It’s vital that businesses understand their customers and many use customer satisfaction surveys as a tool to collect data on how happy customers are with their experience. Major changes in data protection law will affect the way Google and Facebook collect customer data – so using customer satisfaction surveys to learn more about customers may assume a much higher profile. Given this, it’s important the surveys get good response rates and yield significant data. Here we take a look at the changing landscape for customer satisfaction surveys.

How data protection will affect customer knowledge

In May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation becomes law. Facebook and Google, the great disrupters of the normal ways of doing business, are likely themselves to face considerable business disruption from this legislation. It will depend how thoroughly the EU and the UK pursue cases but the UK is committed, despite Brexit, to implementing this legislation in full.

Much of what businesses know about customers, is currently the result of data gathering across consumers’ use of the internet, tracking them from one site to another and aggregating the information in order to build consumer profiles that can be sold to advertisers and others.

Facebook and Google, are fundamentally, advertising companies. However, they will not be allowed to use data about people for advertising purposes without the specific permission of the individual. The companies appear to think that they can simply put a tick box on their interface and that if consumers want to use their services they will have to agree to a company-wide override to the data protection regime.

But the legislation specifically forbids this. The companies will not be allowed to prevent people from using their services because they have opted out of having their data used for advertising. If fully implemented, this has massive implications for the way that companies gather data about customers.

Apart from anything else, companies won’t be allowed to collect data from say, a customer purchase, then use it later for marketing. They’ll need to get specific opt-ins, and that will involve them knowing all about the customer, in order to contact them later. So companies are faced with a quandary: they can’t use customer data without contacting the customer, but they’ll need to hold the customer’s contact data so that they can ask for permission to use other data. It’s going to be interesting.

Another activity that will be specifically forbidden, is companies tracking people from one device to another. For example, linking an IP address on a laptop to a device ID on a mobile phone, thus identifying the user of both items.

The legislation doesn’t come out of nowhere. There is clearly popular support for some limiting of the amount of data being held by the big technology companies. This is particularly the case as more individuals find that their online identities or pictures have been stolen and used elsewhere without their knowledge.

Google has been in the habit of browsing Gmail users’ emails to find out about them and sell on the information. They announced recently that they are going to stop doing this. Now possibly this was an outbreak of concern for people’s privacy at Google’s headquarters. More likely though, it was the fact that the GDPR will specifically forbid companies from doing this kind of thing. Google has probably seen the writing on the wall in this respect, and decided to take action before it is forced to, with attendant unwelcome publicity.

WhatsApp and Facebook will face similar problems.

Facebook’s Audience Network processes personal data from Facebook users, and uses it when they access other websites. So Facebook is going to have to address the problem of users opting out wholesale once they have the chance. And much of the legislation specifically requires that users opt in to allow themselves to be tracked.

Similarly, WhatsApp will have to request users to opt in if they want to allow their data to be processed on other Facebook sites. How many are likely to do this?

What’s more, there are certain special data categories around people’s race, religion, sexual orientation and so on. These data categories are not allowed to be used without a person’s specific consent. This poses quite a few problems for Facebook’s Newsfeed application.

So where does all of this leave the customer survey?

Customer surveys should come out of this change in quite a strong position. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, a survey is not a generalised data trawl – it is usually prompted by a specific interaction with a customer. It’s not as though the business intends to use the data for some other purpose entirely. Customer satisfaction questions tend to be much more focused on an actual experience or transaction.

Secondly, customer surveys are open and transparent. The customer knows that they have received a survey, they know who it’s from and they know why they’ve received it. It is entirely up to them whether they decide to fill it in. There’s no element of subterfuge or compulsion. Whereas personal data being sold and reused in ways that many users are unaware of, does involve trading to some extent on public ignorance.

And lastly, a customer survey is a personal act of engagement between the business and their customer. It shows that the business knows and values the customer, and cares what they think. People are increasingly fed up with the anonymous nature of much big business. Yet they still seek the price advantages and fast service they have come to expect from internet commerce. A satisfaction survey is a way to build on the major advantage that small and medium sized companies possess – the personal touch.

Make surveys count – they are your advantage over Google

Some businesses are missing the main opportunities that surveys offer and not maximising the information they could get from customers. For example, while it’s great to keep a survey short and focused, it can still be designed to elicit quite complex data from the customer. If you look at the whole of the customer journey from first perhaps searching the internet or seeing some marketing materials, to finally taking delivery and paying, a simple test of whether the customer is happy or not can be misleading.

Follow-up questions that identify specific business areas can allow the business to collect more detailed information on what’s working well and what isn’t. This can also provide an acknowledgement to the customer that their purchasing journey was complex, perhaps unnecessarily so.

The quality of the customer experience is key

The quality of the customer experience is now seen as so important, that the consultancy group, Gartner, has predicted that in the coming year, nearly half of all investment made by consumer goods producers will be aimed at ensuring that customers have a better experience. Deloittes has also commented on the fact that consumers have become less tolerant of difficult or unsatisfactory customer experiences.

Whereas businesses used to be focused on improving products, they are now looking primarily at improving the customer experience. The mighty BMW is a company that you might imagine would be entirely focused on the product. Not at all. The Deloitte report mentions that BMW is striving to achieve a customer checkout time for online purchases of under 10 minutes.

This is an example of how an entire company is now focused on improving the customer experience. And satisfaction surveys are a key tool in achieving this focus. It’s really important to share the feedback across the organisation for two reasons. First, to motivate those whose processes or departments are getting poorer reviews. Second, to show the whole organisation that customer satisfaction is the number one priority.