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Surveys: The PR Nightmare Vaccine

When thinking of surveys, it’s important to remember what they actually are: data. Surveys yield data that helps us make informed decisions on just about everything these days. Certainly, politicians don’t make a move without them. And companies use them to guide their customer service.

Customer service PR nightmares are cautionary tales for the rest of us. They remind us that, while human intuition will always play a part in customer service, it may not trump data we get from our surveys.

When Common Sense Isn’t Enough

Common sense dictates that when a customer wants something, even if it’s to leave the company, we have to provide that for them. Business suffers if we try to bully a customer, and a PR nightmare hurts a lot more than one lost customer.

But how do you tell what’s common sense in a given situation? It’s up to the customer service rep at that point, which means the decision comes from a place of subjectivity. And common sense, paradoxically or perhaps ironically, seems to vary between people.

If we poll our customers, we’ll know what’s ‘common sense’ for them, or what most of them think is appropriate in a given situation. The numbers will vary, but we’ll have a range to base policy on.

Hard Data Trumps Subjectivity

Hard data forms the basis of customer service efforts. Without knowing what’s in our customers’ minds, how can we possibly know how to serve them? We need to understand them as people.

“Companies need to treat the customer service interaction as something more personal, and customers need to treat it more as a business transaction,” Your Call Is (Not That) Important To Us author Emily Yellin told NPR.

With customer service, our job is to make doing business with us easy and a pleasure, not a chore. Pushback and hard-selling techniques are not the path to great customer service. And if we claim to provide great service, we need to actually provide great service.

“The promise that we make to customers is that we’re going to provide a great experience,” said Zappos call center head Rob Siefker. “If we’re going to market that and say that’s what our brand is, then when somebody calls us, that needs to the be the experience they have.”

PR Nightmares Are (Perhaps Unfortunate) Informal Surveys

In a way, PR nightmares serve as informal surveys for many companies. Not ones they would script themselves, but surveys nonetheless. Things go viral, and the public offers their opinions.

Again, maybe not the surveys companies want. But ones they can use to improve customer service. Which, in the end, is the goal of any customer service survey.