Customer surveys are a great way to get closer to your customers. If you know what their priorities are and take steps to answer their needs, you can out-serve the competition.
Like any tool, however, surveys can be misused. Poorly designed questions and methods yield misleading information which is then used to justify bad strategies.
Here are a few tips to ensure your surveys deliver valuable, accurate feedback.
Build a list. Instead of giving surveys to all your customers, focus on those you’d like to build long-term relationships with. (This may be based on revenue, cost to serve, payment history, types of products purchased, etc.) Even if these aren’t currently your biggest accounts, you’ll get more value by prioritizing their needs.
Keep it simple. The longer your survey gets, the less likely people are to complete it. Avoid the temptation to ask about anything and everything. Your goal should be to find out one or two key issues.
Collect both quantitative and qualitative information. Quantitative answers (e.g. rating scales) are easier to analyze and let you see trends across the group. Qualitative answers can give context and insight into those trends. Here’s a basic example:
1) When it comes to choosing a vendor, what are your top 3 most important criteria?
__ Products are high-quality and in-stock
__ Orders are filled quickly and delivered on-time
__ Sales/service staff are knowledgeable and helpful
__ Back office services are accurate and efficient (invoices, returns, etc.)
__ Prices are low
2) As your vendor, how could we help your business be more successful?
These are fairly generic prompts. You may want to adjust the questions and answer options based on your customers and business.
Accept a low response-rate. Say you survey 400 customers but only 10 people respond. It’s risky to assume that those 10 people have the same ideas and opinions of the other 390. Before you send out your survey, decide how many responses you’ll need to feel confident about the results. If you don’t hit this number the first time, then make a second or third effort at collecting that feedback.
Ask complicated, leading questions. Avoid confusing your audience or putting words in their mouth. You will not get useful information from a question like, “Explain how we deliver the best service of any other vendor similar to our size and market.” Again, keep your questions and answer options simple.
Rush to judgement. It’s easy to misinterpret survey results. For instance, say your customers rate you low on “service quality.” You may assume this is a complaint about your sales staff. Your customers, however, are just irritated about all the late deliveries. Consider all the possible meanings of your results before taking any course of action.
Whatever your results, remember they only represent one piece of data. The more you know about what your customers value, the more you can align your business with theirs. If you can deliver on the elements they care about most, you’ll have a major competitive advantage.