Written by Jeff Sauro.
Customer attitudes affect customer actions. Understanding what your customers think is essential to improving the customer experience and loyalty. Surveys are the go-to method for collecting customer opinions because they’re quick and effective. Yet it’s not always easy to get your customers to participate. And when they do participate, how do you know whether they’re telling you what they really think or telling you what they think you want to hear?
When creating a survey, one important variable to consider is whether to brand the survey as coming from your organization or having a third-party research firm host and send an anonymous survey.
Figure 1: Hypothetical branded survey from Sony (left) and unbranded survey (right) sent from a third-party firm (in this case MeasuringU).
Here are some pros and cons to consider when deciding whether to brand or not brand a survey.
Pros of a Branded Survey
- Increased response rate: An email from a known and trusted sender increases the chance a customer will read and act upon a survey. An email from a third-party research firm may decrease response rates and even trigger spam or phishing complaints.
- Conveying a message of caring: A company that surveys customers conveys at least one simple message: the company cares enough to ask you what you think. And the act of connecting with your customers is another opportunity to reinforce your brand when it’s time for them to make their next purchase decision. But be sure you do something about what customers say or they think you aren’t actually listening (see #3 in the cons below).
- Control: When a survey is an extension of a brand, the organization can and should control all aspects of what’s included, when it’s sent, and to whom the survey is targeted. The alternative to a company-branded survey is having a third-party firm send and brand it with their company information. While this might increase the perception of objectivity and credibility to the endeavor, it also means losing full control of the look and feel and often the questions and respondents.
Cons of a Branded Survey
- Response bias: Company branding can elicit strong feelings (positive or negative) from your participants and consequently it may impact the results of your survey in unpredictable ways. You run the risk that customers who have a more positive affinity toward the organization will respond, providing more favorable responses than is representative of your total customer base.
- The branding bureaucracy: When a survey is representing a company with a logo, color palette, and language, there’s more at stake. This usually requires what I call the branding bureaucracy—creative directors, writers, legal teams, and a whole chain of approvers. Like any good bureaucracy this leads to delays and other complications around control—something you should account for in your timeline.
- Responsibility for follow up: Every time I fly United Airlines I get a survey asking about my experience (usually twice per trip—one for each flight segment). I used to answer these surveys. But then I’d notice I’d get no response regardless of what I’d say. Now I don’t bother taking them. Without any acknowledgement, gratitude, or sense that feedback was considered, why bother? No one wants to talk to someone who isn’t listening. A branded survey becomes another touchpoint you have with your customers. The responsibility for closing the feedback loop is yours, which is usually a lot harder than sending a survey.
- Brand awareness: If you want to assess the awareness your brand has with your prospective or current customers relative to others, a branded survey is almost certainly going to bias the respondents by making your brand more salient. If you’re looking to measure brand awareness objectively, go the 3rd party route.
- Competitive view: An extension of the bias and brand awareness problem is the competitive survey. If you want to understand what your customers think of you and the competition (product features, experiences, support), the responses are almost certainly affected when it’s sent from one of the brands being evaluated. In competitive assessments it makes more sense to go with a third-party survey.