What’s the very best question you can ask your customers?

Why do businesses fail?

Sometimes it’s bad management or poor execution, but more often it’s a simple inability to create a product that people actually want to buy.

And how do you know what people want to buy? You ask them.

Getting customer feedback sounds simple enough, but in practice, getting useful quality feedback from customers can be challenging. I was asked in a recent session I was leading about how to assess customer assessment of  their companies performance. We were discussing customer satisfaction, and I asked the class as we were discussing quantifying feedback, “What does an answer of “3” (on a five-point scale) really tell you when question is, “how satisfied were you with your experience?” Is it acceptable, or good, or disastrous.   Even if you enhance this by adding some definitions it could be a bit better, but is not sure exactly one unit less than mildly interesting?

Sure, this is better than no feedback at all, but it’s unlikely to help you assess how people feel about your business and I struggle to translate this into actionable insights about how to improve your business.

According to Sean Smith, co-founder of SimpleTiger, there is a simple question that can solve your customer feedback challenges. It’s a trick he picked up from a trip to Disneyland. While on vacation, he writes, he visited a re-creation of the tavern from the movie Beauty and the Beast. After enjoying a brew and a cinnamon roll,  he was approached by a smiling clipboard-wielding employee who asked how did you rate your visit with us, Smith gave it a 10 out of 10. So far so good, obviously SMith couldn’t find fault with the service quality- job done, nothing to improve here.

Then our surveyor asked this magical question: “What was less than extraordinary about your experience here?” 

Smith thought and commented on how the checkout line could have been speeded up.

But why is such a simple question so good?

  1. Actionable and Specific; the answer is almost guaranteed to be specific and actionable rather than vague and impressionistic.  He assessed the service 10 out of 10- but thinking specifically about it, the service wasn’t really 10 out of 10… maybe it was a 9,5!
    Smith comments “Had he just asked ‘How’d you like your experience’ I would have simply stated ‘It was great’ and moved on from there. This (question) holds an entirely different connotation, to which I replied with an actual constructive answer.”
  2. Extraordinary expectations. But that isn’t the only reason this simple question is good. This question tells your customers a lot about your company aspirations. “Not only does it improve your service offering, it shows the expectations of the business as well — that they want to be absolutely extraordinary in everything they do,” Smith explains. “This made me feel better about where I was. It gave me a certain trust value as well, that I know everything is being done to make me have the absolute best time I can for the money I spent.”  This was certainly reinforced when the questioner went back inside the “tavern” and had a quick word with the check out staff to speed the line- they took immediate action on the feedback.  They are committed to improvement.

Could this question make your customers a little bit happier and your product a little bit better?  Why don’t you try it and see.