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Is “Are You Happy” the Correct Question?

by Scott Nelson  |  August 9, 2011  |  2 Comments

I recently took one of those customer service surveys that businesses give you sometimes. This one was from a casual dining restaurant. It asked all the normal questions, such as “how was the food?”, “was the wait staff courteous?”, “how long did you have to wait?”  They also had a few odd ones, such as “were the dishes clean?” (I would hope so), and “Did the food look appealing?” (again, I hope so).

But the last question caught my eye. It asked, simply, “Are you happy with this experience?” I stopped and thought about that. Was I happy? Yes, I guess I was. But they didn’t ask the important question…could I have been happier?

In my case, yes I could have been. The music from overhead was unusually loud (no, I am not getting old…).  The waitress was good, but could have been better. Parking was a major problem. There were a few other things. Nothing was terrible. But, if they want to know about happy, they aren’t going to improve by asking only if I was happy with the experience. That covers the basics like washing the dishes and having the food taste good. They need to go to the next level and ask what they could do to make me happier.

This is probably true in much of life. In personal relationships, we would do well to ask “what can I do to make you happier”, rather then ask “are you happy.” Or at work. At review time, asking our bosses what we can do to make them happier with our performance (hint to people whom I review…). But when it comes to customer service and CRM, this could really be big.

What can our firms start doing to make our customers happier?

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Category: crm-strategy  customer-service  

Scott D. Nelson
Managing VP
12 years at Gartner
18 years IT industry

Scott Nelson is a managing vice president in Gartner Research. He is responsible for managing research in the area of CRM. His particular research focuses on CRM vision and strategy.


Thoughts on Is “Are You Happy” the Correct Question?


  1. Robert says:

    The first thing is to not treat surveys as marketing tools. I frequent notice that the questions are more about me than them. There are very few questions about the process, but instead are how the service person handled the interaction (is it a good employee/bad employee; the company never gets it wrong). Surveys are black holes as far as customers are concerned.

  2. Scott Nelson says:

    Good point. Which is a big part of why the response rate is often so low. Or why they have to “buy” responses with prizes



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