There is an entire industry devoted to helping companies determine customer satisfaction levels through surveys and analysis. But how much real value does knowledge of "satisfaction" contribute to helping you keep profitable customers?

The answer, unfortunately, is "not much." Though surveys do serve a purpose (primarily showing trending: "Are we doing better or worse than last year?"), they don't tell the whole story.

The following are three fundamental reasons why it's dangerous to rely on customer satisfaction surveys to help improve your Customer Experience:

1. Dissatisfied customers don't speak up

Yes, some customers respond to satisfaction surveys, but which customers? Using which channels—online, phone, mail, email? Scary as it might sound, recent studies show that for every 100 dissatisfied customers only two bother to say anything to the company; the rest "vote with their feet" and just leave.

If you think about it, this makes sense. If you're unhappy as a customer, do you try to remedy the situation or "fix" the company? Isn't it easier to just say "to heck with it" and leave? Of course, that doesn't mean that customers don't tell others about their bad experience. In fact, research shows that customers share bad-experience stories with approximately 15 people (mainly other prospective customers), while those with good experiences share their stories with only seven people or so.

2. Customers won't tell you the truth

In many cases, when customers do respond to satisfaction surveys, they indicate that they're "satisfied" or "mostly satisfied" regardless of how they really feel. A study of people who recently left their bank illustrates this point: 80% responded that they were "satisfied" with their former institution. Of course some people leave a bank because they move or for some other valid reason―but not four out of five.

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Bill Cusick is the CEO and founder of Vox Inc. (, a Chicago-based customer-experience consulting firm.