5 Ways to Measure Customer Experience: Which Delivers the Most Value?

In our conversations with brand executives about how to measure customer experience, we’re often asked, “Which customer survey solution should we be using?” Some believe they’re getting the insights they need out of their Net Promoter Score (NPS®) surveys. Others say their quarterly customer satisfaction surveys (CSATs) are sufficient because they include questions about front-line performance and the in-store experience. What’s often missing from these methods to measure customer experience, executives tell us, are the business results they’d hoped for.

What’s really going on here? Are these companies using the wrong programs to measure customer experience? Or are they inadvertently undermining the programs they have?

To drive performance and profits, a data collection program must be: 1) the right tool for the job; 2) thoughtfully executed; 3) applied consistently and correctly; and 4) part of a holistic CX management program. When brands fail to derive value from their data, it’s usually because they’ve failed to meet these four conditions.

This week, we’ve put together a brief guide to the top five customer data collection methods. We’ll explain the unique purpose and value of each, and what you need to keep in mind to maximize ROI.

Top Methods Brands Use to Measure Customer Experience

The truth is, there is no “magic bullet” when it comes to measuring the customer experience. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, and each requires an expert understanding of how to design and execute a successful program.

1. NPS® surveys

If your CEO comes to you and says, “I want to take the pulse of our customers and find out how we’re doing compared to last quarter,” or you want to know how your brand is faring competitively, an NPS® survey is the way to go. NPS® surveys are ideal for gauging the effect of a recent initiative (product launch, marketing campaign, policy change, etc.) on brand perception.

Strengths: Virtually effortless for customers; very easy to implement; can be triggered post sales or service interactions or proactively sent through CRM systems; many free survey platforms available

Weaknesses: Short on details about the customer journey; unless it’s tied to a specific interaction, it doesn’t reveal the “why” behind customer sentiment—or how to fix declining scores

Key considerations: If you’re sending out classic relationship NPS® surveys more often than quarterly, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. A big-picture survey can’t capture day-to-day changes; the bigger the data pile, the more its value will diminish.

2. CSAT surveys

Unlike the 30,000-foot view NPS® offers, CSAT surveys measure customer experience insights across the buyer journey.  These surveys are typically longer and the questions are more specific. You can use CSATs to get feedback on specific initiatives, segment the responses based on customer profiles, and mine the data for breakthrough ideas.

Strengths: Pinpoint CX issues and service failures; make customers feel heard and valued; align corporate strategy with customer priorities; use aggregate scoring to identify larger trends; open-ended questions offer revelatory insights you might not know to ask about

Weaknesses: Low response rates; customers might not recall finer details of the CX; no way to measure employee compliance with brand standards or benchmark against competitor or industry performance

Key considerations: It’s important to get survey design right—question type, length, and ease of completion—as well as frequency of use. Poorly worded or off-target questions won’t provide the insights you need, and a survey that’s too laborious can eat up a lot of brand equity. Overreliance on CSATs (a common pitfall) can easily sink your top and bottom line: not only will constant survey requests irritate customers, but you’ll struggle to make use of the data you collect.

3. Front-line surveys

Front-line survey requests are more personalized than CSATs and are sent immediately following service interactions. Customers are asked to rate a specific agent’s performance; if ratings are low, customers can select the reason(s) for their dissatisfaction. Managers can use the data to deliver micro-coaching as needed, and QA leaders can zero in on low-rated calls that meet specific criteria.

Strengths: High response rate; readily identifies high and low performers; improves hiring and customer service training; builds brand equity; makes service recovery more effective; motivates agents to excel

Weaknesses: Limited ability to measure employee compliance with specific brand standards

Key considerations: While CSATs are used primarily for guiding corporate strategy, front-line surveys are designed to drive immediate performance improvements. Both types of feedback loops play a valuable role; you can maximize their value by sharing findings across the organization (marketing, operations, HR, etc.).

4. Mystery shopping

Mystery shopping (in-store, ecommerce, and fulfillment) offers an objective way to  measure customer experience from the brand’s perspective. Secret shoppers are given a questionnaire that reflects brand priorities and standards, and they’re instructed to follow a certain script that’s designed to uncover lost sales opportunities and the tiniest sources of friction in the customer journey.

Strengths: Challenges corporate assumptions about the CX; clarifies expectations for staff; identifies needs for additional training or training program updates; competitive shops inform operational and strategic priorities

Weaknesses: No way to know whether you’re measuring what customers care about; consistently high scores may lead to complacency and myopic thinking in the C-suite

Key considerations: Mystery shopping isn’t a “gotcha” program designed to catch employees behaving badly. But your front-line teams will see it that way, unless you’re completely transparent about the program—its goals and what it’s designed to measure—and freely share the findings across the organization.

We’ve created a step-by-step guide to designing, executing, and managing a successful mystery shopping program. Download your free copy of our latest eBook,How to Get the Most Out of Your Mystery Shopping Program: A Practical Guide for Businesses.

5. Customer Intercepts

Customer Intercepts are unique for two reasons: they’re qualitative, and they’re interactive. Brands interview customers as they exit stores, asking them about new product lines, merchandising strategies, etc. or what led to their purchasing decisions. Intercepts have many possible uses; you can interview shoppers based on a specific demographic profile, their behavior in store, or both.

Strengths: Challenge corporate assumptions about customers and the competition; learn finer details about the customer experience; ask follow-up questions to probe more deeply; test other customer research programs before they launch

Weaknesses: No way to draw larger conclusions about shopper perceptions or brand performance

Key considerations: Don’t assume a couple of open-ended questions on a CSAT survey will give you all the answers you need. An on-the-spot interview is a great way to capture the fine details customers are likely to forget later, and the only way to really understand how the in-store environment and competitive landscape are impacting your customers’ decisions.

Bottom Line: You Can’t Manage the Customer Experience Through a Single Lens

If you’re relying on a single, solitary view to measure customer experience, you may be satisfied with the data you have. But you’re trapped in an insular world. You’re not getting a complete picture of:

  • What your customers are really thinking
  • Operational and performance issues that are driving customer sentiment
  • How you compare with your competitors on important measures
  • The true impact of your strategic initiatives

To measure customer experience effectively, you need both the customer perspective and the brand perspective.

When used in combination, subjective data (NPS®, CSATs, front-line surveys, and intercepts) and objective data (mystery shopping) provide a holistic view of the customer experience. In the beginning, you’ll tear down false assumptions and internal silos. Over time, you’ll start fueling innovation and growth. Eventually, you’ll be unstoppable.

measure your customer experience using subjective and objective data