How likely are you to recommend Santa Claus?


Internet surveys are more likely to hurt good will between businesses and their customers, than they are to strengthen them.


The Phoenicians, who were the first global traders 3,500 years ago, cared just as much about customer satisfaction (probably more) as today's brand marketers, but did not need surveys to understand buyers' needs.

A couple of years ago, I wrote how and why marketing drones ruined a once vital customer engagement tool in a post titled Customer surveys are worse than worthless. The debacle is worsening.

You can’t buy anything, fix anything, go anywhere, hunt information on the Internet or order a pizza without being asked to rate your experience. They don’t care what you think of them, they just want you to think they do.

The war on terror proved that tortured subjects do not deliver honest, useful information. But, while the CIA has stopped using psychological abuse on detainees, marketers ramp it up. Why?

Worse than the military industrial complex?

In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, President Dwight Eisenhower warned that a powerful “military industrial complex” (although necessary) could potentially “endanger our liberties.” Now, a new Analytic Marketing Technology Complex is sucking the life from real relationships between companies and their customers. It is unnecessary and counterproductive.

In a recent article Why Customer Loyalty is Hard, Forbes contributor Christine Crandall suggests that “wrapping your business around the customer” has been a priority since the Phoenicians built the world’s first trading empire 3,500 years ago. She adds:

“Yet every year, there are new technologies, theories, and business models that promise to get a company closer to its customer, as if customer alignment had just been discovered.”


This mock survey question may seem less insulting to many customers than some of the meaningless and inappropriate prompts thrown around by corporate marketers for the largest U.S. corporations.

In truth, Crandall says, most of today’s management leaders are disconnected from customers because they are “consumed by other things: business models, complex financing, exit strategies, and technology.” Masking institutional indifference to the people who buy their products, they carpet bomb us with arsenals of surveys, rewards, automated messages, gold memberships and other nonsense.

If you are clueless, a survey won’t solve the problem

Crandall cites work by Susan Lucas-Conwell, Mark Fidelman and John W. Thompson showing that only companies with cultures that build and nurture trust can earn respect (loyalty). Even if survey data was correct and valued by CEOs — which it is not — good businesspeople know how to satisfy their customers without it.

Since ’tis the season, I’ve borrowed from Crandall’s article for my version of the customer satisfaction recipe used by the world’s most trusted and enduring brand. Do it like Santa Claus and everyone will sing when you come to town.

  • “Understand the Trigger Event that launches the buyer’s journey.” Santa knows exactly when we need his services. Otherwise, he leaves us alone.
  • Understand your customer by becoming part of the “buyer’s journey.” Companies give lip service to customer intimacy, but how many of them offer a lap to sit on or ask you to whisper in an ear. Now, that’s intimacy.
  • Qualify your customers and don’t make offers you don’t intend to honor. Santa’s prospects will not get everything they want and know it. They get nothing unless they are nice. Therefore, we never question Santa’s credibility. He is the opposite of loyalty diarrhea spewers such as credit card and bank marketers.
  • Focus on excellent performance and the hype will take care of itself. Santa manages history’s most demanding distribution channel by avoiding hoopla. On Christmas morning, the work speaks for itself. You do not need to brag via reporters, bloggers, analysts, social media and product placements.
  • Do it right and you won’t have to ask for positive feedback. Can you get your customers put out (the equivalent of) milk and cookies before you deliver your product? No, survey can help you with that.

Not all leaders even want happy customers


Despite the implications of this cartoon, Santa Claus intuitively understands the age-old principles of customer satisfaction and intimacy.

Like defense contractors lobbying legislators, profiteers in the Analytic Marketing Technology Complex all profess to have secret to best measure customer satisfaction. Several years ago, Bain’s consulting thoroughbreds launched a research project because “Most leaders want customers to be happy.” (Bain also has solutions for the others.) Their work resulted in the Net Promoter┬« System which they sell to many of world’s largest companies.

Bain claims to have discovered the Holy Grail of customer satisfaction research. Their “Ultimate Question” makes every other loyalty query irrelevant and is, by the way, the title of two books. The ultimate question is:

What is the likelihood that you would recommend Company X to a friend or colleague?”

Unfortunately, this breakthrough has not yet reduced the number or length of surveys. But, more than 100 companies including GE, Honeywell, HSBC, eBay, Sony and Verizon have hired Bain to deploy the Net Promoter® System. CEOs could save time and money, as well as engage meaningfully with people who hand them their dollars, but that might involve letting customers sit on their laps and whisper in their ears.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Elyse Fisher December 12, 2012, 10:26 am

Lots to think about – I actually passed this along to the people in my office who are responsible for this. It is something new for us so there are things to take into account as we build our methods for getting customer feedback.

Tom Groenfeldt December 11, 2012, 11:35 am

The key question is how to make a customer profitable, not happy. Scott Gnau, CTO at Teradata, said they can provide customer service reps with detailed information on each customer, eliminating a lot of discretion which can cost a bank money in dropped fees, special discounts, to clients who aren’t particularly valuable. (see The FT today has a piece on Kroger and loyalty programs to keep existing customers loyal and pursue greater wallet share.

John Ribbler December 12, 2012, 3:06 pm

Profits and happy customers quite often go hand in hand, but not necessarily. That’s only one reason companies need to be honest about their priorities (to themselves and their customers) before spray painting the marketplace with surveys and loyalty programs.