We all try to be in-tune with customers: sending surveys, providing feedback forms, offering round-the-clock support, and monitoring social media channels 24/7. But even if you respond to every comment, positive and negative, you’re not hearing from your most valuable customers. And it’s due to one common prejudice: survivor’s bias.  

What is Survivor’s Bias?

Survivor’s bias is the tendency to look to the “winners” for advice on success, when we have just as much — if not more — to learn from those who never made the cut. By ignoring “non-survivors” you miss out on wisdom from those with the most valuable advice.

Your non-survivors are your blind spots: they’re potential customers who never convert, ex-customers who no longer use your services, and silent customers who don’t engage with your company or community. By not listening to them, you’re missing a golden opportunity to improve your business, expand your customer base, and lower churn.

3 Ways Survivor’s Bias Hurts Your Business

If you ignore non-survivors, you could make critical business decisions based on an incomplete picture. A thorough understanding of what ALL your customers want requires listening to non-survivors; not just vocal early adopters, repeat customers, and champions for your brand.

These common mistakes stem from survivor’s bias:

  1. Knee-Jerk Reactions to Criticism

When you hear complaints, you immediately assume a problem must be fixed and jump to address it. Check that impulse. What about the voices you aren’t hearing?

It’s possible most of your customers like the new feature; they just aren’t as vocal. Don’t rush to change a feature or service based on negative feedback. Before you act, dig a little deeper and check with customers who aren’t speaking up for a more representative opinion.

  1. You Focus on Squeaky Wheels 

You believe that those who complain the loudest are most likely to leave, and focus all your efforts on them. After all, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Look at these facts: of the 90% of customers who never speak up, 78% leave. But of the 10% that complain, 90% remain customers. Vocal customers contact you because they’re using your product or service and want to get the most out of it by suggesting improvements. That doesn’t mean quiet customers don’t want or need the same attention.

Your customer service should make a point to talk to silent customers and ensure their needs are met, just as they reach out to complaining customers. If you don’t know what’s troubling silent customers, you’ll never get the chance to address it.

  1. You Assume Silence =Satisfaction

“If there are no complaints, all our customers are happy.” Dangerous thinking.

Those with young children know well: silence is a sure sign you should be on high alert. Silence indicates customers that are not engaged with your product, meaning higher churn. Remember, 90% of customers never complain, even if they’re dissatisfied. They aren’t invested enough in your product to make the effort — it’s easier to walk away if you aren’t providing what they need. And with them goes the missed opportunity to learn from their experience and improve your business.

Connecting with Non-Survivors

So how do you listen to customers you can’t hear?

Step 1: Identify silent customers

Thorough analytics are essential. Examine customer behavior for every page of your website, across email campaigns, online events and social media. Hubspot and Marketo offer tools that show every customer touchpoint, from website visits and landing page downloads to webinar attendance and social media posts. Here are the key statistics to look for:

  • How often do they use your product or service?
  • Do they attend webinars, visit your blog, interact with you on social media, download resources, or contact support?
  • Are they upgrading, inviting friends to join, or connecting with other users?

Step 2: Encourage silent customers to open up 

Reach out and ask about usage habits, inconveniences, or confusion. Send targeted emails, make a few personalized phone calls, or offer custom support. Either you get deeper engagement and a happier customer, or your customer remains low-activity but provides valuable insight into their experiences with your company. Either way, you benefit.

Step 3: Make customer feedback painless

It’s easier for dissatisfied customers to churn than reach out with questions or complaints. Do everything you can to remove that obstacle. Use Suggestion Box widgets or Quaraloo Insights‘ one-click micro-surveys to coax customers into giving snippets of feedback. Just remember: the main goal for this feedback isn’t to add to your list of “fixes” and action items; it’s to get a better picture of your customer base.

At Wrike we rely on Live Chat from SnapEngage, which lets anyone browsing our help pages connect to the support team instantly. We also invite users to Wrike’s voting forum. It’s an easy, convenient outlet for customers to vote for new features with one click, quickly submit feature ideas, express opinions, and know they’re being heard. It’s an invaluable resource for us when prioritizing updates and developing new features.

Step 4: Rethink your perception of complaints 

As I’ve said, people who complain want to make the tools, services, and communities they rely on better. They represent a valuable opportunity: if they’re vocal about what they don’t like, they’ll likely be just as vocal about what they love. With exceptional customer service, you could turn them into priceless brand advocates.  

Overcoming Survivor’s Bias

The biggest hurdle in overcoming survivor’s bias is recognizing it exists and could be influencing your churn rate. Now that you’re aware of the bias, be proactive in counteracting it. Use these tips to listen and learn from all your customers. And remember to ask yourself: Whose voice am I not hearing? What could I be missing?

Emily Bonnie is a content marketing manager for Wrike, project management and collaboration software that helps teams get more done. Download the “2015 Work Management Report” to learn about the top stressors and collaboration challenges troubling office workers. Follow Wrike on Twitter.

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