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The Three Magic Questions, by David S. Allen

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An illness is sweeping across our land. It is called survey fatigue. Americans are sick and tired of completing surveys.  

It is hard to escape survey requests. They are in our email boxes. They are on websites after we have made purchases. We find them at the bottom of receipts. We are asked to take surveys at the end of phone calls. And that’s not to mention the calls we get at home, usually around election time, that are disguised as surveys.

“Mr. Allen, your current state senator, Bob Smith, is a known liar and crook. He even kicks his dog. Do you want someone like Bob Smith representing you as your state senator?”

(Just for fun, I always answer with a resounding: “Yes!” Usually there is a pause, and then: “Um. Okay.” Click.)

The problem is that we need to know what customers think about our companies, our products and our services so that we can make changes and improvements.

There is a way to do that with only three questions—questions so simple, so non-threatening and so easy that people are often glad to answer. The three magic questions are:

  1. What are we doing that you like?
  2. What are we doing that you don’t like?
  3. What are we not doing that you would like for us to start doing?  

With those three questions, you are covering the essentials.  

The customer may say: “Let me think about that. Can I get back to you?”

You say: “Absolutely! What if I gave you a quick call next week?”

Once you have the customer’s answers to the three questions, do this:

--Thank the customer for his or her time and input in a handwritten Thank You note. Write it and mail it within a week.

--Make the changes the customer suggests if possible. “Cut your price in half” may not be doable but you will be surprised how quickly and easily some of the customer’s suggestions can be quickly implemented.

--Follow up with the customer six months later with an email or conversation that describes what changes your company made as a result of the customer’s answers to those three questions. (Customers love this.)

--One year later, ask the same questions.

The three magic questions can be used in other relationships, too. Manager to employee, employee to manager, customer to vendor, and business partner to business partner are some options.

A final suggestion. If you decide to try the three questions, don’t say to your respondent: “I have a short survey for you.” A better choice: “Let me ask you something.”

I hope you learn valuable things with the three magic questions.