Never Ending Interviews: Survey Based Research On Customer Behavior and Use of Social Media Often Very Misleading

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The really bad news about the “research” that informs us about the value of customer service and consumer behaviour.

Q: You’ve commented that you believe the use of surveys in both customer service and social media is causing bad business decisions. Could you elaborate?

Robert: Sure. It’s simple. If you read almost any online reports of “research” on either of these topics, it will almost always be survey data. They are about what people SAY they do, and what people SAY about what they feel. Where the problem lies is that common sense tells us that what people say they do is actually what they do. There are some psychological reasons why we tend to make that assumption.

Q: So where’s the problem?

Robert: We also know, from social psychology, and sociology, among other disciplines, that what people say and what people do are not the same. Think about your children, for example. 10 year old Johnny says he will clean up his room when he gets back from school. Oh really? Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. Ask an adult if he boycotts companies that give him bad service. Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. Life isn’t that simple, because any behaviors are influenced by many things, many motivations, and we aren’t necessarily aware of all of them, even in ourselves.

Q: So, how accurate are surveys in predicting what people will do, or for that matter, being good indicators of what they have done?

Robert: That’s the problem. We don’t know, because it varies from survey to survey, topic to topic. That’s why, in proper social science research, it’s necessary to validate surveys by relating them to other validated surveys or actual behavior. There are simply too many ways surveys can go wrong to not validate. I’m not aware of any survey companies in the customer service, and social media spaces that validate.

Q: So what about the bad decisions?

Robert: Business people read these surveys and believe they reflect the reality of their customers. It’s possible, but perhaps unlikely. Often the reporters of the results confuse doing with saying what people do. Few business people know enough about research to realize the gap between saying and doing, at least as applied to their businesses, and customers. So, for example, there’s a lot of survey data to suggest businesses should be on social media, but it’s survey data. It misleads. I’ve seen tons of survey results telling business people that customers would prefer customer service on social media, but when you compare survey findings to actual behavior it turns out that the phone is still what most people use. There are equal problems, for example with the results that tell us that a dissatisfied customer will refuse to patronize the store he is unhappy about, but the truth is that many times, people DO spend their money at stores, or companies they cannot stand.

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