The beauty of a one question survey

I'm not talking about current events polls whose results too often depend on which online community pounces first. I'm talking about real, useful feedback achieved with just one question.

I've been a fan of Rackspace, a high-end Web server hosting service, for several years now. They don't try to have merely good support, their goal is "Fanatical Support" and they're serious about it. Over the years, I've completed a number of their surveys, both routine ones when closing support tickets and the longer ones used to touch base periodically with clients. The ticket closing ones keep getting shorter and shorter, to the point that they're now one question just below the thread:

    In order to close your ticket, please click on one of the buttons below.
        [Unsatisfactory]  [Average]  [Good]  [Fanatical!]

It's a simple question, and answering takes no more work than clicking a generic "Close Ticket" button. It's completely timely and in context, and doesn't pester respondents with superfluous questions since it's tied to the ticket. For the lower ratings, the account managers have the contact information and thread at hand, and then can reach out with a call for any clarifications or to resolve the dissatisfaction. Meanwhile they're also accumulating quantitative data which can be used in aggregate as well as broken down by client, staff member and time period.

Similarly elegant is the Netflix rating system. They automatically send out "Received" e-mails as DVDs come back to their distribution centers. On each of these notices is a little string of rating stars. All the customer has to do is click on a star, and the Netflix site records the user's rating. What could be simpler? And yet, one by one those little clicks add up to a powerful recommendation engine which helps them delight and retain customers.

While these solutions will never replace in-depth surveys, they're a valuable tool in improving your customer's experience. In the short-term mini surveys provide customers with an easy feedback outlet and in the medium and long-term they generate change. For your organization, can you find the right spot to ask your one question?

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