ugly microsoft windows survey popupLast month the New York Times wrote an article about how more companies than ever before are asking their customers for feedback.

Let me first say: glory hallelujah, companies are finally trying to understand their customers.

But the article highlights the dark side of this: customers are getting overwhelmed. Not only are more companies asking for feedback, they’re doing it with the same spammy insistence that led to the Do Not Call list or the Spam button in email inboxes.

““The frequent requests to fill out these surveys…have been so annoying that people just stop doing it,” said Richard L. Oliver, a professor of management at Vanderbilt University.”

We’ve said it before: customer feedback is not a right. You should be grateful for customer feedback, and you should ABSOLUTELY NOT overwhelm them. This is gold people are giving you – don’t ask for more.

The answer isn’t just giving people Starbucks cards (in fact, that can make it worse, because it becomes a transactional relationship, alienating your real fans). Here are some tips for avoiding feedback burnout:

  1. Keep surveys short. Nobody wants to spend more than 3 minutes giving you feedback. Be focused and short…you can always ask more questions later.
  2. Don’t survey everyone every time. Seriously. Survey enough people that you get statistical significance, but don’t harass everyone on your list just because you can. And if you just surveyed someone, make sure you don’t survey them again for a while, to avoid burning them out.
  3. Don’t be insistent. It’s one thing to ask. It’s another thing to harass. Don’t pop up a survey dialog 30 seconds after someone visits your site. Don’t send your customers a bunch of reminders to fill out a survey – if they didn’t, they probably won’t.
  4. Make it easy for customers to give feedback when THEY would like to. Stop putting things in their busy inbox. Instead, have a feedback link (or feedback widget) always available on your site.
  5. Don’t base anyone’s pay on getting a survey response. It’ll just result in a people cheating, which will break your system. Check out Amber Naslund’s great story on this subject.
  6. Make giving feedback as simple as possible. For example, UserVoice’s “kudos” feature allows a customer to thank a customer service representative at any time, with a single click. Sure, it doesn’t have the detail of a full satisfaction survey, but it is likely to get more clicks and generate less frustration.
  7. Ask your customers what they want. Surveys can be useful, but they can also be very leading and limited. Don’t tell your customers what to tell you – ask them what they want. Many UserVoice customers like Cheezburger have found the results surprising.

Treat your customers well and they’ll give you great feedback. Treat them badly and they’ll stop talking to you.

What tactics have you found successful when asking for feedback?

Photo courtesy of Nate Bolt.

Screenshot courtesy of pollyalida.