Overcoming the skeptics – Turning research into action

One of the challenges with customer satisfaction and NPS surveys is turning the results into strategic and tactical actions. This post provides some steps that can help address this challenge.

Customer surveys can be threatening to internal teams – especially if they feel that their voice isn’t always heard by upper management. But even in the best internal environments, how the research is conducted and how the results are shared with stakeholders can create ambivalence or worse yet defensiveness. Or it can encourage stakeholders to embrace the results and take action.

In general, the best approach for overcoming employee skepticism and resistance is to involve them in the process and to share as much information as possible. This approach is based on accepted principles regarding human behavior, including…

  • Most people process information more fully when they take an active part in interpreting the information rather than passively absorbing it: Students achieve a better command of information when they teach it to someone else.
  • People are more open to change and criticism if they are a part of the process: Employees are more accepting of annual performance evaluations when they include a two way flow of information.
  • Most people require time to reflect and absorb information and ideas – especially when they conflict with their existing beliefs.
  • The inertia associated with day-to-day activities makes it easy to push off taking any action that requires additional meetings, work-loads and/or changes.
  • Having a standard and systematic process raises the visibility and accountability of activity – including NPS programs and other research.

With these realities in mind the following outlines a general approach communicating about the research generally and sharing the results specifically. The extent to which each of these guidelines makes sense will vary by organizational culture, internal processes, research topics, etc.

Communicating about the research

The first step is to inform key teams and stakeholders that they research is being conducted and why and determine the role they will play in the process. Some people are reluctant to involve other stakeholders early on for fear that they will derail the research or put up barriers and objections. But these same objections will exist at the end of the process so you cannot avoid them. It is better to get the buy-in and collaboration upfront. As part of designing your program you should:

  • Determine in advance who will be responsible for taking actions based on the results
  • Decide to what degree they become a part of the research design or execution process
  • Clearly articulate why the research is being conducted, its objectives, its limitations, how it will be used and how it fits with other information streams and organizational knowledge
  • Explain how the results will be shared, who they are going to be shared with, etc
  • Identify any red flags or potential conflicts that will arise with internal beliefs or data

 Sharing the results

In most cases it is useful to share the findings in advance of the presentation to key stakeholders. Unfortunately many people are reluctant to do so. Their concerns stem from a general desire for control and a fear that those receiving the report or data will misinterpret the results, come to the debrief with conflicting information, share them more broadly, etc. These concerns are understandable. However, the downsides of this approach includes…

  • There are limits to the amount of new information people can absorb and react to during a presentation. People generally have their best ideas after they have had a time reflect on the new information.
  • When taken by surprise people can have knee-jerk or visceral reactions to data, which limits the productivity of the conversation. This is especially true if they feel put on the spot or the need to justify their performance.
  • A one-time presentation of the results does not facilitate ownership of the results. When stakeholders and employees return to their desks they will quickly forget about the presentation and return to the status quo.

An effective way to facilitate productive meetings around the research results is to ensure that all the attendees are prepared for the debrief and identify in advance the areas that might be controversial or veer the meeting off track. The following steps will help you do that.

Prior to the debrief…

  • Share a short summary of the research with the that reviews: a) Why the research was conducted. b) What it covers and what it does not. c) Who is going to be in the debrief and who else in the organization will see the results. d) The structure, format and agenda of the debrief. e) And the action items and responsibilities that will come out of the debrief.
  • Provide an executive summary of the results in advance and ask stakeholders to think and reflect on the big picture implications of the research
  • Ask for feedback regarding any areas that the stakeholders find controversial or conflict with their beliefs
  • With large groups determine the most important insights in the findings to ensure the conversation stays focused
  • Determine with key stakeholders who is going to assign activities at the end of the debrief


Following a set process, encouraging stakeholder participation throughout the process, and sharing information before the debrief should…

  • Encourage acceptance of the research and results
  • Improve the quality of the conversation during the debrief
  • Provide an opportunity to constructively address hot button issues in the debrief
  • Improve the chances that stakeholders walk away from the debrief with an action plan

Following this process does not guarantee that these will happen, however, it increases their likelihood and gives you confidence that you are doing everything you can to ensure the insights are used.