A B2B Customer Service and Survey Mashup


The above two figures embody the stereotypical skills needed to execute customer service and customer surveys: protection from the angry customer who’s tried for a week to get cable reconnected after a move; a detached droning voice that hardly evokes sincere interest; and a forced touchy-feely bedside manner. Right?

Most, if not all, of us have had a bad personal or business customer experience. We’ve answered the phone to a pushy telephone surveyor who read a script in a robotic voice and used our name a prescribed number of times with a complete lack of interest in what we had to say. Or we’ve spoken with an apathetic service rep who was less than energetic about resolving our problem.

Most of us have also experienced the best qualities in these two roles: listening; a desire to understand; a desire to help; an appreciation for our time; and intelligent questions intended to solve customer problems. Traditionally, the two roles have been separate touch points -- one incoming and one outgoing. What if you took the best of the two and did a mashup? How might your company and your customers benefit?

Customer service is an incoming function, answering questions on the phone or through a chat session, oftentimes resolving customer issues at a point when a customer is angry, having had to take time away from the hundred things they had to do that day because something’s not working as promised. Incoming and reactive, for the customer service rep, it’s oftentimes like being on the end of a fire hose because an issue has been allowed to become hot, and a customer feels undervalued.

Customer survey, on the other hand, is outreaching. It has the stigma of a needy, greedy, tell-us-what-we-want-to-know-from-a-marketing-standpoint-so-we-can-sell-you-more-stuff, no matter whether you’re a happy customer or not. And now, having gone digital, surveys come to us on our phone and through email. I’ve received two emails surveys this past year that never asked me how it was going. The questions were all focused on how to transfer money from my pocket to theirs.

Companies would be wise to consider what their survey communicates to their customers – what it says about them. A wise former boss of mine, Jeff Thull of P.R.I.M.E. Resource Group, regularly said that we teach people something about ourselves by the questions we ask. What does your survey say about your company?

So, let’s rethink this. If we take the best of customer service and the best of customer survey and mash them together, what do we get? How about a hybrid that’s outreaching, customer-focused, preemptive, data-rich, and maximizes touch points with your customers? An approach that says, “How is it going now?” and “How can we do better?” And most importantly, asks “why?” because it’s oftentimes the “why” question that yields the best insight.


This mashup approach is, simultaneously, a relationship building and data gathering method that leans in with curiosity and concern. An effort by the company to improve and strengthen the relationship with their customers – and you can still have the proven metrics questions, such as Customer Effort and Net Promoter. Customer Effort in particular, which asks, “on a scale of 1-5, how easy is it to do business with our company”, is very customer-focused. It communicates a genuine desire to know what the customer’s experience is like. It identifies snags in your process. Snags that, given time, can drive customers away – and companies won’t even know why they left.

Think of it in terms of a clinical setting, it’s akin to a well-check with your doctor to maintain health, to catch things early on -- only in this case, your doctor makes a house-call. No waiting in urgent care, looking around at the fifteen people ahead of you. You still have urgent care in case you need it, but what if during that well-check phone call, your doctor had asked questions and discovered shortness of breath or chest pains? Might the chances that things would escalate to an urgent care visit decrease? So is the case with customer issues.

If companies put in place a schedule to check in with their customers three to four times per year through a short, conversational interview, their customers will be saved effort in calling to communicate issues, and an issue will likely be at an earlier stage when it’s discovered. It communicates a message of concern, that they’re valued by the company, and that the company places a high value on doing better. It shifts a company’s focus from trying to hang on to customers by being reactive, which is an anxiety ridden keep-you-up-at-night approach, to an outreach approach that seeks to learn, to build and strengthen customer relationships, and to identify issues early on. Intelligence from your customers when things are going well and when they’re not. And it doesn’t hurt for your business to be in front of the customers on a regular basis when contract time comes around.

Imagine if your cable company called you to see how it was going during that move? Hard to imagine. There’s the feeling that they don’t want to know about what it’s like to work with them. If they did check in with you, then imagine switching back to a company that only communicated with you when you called them with a problem. It’s an instantaneous drop in level of service and immediately requires more effort on your part.

If these efforts are to be relationship-builders then a company must also commit, in advance, to taking action based on the feedback they receive to create a complete feedback loop that turns the relationship between company and business customer into a win/win partnership. The customer feels valued, knowing the company responds to the feedback they’ve shared, and the company can feel confident that nasty surprises, or disappearing customers, don’t rule the day. It’s a win/win.

This outreach approach gathers information for companies, while taking a customer’s pulse. It allows a company to look forward, as opposed to looking back and reacting to problems that might have been caught before they escalated. It helps protect and enhance a company’s brand by deepening and strengthening the relationships with their customers. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

The One-Word Question to Improve Every Customer Interview

When interviewing customers, the scores that come from industry standard questions – the what – are only part of the story. They provide important data for comparing your company to others in your industry. However, by themselves, they leave too much room for interpretation. One customer will give a score of 9 because everything was great; they just don’t give 10’s. “There’s always room for improvement,” they’ll say.  Another customer will say they would have given a 10, but there was a quality issue. The same score can be positive or negative.

Another problem with asking only questions with tight parameters, is that they don’t give the customer a chance at being heard, the way an open-ended question does. Many times when an interview with a customer starts out rough, if a customer is allowed to tell someone, they’re relieved – IF the interviewer is a good listener, and doesn’t defend. The bad experience is no longer all bottled up, souring them on the company. They’ve been allowed to air their grievance, the company cared enough to reach out, and the dark cloud lifts a bit. Often a customer is then able to return to how they feel about the company, overall, and can be quite generous and understanding.  

The one-word question that gets at the information the scoring questions miss and allows the customer to be heard is, “why?” “Why,” gets at the customer’s whole story. It’s where the good stuff is. “Why” should follow every scoring question, or a company’s team is left guessing. And to avoid sounding like a curious two-year-old, a good interviewer varies the “why” questions with questions like, “and the reason for that?” or “And why?”

Having the “what” and the “why” – the quantitative and the qualitative -- provides a company’s team, over time, with the information to make business decisions with confidence. And if that results in action items from the company that the customer can see, it can be a powerful relationship builder that establishes credibility with customers. For the company, more personal interviews are a way to stand out in a survey-fatigued world.

And for the company, and the interviewer, if during the next quarterly interview, the customer says, “It’s better than the last time you called,” a productive feedback loop has been established. And that’s golden. 


A Customer Insights Company