Paul Butler | ‘Please complete our survey…’

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

There’s only one thing worse than completing a survey and that’s not receiving a response from the provider of a product or seller of service you just invested considerable time giving feedback to, albeit positive or negative.  

All of us have been wooed into responding to a survey. You know the drill. You received and used their product. You experienced their service. Now you get the email titled, “Please complete our survey.”  

Have you found like me that the trouble with most surveys is they’re just too long? There’s a podcast I just started listening to, which I really enjoyed. At the end of the first series the podcast host issued a survey, and so I was excited to provide my positive feedback. The problem was, after scouring the questions, I calculated it would take me longer to complete their survey than listen to an episode of their podcast! I started but didn’t finish the survey and, sadly, don’t think I ever will. There were just too many minuscule questions. 

I’m a raving fan of Fred Reichheld’s excellent book titled, “The Ultimate Question” in which he introduced the concept he called, “The Net Promoter Score.” As a highly intelligent and accomplished Bain & Co. consultant, the beauty lies within the simplicity, he suggests we should ask just two questions on a survey.  

The first question is, “How likely are you to recommend our product or service to someone else?” The rating is on a scale of 0-10 with 0 being low and 10 being the highest possible. Genius! Isn’t that the telltale sign of how delighted (or not) we were — would we recommend it to others? I would highly recommend the podcast I mentioned above and would have responded to their survey if it was as simple as this.  

The second question comprises of essentially one word — just one word! That word is “Why?” This is an open-text response opportunity for you to tell the provider why you would recommend their product or service or why you wouldn’t. 

Reichheld’s organization has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the response rate to this simplified survey approach is an average of four times higher than long, ambiguous surveys.  

It’s not just about simple surveys, though — what also matters is that the organization reads and responds to valuable feedback. My wife recently flew to England to spend some time with her Mum. My wife flew with Virgin Airways. My wife said the flight from Los Angeles to London was fantastic — superb service with style and excellent attention to detail. The return journey was not the same and so she invested a good 20 minutes filling in their customer satisfaction survey. Four weeks have flown by and still no response. My guess is she won’t hear back from Sir Richard Branson or any of his survey collectors. Let’s wait and see. 

On a similar vein, I am concerned that some organizations ask for feedback and only hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest — rather like the man in the Simon & Garfunkel song, “The Boxer.” 

Someone I know was asked a few months ago on an employee survey to share what would make her consider leaving her employer. It was an open-text-style response and so she politely, respectfully and candidly shared what would potentially cause her to look for another job.  

She shared how she felt the organization was pushing a political, liberal agenda she didn’t agree with, and she considered this to be outside the realm of the employer’s purview. She shared that their thrust toward celebrating lifestyles and choices she didn’t agree with, as a conservative person, made her feel isolated and forced to accept worldviews she couldn’t align with.  

My friend invested 15 minutes on her own time into an employee satisfaction survey and after five long months has heard nothing. In the meantime, the indoctrination continues. 

So, in summary, if you or your organization are about to issue a survey: Keep it short. If two questions work for Fred, they work for me. Thank people for taking the time to complete a survey — even if it’s automated. Follow up with those who were unsatisfied, as they’re unlikely to come back to you if they think their opinion doesn’t matter. Oh, and in the true spirit of diversity and inclusion, make sure you don’t just hear what you want to hear and disregard the rest. That’s called bias.  

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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