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Story Highlights
  • Of 27,066 customers surveyed, those who gave compliments had 9% more transactions with company one year later
  • Customers who gave compliments also spent about $81 more than those who didn't complete survey
  • Open-ended solicitation resulted in a 33% increase in customer spending for B2B companies
Soliciting positive, open-ended feedback leads to repeat customers; loyalty

New research from Utah State University and Brigham Young University finds that simply asking customers to share positives about their experience results in repeat business and more money spent.

The study, appearing in the Journal of Marketing Research, turns the whole system of customer feedback surveys on its head. The authors suggest instead of asking “What went wrong,” businesses should ask “What did you like?”

“If the customer has a good experience, don’t ask them to dig for something that they didn’t like,” said Kristen DeTienne, coauthor and professor of organizational leadership and strategy in the Marriott School of Management. “Have customers remember the good things that happen during their experiences with the company.”

As customers reconstruct and then articulate those positive memories, it fuels positive purchase intentions that have an observable impact at the cash register, said lead study author Sterling Bone, associate professor of management at Utah State University.

“Adding that single question, ‘What did you like best about your experience?’ is a relatively cost-free measure that, with even small gains, offers a clear financial benefit,” Bone said.

Nearly 10 years in the works, the research found soliciting positive open-ended responses led to both greater repurchase behavior and greater customer loyalty.

Researchers administered post-purchase surveys to two randomly selected sets of customers of a photography company with studios nationwide. One group received a standard survey while the other group received the same survey but included a prompt at the beginning that said “tell us what you liked.” They then tracked those customers for a year.

The study, wherein 27,066 customers were surveyed, showed that one year following a postive, open-ended survey, customers spent 8.25 percent more and had nearly 9 percent more transactions than customers in the neutral, close-ended survey condition. Furthermore, using a positive, open-ended survey condition yielded an average of $81.18 more in repurchase dollars spent versus customers that opted to not complete the survey--an increase of 131 percent in spending.

“There’s a significant impact from solely asking for a compliment,” DeTienne said. “You can frame how people think about your business by how you ask your question.”

A second study with a business-to-business software manufacturer found open-ended solicitation resulted in a 33 percent increase in customer spending relative to close-ended surveys.

Co-authors on the study included Katherine Lemon (Boston College), Clay Voorhees (Michigan State University), Katie Liljenquist (BYU), Paul Fombelle (Northeastern University) and Bruce Money (BYU).

“We’re not forcing someone to tell us that they had a good experience,” DeTienne said. “We’re simply opening the door for them to do so.”