Give the People What They Want: Easy Steps to Effective Customer Surveys

by | Business Success Tools

The Internet makes it very easy to obtain current, almost instant feedback from your customer base.

Consider the opportunities that weren’t available to business owners just 15 years ago:

  • Email links to sales and customer service personnel give buyers direct, unfiltered access to people that can answer their questions and address concerns.
  • Catalogs and product information sheets can be downloaded at any time, which helps you plan for product inquiries and jumps in sales volume.
  • Analyzing traffic to your FAQ (frequently asked questions) page and to pages containing information about particular products or services can give you a very good idea of what is currently of interest to your customers.

But limiting your attention to customer feedback to email inquiries and page visits is a fairly narrow view of what’s possible with the current technology. Web-based customer surveys are inexpensive methods for gathering valuable customer information, and for gathering their input on your company’s products and services.

Benefits of Customer Surveys

Responsiveness: Surveys help build a perception of a customer-focused company. Conducting a survey sends a message, both within your company and to your customers, that your company cares about how it’s delivering on its promises.

Customer Retention: A well designed survey allows you to obtain important customer feedback. You can find out what your company is doing right and what it needs to improve. This can help you build on your strengths and fix what’s wrong – and both will help you keep valuable customers.

Innovation and Creativity: Your customer base can be a great source for new product and service ideas. You can also solicit feedback regarding pricing, service arrangements, and potentially even learn about what your competitors are doing.

Getting Started

Before you do anything else, make sure you have answered these two questions:

  • Exactly what is the survey’s purpose? (e.g., Are you hoping to learn about buying intentions and potential orders from regular customers? Do you want to measure customer satisfaction? Are you testing the waters for a new service or product roll-out?)
  • Who will use the survey information and for what purpose? (e.g., Do your salespeople need the information to help compile a forecast for the coming quarter? Will management use it to determine the timetable for a new service launch? Can service reps analyze the results to improve overall customer satisfaction?

Putting the Survey Together

Exactly how your survey comes together depends on what you’re trying to learn, as noted earlier, and the particulars of your company and industry. Still, there are several tips to keep in mind:

  1. Make your questions a specific as possible. If you’re spending the time and resources to conduct a survey, give yourself the best chance possible to learn what you want to know. “Are you planning to buy a widget in the next 3 months?
  2. Ask enough questions to obtain the information you need, but don’t go overboard. Obviously, the more you ask, the more you’ll learn, but you also don’t want your respondent to quit half-way through. Ensuring that the survey can be completed in five minutes or less will increase your number of responses. Be sure to let potential participants know up front that their investment of time will be minimal.
  3. Consider using scalable questions that ask customers to rank their responses on a numerical basis. You’ve seen these. They usually read, “How satisfied were you with your purchase on a 1 to 5, with 1 being very satisfied and 5 being not at all satisfied.” But if you do this, make sure respondents have space to leave comments explaining their scores.
  4. If repeating a survey – which is a great way to measure progress – keep the questions identical each time, so results can be compared.
  5. Always include at least a few open-ended questions. They allow for broader feedback you may not have thought to ask for. Not everyone will take the time to leave detailed information, but the input of those who do should be taken very seriously.

The Mechanics

Fortunately, once you have determined what you want to learn from your survey and have compiled your questions, the rest is fairly easy. You can survey visitors to your website, or send out surveys via email to customers in your database. There are dozens of companies that can help arrange either format. Popular options include,, and

The best services allow you to view and analyze results as soon as they come in.
Your site administrator will likely be aware of many options and can determine what will work best for your situation.

One more note on customer surveys. They’re great for generating publicity or “buzz” for your company. Survey results released to trade websites or magazines that cover your industry are always looking for this kind of information. A media release sent with a headline like, “XYZ Corp. Survey Finds 75% of Firms Plan Software Upgrades” will often result in an interview request, which can help you elevate your company’s profile.

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