Responses to this question reveal that, at least for the time being, surveys clearly rule:

  1. Transactional surveys are most closely watched by senior management in 37% of the companies participating in our research.
  2. Relationship surveys are most closely watched in 25% of these organizations.
  3. Benchmarking surveys are most closely watched in 13% of these organizations.

No other data source is most closely watched by more than 5% of senior leaders.  Social media are most closely watched in only 3% of the organizations we surveyed, which is about the same as focus groups, inbound customer calls, customer emails, and feedback from front-line employees.

There can be little doubt that firms will continue to explore ways to monitor and leverage social media in order to manage and improve customer experiences.  However, our research makes it pretty clear that we have not yet reached the point where social media have supplanted surveys as a primary VoC data source.  In fact, one would be hard-pressed to consider even putting surveys on an “endangered species” list.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not suggesting that surveys are superior to social media as a VoC data source.  I am saying that they are more pervasive, at least at present.

Of course, every VoC data source has its strengths and limitations.  So, even if some of these data sources are more prevalent than others, organizations are well-advised to use several of them in order to get a comprehensive perspective of the total customer experience.  A number of authors recently have emphasized the importance of using multiple customer “listening posts” as a VoC best practice.2 My friend and customer experience expert Lewis Carbone says that “gaining multiple perspectives reduces the risk of missing critical observations, and consequently provides greater opportunity to manage the full depth and breadth of the (customer) experience.”3

I’ll have more to say about using multiple VoC data sources – and how to make them “work together” – in a future blog.  So, please stay tuned!


  1. “P&G Chief Sees Social Media Turning Market Research Cake Upside Down.” (22 March 2011). The Drum. Retrieved from http://www.thedrum.com/news/2011/03/22/pg-chief-sees-social-media-turning-market-research-cake-upside-down.
  2. For example, see Schmidt-Subramanian, M. (22 June 2014). The State of Voice of the Customer Programs, 2014. Forrester Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  3. Carbone, L. P. (2004).  Clued-In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey:  FT Press; p.140.