Fishing for Compliments

Marriott School research finds soliciting positive, open-ended feedback leads to repeat customers; loyalty

PROVO, Utah – Jul 07, 2016 – 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 and a former Marriott School professor.

“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.

Of the 27,066 customers surveyed, those who gave a compliment had about 9 percent more transactions with the company one year later, and they spent an average of $81.18 more than those who didn’t complete the survey—a 131 percent increase 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.

Other Marriott School coauthors included Katie Liljenquist, research associate in organizational leadership, and Bruce Money, Fred Meyer Professor of Marketing. Researchers from Boston College, Michigan State University and Northeastern University also contributed to the study.

“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.”

Kristen DeTienne, Professor of Organizational Leadership and Strategy
Bruce Money, Fred Meyer Professor of Marketing
Katie Liljenquist, Organizational Leadership Research Associate

Media Contact: Todd Hollingshead (801) 422-8373
Writer: Todd Hollingshead