Apple does it right when it comes to surveys

Taking surveys is usually something I want to avoid. Often it's because the survey someone wants me to take is just too long or comes from some company I have no relationship with. Every once in a while I come across a company that knows how to collect feedback really well; Apple is one such company.

I have always felt strongly that companies should understand their customers as much as they possibly can and that quick, concise electronic surveys are a great way to do just that. I was involved in the business of collecting survey data for the last 10 years, first at the company I founded (WebSurveyor) and subsequently with the company that resulted from the sale of it (Vovici). I know that space pretty well. [Full Disclosure: Though I am no longer employed by them I remain an investor and sideline supporter of Vovici, which helps companies build online communities for collecting feedback.]

With that background it's been interesting to watch how Apple has gone about collecting feedback from me. I have now received a survey request four times, each closely following a specific event. Two calls into Apple Care, one in-store purchase and one in-store repair.

You can tell a lot about the values of a company by the questions they ask in their surveys and Apple appears to be genuinely concerned about how satisfied customers are with the service they provide. The questions themselves are short, simple and unambiguous and focus on rating the quality of the event itself, the people that I encountered and my satisfaction with the experience overall. The survey instruments themselves—the web pages—are classic Apple design; simple, uncluttered and visually attractive.

There are a couple of reasons people don't like to take surveys but by far the biggest one is that they are just too long. Apple scores big points with me by understanding that and asking me to take really brief surveys (about 10 multiple choice questions in each). They also do one of the most important things you can do in a survey and provide a little gauge at the top of each page so you have an idea of how long it will take to complete.

The other thing Apple is doing right is collecting this feedback within days of an event. So many companies make the mistake of asking for feedback on a quarterly basis or worse, annually. I have always felt that feedback on a consumer event has the shelf life of fresh dairy products; wait too long after an event and you get smelly cheese instead of milk.

The main reason I switched to Mac from Windows was technical: ease of use, limited virus threat, great performance, the stability of OS X, etc. In doing so I've clearly become a big fan of the products Apple builds. Though not perfect, Apple is doing a lot of things really, really well. What's been interesting for me is when I look at the way Apple works with their customers and the way they have gone about collecting my feedback I'm even more impressed. 


Anonymous said...


You wouldn't believe how seriously Apple takes those responses to the surveys. Being a retail employee, I know! It's very important to us how the customers see their experience at the Apple Store. We love to hear feedback and look into ways to improve service.

-Female Mac Anon Fan

MikeP said...

This is a point many don't understand. The joys of owning a Mac start from the time you are in the shop choosing the right product, through the un-boxing and set-up and on to the after service care. It has always seemed to me that Apple tries to make every step of the process as enjoyable as possible. Mind you, I have been called a fanboy for saying this in the past. But, I have never dealt with a company so customer focused. It doesn't surprise me that Apple brings this philosophy right through to simple things like surveys.

Pascal said...

It wasn't always this way. In the early days of my Mac ownership ('92) the product was great and the service shocking. Apple could also be relied upon to make some really bizarre decisions. Still, I was happy - and the OS, 6.0.8 & 7.0, was good. I even chucked my Windows running PC on the strength of it.

By '95, my relationship with Apple was souring. My old Mac was still great, and some of the new Mac's were rather good too (9500, 9600 et al) - but the OS was horrible (7.5.x), by far the worst I've ever used, and very fond of losing data. Did Apple care? Were the surveys any good? Were they hell. I lost many minutes of my life waiting on the phone to Apple. I even prepared my escape ship - I wasn't going back to Windows, but my Sun SparcStation (with OpenStep) sits beside me (not plugged in) even now.

Then Steve came back and things rapidly improved. Mac OS 7.6 fixed the bugs and was reliable. Mac OS 8.6 built on that and provided pre-emptive mutlitasking for Carbon applications, although no memory protection. I was happy. The software was good. The surveys began to improve. And, as we all know, from '98 the hardware improved from being workaday to being awesome.

I'm happy. Glad you're happy too.

David Alison said...

@FMAF: I will tell you that I've been seriously impressed by quality of the people I have experienced at the Apple store I frequent. Always helpful, never pushy. You folks are doing a great job for your customers.

@Pascal: Since I'm relatively new to the Mac scene when it comes to being a customer so I don't have any of that history. It does say a lot about Apple (and Steve Jobs leadership) that they take this feedback so seriously and it's obvious that it has played a part in the success of the company.

Pascal said...

On the contrary - I think it says nothing about the quality of Apple's product, and everything about the quality of your blog. I'm far too busy to trot around the web looking for, and commenting on, commentry and blogs about Apple. Apple seems to generate interest which is disproportionate to its market share.
I like to read what you write, because it's well written. And if I have something to say, I'll comment. But I'd read it even if you were switching the other way. Keep up the good work.

David Alison said...

@Pascal: Wow, you just made my day. Thanks!