That a single dissatisfied customer contacts you does not sound very worrisome. You can handle a single customer. However, what if this one customer, according to statistics, is only the top of the iceberg of a comprehensive problem? The fact is that this one dissatisfied customer indicates that you have an additional 26 dissatisfied customers. Who in turn have influenced at least another 390 people negatively about your company and your brand. In this post, we will explain the importance of “timing” in connection to customer satisfaction surveys. Do you conduct customer surveys once or twice a year and feel satisfied and proud of yourself? Think again, continue reading and get insights into connections as well as how to avoid common pitfalls.

That dissatisfied customers have a higher tendency to share their negative experiences than satisfied ones is nothing new. Well known data shows that one dissatisfied customer tells on average 9-15 other people about their negative experience. 13% of the customers even tell more than 20 people. Having this in mind, it comes as a bit of a surprise that most companies and organizations only ask for their customers’ experience 1-2 times per year (1).


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There are only a few industries which have specific sales cycles. The majority have a continuous sales cycle which is spread over the whole year. Naturally, pressure can be higher during some periods than others, but it does not mean that during the other times of the year customers do not buy or have any form of interaction with the company.

For example, take Company X which has a common structure where customer satisfaction surveys are conducted biannually, in June and in December. The customer flow is, as illustrated earlier, distributed across the entire year. Considering this background information, we construct the scenario in which Customer Y makes a purchase in January. During this purchase, Customer Y is very dissatisfied with a certain aspect e.g. quality, support, or delivery. When we look at the survey cycle, Company X will get this information about the dissatisfied customer 5 months later at the earliest, when the next customer survey is sent out. The graphic below helps to visualize the scenario.

“Better sent late than never” unfortunately does not work when it comes to consumer behavior. In this, unfortunately all too common scenario, there are even several negative outcomes:

Time Delay = Disengaged customer + Irrelevancy = Low Response Rate

It is rather unlikely that Customer Y will even respond to the customer survey because of the lack of relevancy and residual engagement. There is a clear connection between the time delay, the purchase or other customer interaction (e.g. support), and the receiving of a survey, and consequently the response rate. This is nothing other than timing. It is the question of asking the customer whilst the company and the purchase are still seen as relevant from the customer’s perspective.

Invitation for the competition

When a customer is, for various reasons, dissatisfied with their experience, there is a high possibility that they will move to the competition. This is even more likely when they do not even get asked about their experience with the product, the customer support, or the delivery. Only 4% of people will take the initiative and contact you themselves when they are dissatisfied. The remaining 96% will not complain directly and 91% of those “churn” (when a customer stops being a customer) in silence (2).

When we take into consideration the statistic that for every customer complaint there are 26 dissatisfied customers who never get in touch, we are left with 26 customers that the company doesn’t know about. Therefore, the company has no chance to make up for its mistakes and to prevent churn (3). The common argument that “if our customers are dissatisfied they will contact us” can thus be seen as nothing but wishful thinking.

Everyone knows but you

It is possible to sum up the hidden figures of dissatisfied customers by knowing how few of those who feel discontented contact the company themselves. Other people will know, but not your company. So, keep in mind that for each person you get a complaint from; there are 26 other dissatisfied customers who, on average, tell 9-15 people each. Not optimal marketing. To think, therefore, that you’ve made only one customer dissatisfied, is just the tip of an iceberg.
Going with the wishful thinking that 1-2 regular customer surveys per year are enough is akin to shooting yourself in the foot for most industries. Customers will not contact you. You must ask them, and ask them when it is still relevant. It’s all about timing!

A real horror scenario – the production of company killers

A realistic horror scenario is that you think you have only one dissatisfied customer. However, in reality you have 26 dissatisfied customers who act as walking company killers as they will talk you down to 234-390 people. With the influential effect of word of mouth on consumer behavior, we quickly understand that we have missed our chance with these.

From top to bottom

The question now is how do we avoid the horror scenario above? How do we reduce the 91% of our dissatisfied customers who left us silently? Here is the solution that this article started with, the art of timing. There are different theories on exactly what time and day of the week gives the highest response rate for customer surveys. However, that is not the timing we are referring to in this post. We are looking at the timing overall, how a company decides on its customer survey strategy during the year. There is no golden framework for what time frame is the ultimate. Each industry is different and, therefore, every single company knows its own industry best. You know yourself when a customer is likely to start using your product or service. Shortly thereafter, it is time to ask.

The lesson here is that biannual or annual customer surveys usually mean you’re too late. The damage has occurred and you were not fast enough to save who could have been saved. A piece of short but important advice; Begin measuring more continuously, measure when customers still engage (the solution is as easy as that…).

Tips on customer satisfaction surveys

For more information about customer satisfaction surveys, see here

A smart way to ask without disturbing the customer with too many questions is to use Net Promoter Score (NPS). Read more about NPS here

In order to streamline continuous measurement while maintaining control over the purchase and mailing process, etc., we recommend an API integration with existing business systems. Learn more about automation with the API here

1. White House Office of Consumer Affairs
2. Financial Training services
3. Lee Resource