Customer Satisfaction Surveys


April 2001

Customer Satisfaction Surveys

CIDMIconNewsletterJulie Price, Comtech Services, Inc.

Because customer satisfaction is such an important issue, whether it’s related to the product or its documentation, our December survey sought to find how companies are gathering data to assess customer satisfaction. We found that 48 percent of respondents had no company-wide or internal departmental customer satisfaction survey, and of the departments that did conduct customer satisfaction surveys, 34 percent of respondents reported that customers are asked about documentation as part of a general customer satisfaction survey. Very few technical publications departments are taking an active role to find out what specific aspects of their documentation meet customer’s needs or identify aspects that can be improved to increase customer satisfaction.


Modes of Delivery

Electronic Delivery

Participants using electronic (email), Web-based, or a combined interview/survey mode of delivery for customer satisfaction surveys find that response rates increase. Users are more likely to receive and respond to surveys delivered directly and immediately to their desktop via electronic means or if asked to directly by an interviewer. Electronic media provide virtually instant gratification for both the information-development organization and the customer, while the interview/survey method may yield more substantive information because interviewers can immediately follow up interesting answers.

Unfortunately, many customers will respond to requests for feedback only if they have something to say that is extremely positive or extremely negative. To get responses from those with more moderate opinions, information-development organizations must give them a quick and convenient option for doing so. Electronic or Web-based media may be a cost-effective and easy way to accomplish this.

Surveys in Deliverables

Respondents with the lowest response rates send surveys within their documentation deliverables. This method is the most outdated and has been proven to be the least likely to elicit a response. The poor response associated with “back of the book” surveys is documented in this survey and many other surveys.


Surprisingly, we found that the majority of departments do not offer incentives for completing a survey, and it doesn’t negatively affect their response rates. This is good news for departments wishing to conduct their own customer satisfaction surveys because it means that customers are very interested in sharing their opinions whether they receive compensation or not.

Quality Feedback

While increasing survey response rates is a concern, the quality of the information gathered and how it is used is of equal or greater importance. When asked how to improve their customer satisfaction surveys, our respondents pointed to the types of questions asked and how they are asked as having the greatest influence on the quality of the data they received. Respondents most often suggested including questions specific to the content and usability of their documentation.


How Organizations Would Change Surveys

Our results indicate that the most useful types of questions for better understanding user needs and improving the quality of documentation are open-ended questions and questions that use five-point scales. One respondent noted, “While it’s easier for people to answer yes/no or

[to] check a box, verbatim commentary yields more valuable feedback.”

Separating the customer’s satisfaction with the product vs. the documentation is also an issue about which respondents feel strongly. Customers seem to confuse the two and tend to provide lists of problems regarding product functionality rather than usability of the documentation. One respondent stated, “When our major account customers are happy with our products and service, the documentation is rated great. When they aren’t happy with the costs, delivery, timing, and so on, the docs are rated badly.” The solution is for technical publications departments to influence how survey questions are phrased or, preferably, to do their own surveys that elicit information useful for document re-design. Fortunately, the vast majority of respondents feel they have received information from their surveys that has improved the quality of their documentation and has provided them with a method of contacting users for additional information. CIDMIconNewsletter