Intro to Psych, Customer-Feedback Style

One morning during high school, 4 fellow students and I arrived late to our Intro to Psych class. Part-way through the lesson, the teacher drew 3 vertical lines on the board labeled A, B & C.

Asch Conformity Experiments

He proceeded to ask each student a simple question: “Which line is longer?”

Clearly it was B.

To my utter astonishment I sat, mouth agape, as student after student chose the obviously incorrect option of C. When it was my turn, with courage mustered I responded with a shaky but resolute “B.” And the teacher went on to the next student.

Once everyone had answered, we late-comers learned that prior to our arrival, the teacher had instructed the class to ‘be sure to choose option C, irrespective of whether it was the right answer.’

When the dust settled, 3 out of 5 of the ‘subjects’ (the tardy students) had conformed their answers to the group. As surprising as this was, it turned out to be slightly better than the results set by the Asch Conformity Experiments, which served as the inspiration for our class exercise.

Notwithstanding the obvious lack of statistical significance with a 5-member subject group, my curiosity about human behavior had been piqued, and I’ve continued to be interested since.

Fast-forward, oh, a few years… and recently I discovered a study conducted by Drs. Paul Dholakia and Vicki Morwitz and published in the Harvard Business Review. The study involved completing a customer satisfaction survey with the subject group, and doing absolutely nothing with the results. The control group simply was not offered the survey.

The study found that, after one year, customers who took the survey were 3 times as likely to have made a new purchase with the company and twice as likely to still be a customer as the control group.

WOW. What is it about simply taking a customer satisfaction survey that would increase loyalty so significantly?!

As it turns out, there’s a fair bit of psychology at work here, with many popular theories on this subject. Here’s my take:

Asking for customer feedback reinforces the decision the consumer made to do business with the company in the first place. Who doesn’t like to be right? And once that decision has been validated, the customer is much less likely to leave.

A slightly more scientific theory might attribute the research results to a measurement-induced judgment. In essence, asking whether the customer was satisfied, ‘plants the seed’ that they indeed were, and that seed sprouts, grows, and later bears the fruit of an additional purchase.

Whatever the reason, this study on “customer feedback psych” produced compelling evidence: clearly there is value in gathering customer feedback, even if gathering it is as far as it is taken.

The question then becomes: do we just stop there?

To find an answer to this, I reflect on the immortal words of my high school Spanish Teacher:

¡Absolutamente no!

But that’s a topic for another day.

Additional Resources:

Double Customer Retention Simply by Sending a Survey

Customer Feedback: Your Fast Path to Profits

James Wirth is the marketing manager of QuestionPro, a leader in online survey software.

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