The future of CSAT surveys: 4 CX experts weigh in

Madeline Jacobson

March 27, 2024

Talk to any CX leader and you’re bound to hear strong opinions on customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys. 

CSAT is one of the most widely tracked customer experience metrics, with many businesses using it to keep a pulse on their ability to meet their customers’ needs. But CSAT surveys suffer from some pretty big limitations–including low response rates, sample bias, and lack of nuance. As it becomes harder and harder for companies to understand their customers through CSAT surveys, many CX leaders are questioning whether the CSAT survey needs to go.

We put the CSAT survey on trial in a webinar with four CX experts:

  • “Judge” Rick DeLisi, co-author of the best-selling book The Effortless Experience and Lead Research Analyst at Glia
  • “Prosecutor” Mary Drumond, VP of Marketing, Neighborly Software and host of the Voices of CX podcast
  • “Defense attorney” Nate Brown, co-founder of CX Accelerator
  • “Expert witness” Steve Trier, Chief of Operations and Product at Tethr 

The panelists made strong points that got us thinking critically about the role of CSAT as a metric and the future of the post-interaction survey. We’ve rounded up the biggest takeaways below.

You can also watch the full webinar on-demand now. (If you love courtroom dramas and strategies to improve CX, it’s a must.)

No metric is perfect–but CSAT serves a purpose

Nate Brown was quick to state that no CX metric is perfect. According to Brown, “All metrics are pieces of a puzzle that come together to give us more truth about our customers.”

The CSAT metric doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It provides a view into a specific part of the customer experience, and it’s most valuable when trended over time and correlated with other metrics. And Brown says that as a clearly defined metric used since the 1990s in over 43 industries, CSAT “is one of the most helpful foundations for us to understand how well businesses are doing in relationship to their customers.”

There’s a mismatch between how seriously companies and customers take CSAT surveys

While CSAT is a foundational metric in the majority of CX programs, CSAT survey results aren’t always an accurate reflection of real satisfaction trends or a reliable indicator of how customers feel about their interactions. Average survey response rates are often in the single digits. Those customers who do respond typically had either a very positive or negative experience. And the results often skew positive–in the 2024 State of Customer Service and CX Report from Shep Hyken, 42% of consumers say they avoid completing a CSAT survey after a negative experience because they don’t want to spend more time interacting with that company.

Survey response rates have been on the decline for decades as consumers receive more and more survey requests. Rick DeLisi shared his own experience as a consumer, saying the first time he ever received a CSAT survey (after purchasing a 1991 Saturn from General Motors), he was impressed the company cared about his experience enough to ask him about it. When he started getting surveys after every interaction with his GM dealership, however, the novelty began to wear off–and full-blown survey fatigue set in as more and more brands began using CSAT surveys.  

“Companies still take CSAT surveys very seriously,” says DeLisi. “But between the ever-declining response rates and the difficulty of reaching people…are customers taking them as seriously as we’d like?”

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CSAT surveys require customer effort

The intention behind the CSAT survey is good: businesses want to understand more about their customers’ experiences so they can increase overall satisfaction and reduce effort. But Mary Drumond points out that “answering surveys is effort, and we don’t want that as consumers.” 

Brown shared his own example of how effort derails surveys. He recently received a post-interaction survey after buying a product from a brand he likes, answered the first three questions, and then saw a progress bar telling him he was 4% of the way through the survey. Although he wanted to give this brand feedback, he abandoned the survey because it required too much effort. 

“CSAT today is a temperature check on behalf of an organization to see whether or not they’ve done their job properly,” says Drumond. “And the onus is on the company to do that, not us as customers. There are more efficient ways to understand your customer and gather voice-of-the-customer feedback.”

We need to rethink how we collect and act on CSAT data

The four CX leaders in our webinar agreed that CSAT data has value, but the primary mechanism used to collect it–the survey–is flawed. While the survey may once have been the best available tool for measuring CSAT, that’s no longer the case. Today, businesses can use AI-driven technology to analyze what their customers are saying in their interactions and extract satisfaction insights. “A survey is never going to capture the depth of information that just happened in an interaction,” says Steve Trier. “That interaction contains everything you need to know about what was going on in your customer journey.”

Trier explains that using conversation intelligence technology like Tethr, you can analyze customer satisfaction in every interaction and take a proactive approach to CSAT–rather than waiting days or weeks after an interaction for a survey to come in. By getting CSAT data from 100% of your interactions, you’re also better equipped to identify trends and hone in on areas for improvement. For example, if you saw a spike in dissatisfied customer interactions, you could drill into your conversation data and look for specific issues, behaviors, or other factors influencing that dissatisfaction. From there, your business could make timely changes to improve the customer experience.

Unlike surveys, “this technology is an always-on mechanism,” says Trier. “You get statistically relevant data, and you can make a change and keep watching that data. You’ll see trends and know if the investments you’ve made have worked.”

Final takeaways

CSAT surveys create effort for customers and rarely provide the insights CX leaders need to make meaningful changes. But there’s value in the CSAT metric itself. It’s a consistent, quantitative way to measure customer satisfaction, and it can be a useful tool for spotting CX trends and taking the temperature of customers’ relationship with a business. 

CSAT as a metric becomes even more powerful when companies use technology to measure it based on conversation data. This allows the business to learn from every customer interaction without having to send yet another survey. Businesses can also correlate predicted CSAT scores with other insights from conversations, giving them a deeper understanding of the factors impacting satisfaction so they can take action and measure their results.

As we concluded our trial of the CSAT survey, we asked our audience to vote on the verdict. The votes suggested that the majority of CX leaders believe CSAT as a metric still has a place in voice-of-the-customer programs, but that surveys alone aren’t an effective tool for capturing CSAT data. By using AI technology to mine customer conversations for satisfaction data, businesses can uncover meaningful opportunities to deliver a better customer experience.

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