Harvard Got It Wrong: HBR Article Has Risky Advice for Customer Satisfaction Research

So someone posted a link to an article about survey research in Harvard Business Review. I love most HBR articles, and dove in eagerly.  Alas, while fascinating research, the strategy this article implies is quite problematic. I want to address two problems with this strategy:

  1. It falsely asserts that satisfaction surveys normally ask for negative information. That is factually incorrect. Professional surveys designed by market researchers ask for information in an unbiased way (not framing questions as positive or negative)–survey design 101 rules apply to this.
  2. It assumes that influencing survey takers is more important that improving overall customer satisfaction by leveraging objective data, “They consistently found that starting requests for customer feedback by asking for a compliment (such as “What went well during your visit?”) increased reported levels of satisfaction and boosted the chance that customers would purchase again, the amount of money they would spend, and their loyalty over time. ” Well, what about those customers who do not get your survey, and thereby are not positively biased by them? Wouldn’t it be better to get objective data that applies to improving satisfaction from all customers? Your positive biased survey no longer can be used to represent your broader customer group–the survey data is biased!

What do you think? Did HBR have a hit or miss on this one?


Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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