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Are Customer Surveys Worth the Effort?

Customer surveys are hard to implement and if you do it wrong, you don’t end up with actionable data. Sure, it may be nice from a PR perspective that 95% of your customers get what they expect out of your support line; however, that doesn’t mean they feel any loyalty toward you at all. Giving them what they expect just means you didn’t upset them enough to leave.

Surveys fail for any number of reasons. Some companies use surveys as a performance measurement tool. They ask questions about symptoms but not root causes. Since employees might receive bonuses based on results, the system is open to gaming. Teams don’t know or agree on which questions to ask. When the data comes back, no one knows what to do with it.

But customer surveys are important if for no other reason than your customers appreciate it. They like that you ask their opinions and are striving to improve. They’ll feel connected to you, especially if you respond back to them with a simple note of thanks. You don’t even have to implement their suggestion to gain their loyalty. These days, we all just appreciate it when you listen.

We help our clients build very specific survey sets to help measure loyalty and build customer intimacy. But if you’re not ready to take that plunge, think about surveys for the following reasons:

  • Feedback from surveys gives you credibility in your public relations and statements to customers.
  • Surveys are a cost-effective way to uncover new selling opportunities.
  • You can stay in contact with your customers and listen without hopping on a plane.
  • Problem areas get exposed before it is too late.
  • You can find out the real reasons people are buying your products and services.

If I’ve convinced you that you need to start surveying your customers, here are some ways to make sure your surveys are a success:

  • Align your surveys with your business objectives and make sure the results are quantifiable. In other words, ask customers for percentages, days, numbers, dollars, or some other specific metric, not just a series of open text boxes. (I love open text boxes, just make sure you get data you can measure as well).
  • Interview some customers over the phone or face-to-face to understand the customers’ perspectives before creating your survey.
  • Make it easy to respond. That means you’ll need personalized landing pages, preferably repopulated with data from your CRM or other system. You need to remind them with multiple touches. You might even have to bribe them with gift cards and contests.
  • Communicate the results as fast as possible along with your action plan. The customers will appreciate that you’re taking their input seriously. Your business will improve if you commit to action.
  • Don’t make this an occasional or annual event. Do a big survey at least twice each year and a small 1-5 question survey at the completion of a significant touchpoint (e.g., a demo, a support call, an upgrade, etc.).

Photo Credit: Wow! My 1000 Friends, by Cavin Kuznetsov.

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  1. This is a great post but I’m worried you’re oversimplifying it. I know that’s the point, but if surveys are that important I think it should take more time and effort. Wouldn’t that be worth it?

    • Hi Sandi. Great question. Most of the people I talk to are more likely to do nothing because of indecision or trying to make things perfect. My main point it that your customers will love the extra touch and you’ll get some real actionable data just by doing something. So I’d rather see it simple but finished than perfect and sitting on the to-do list.

  2. Very useful as always, thanks.

  3. Should I include links to my survey on my website or just privately through email?

    • Hi Ed. Depends.

      Industry survey for trends and PR: Put it everywhere, website, email, newsletter, blog about it, call about it, email signatures

      Customer feedback survey: Put it everywhere if you can control the experience with automated landing pages and collect the right data. Otherwise, control the exposure through targeted outreach: email, phone, extranets and portals, customer communication devices like newsletters or even monthly statements.

      Touch-point surveys (e.g., “how was your recent experience, demo, call, etc.): do individually

  4. I most certainly agree. Customer surveys are hard to implement. Customer surveys are critically important in organization growth. That’s why we hardly ever do them. Everyone gets involved and they are over-engineered.

    • Lawrence, get you team to agree that pretty good is better than best. If you try to do the best survey of all time and every department head gets involved, it will never get published. Ask a really simple 5-question survey. Then respond. Do it for that customer love if nothing else.

  5. What tools do you suggest for surveys?

    • That’s a tough one because it depends on so many elements. If you really want custom landing pages with data, you should look at our Nurturama service, natch :-). But if you just want to do some quick ones in a non-integrated fashion you could simply create a form in Google docs or your web CMS and send it out via your email program (e.g., Constant Contact). Survey Monkey has some inexpensive and interesting options.

  6. Great post. How do you pack so much into each post? Now I’ve got the rules for customer surveys and it took me five minutes. I’m subscribing to your RSS.

  7. Another great post. OK, I’m convinced, I need to get surveys out the door.

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