Create a Customer Survey to Generate Results You Can Use

Why giving your customers the chance to compliment or complain may be the secret to growing your small business and creating loyal customers.
You may think you know it all when it comes to your business, but listening to compliments as well as concerns from loyal customers can help your business stand out. (Photo: Phrompas/ Shutterstock)

With more than 20 years experience advising the world’s most iconic brands, New York Times best-selling author Jay Baer knows the value of surveying customers.

Jay Bear headshot

“Haters aren’t your problem; ignoring them is.” -Jay Baer (Photo: Jay Baer)

“Only 5 percent of unhappy customers ever complain in a form or fashion where the business can find it. Surveys help surface issues with the business that might otherwise go undiscovered, silently causing customers to defect and not return,” said Baer, author of 5 books including, “Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers,” and founder and president, Convince & Convert, digital marketing advisors.

Before you write your first survey questions Baer suggested small business owners think about how all their customers, not just the happy ones, can provide feedback.

In addition to trying to reach every customer, it’s important to know the point of the survey. What you are trying to determine? Are you trying to discover how happy a customer is with a purchase or how positive his or her experience was inside your store?

He advised small business owners to ask for open-ended feedback, not just 1-10 scores and to be sure their surveys are very easy for customers to complete.

“As a small business owner, be sure you are prepared to read, interpret and act upon the feedback and make sure your customers know that the business is actually listening and incorporating their feedback,” Baer said.

How to write effective questions

Once you’ve decided what, specifically, you need to know from your customers it’s time to write the questions. According to Baer, the key to good question writing is to make sure you leave plenty of opportunities for guided, open-ended feedback.

“Sometimes, customers won’t be able to provide a paragraph of useful feedback unless you give them a little help early in the survey to open them up. For instance, a terrific question to ask early is: ‘What three words best describe your experience?’,” Baer said.

Christopher Hawkins, managing consultant at Cogeian Systems, a web design and custom software engineering firm, helps clients implement customer surveys, he knows first hand the power of a well-written survey. Hawkins offers these tips for creating effective survey questions:

Be specific – Don’t ask two questions in one; each question should be worded so that the answer addresses one issue.

Be assumptionless – Don’t assume customers understands industry jargon or that they have any specialized knowledge. Including either in your question may reduce your answer rate.

Force a choice – If your question asks for a rating, use an even-numbered scale so that there’s no “middle” or “neutral” choice. Require your respondent to “pick a side.”

Keep it simple – Questions are best kept concise and clear. Overly-wordy or complex questions may prompt your customers to not respond.

Simple tools to help you create effective surveys

Simple, accessible and often free online tools make it easy for small business owners to create effective customer surveys. These sites offer both free and paid options for creating customer surveys and allow you to distribute to your surveys via email, social media and mobile platforms.

Here are the most recommended survey programs for small businesses:

Survey Monkey – One of the most widely used tools for creating free online surveys, they offer both free and paid survey services.

Feedbackly – Baer’s top pick, Feedbackly is easy to use, offers options for creating customer surveys and provides other services to help measure several areas of your business.

TypeForm – Hawkins top pick, Typeform is a newer survey tool that creates mobile-friendly surveys and offers an attractive, modern interface.

Zoho Survey – Offers surveys and a bilingual option as well.

Datagame – A newer survey option that “gamafies” surveys by adding mini-games which can be great for complicated survey topics or for a younger customer base.

Google Consumer Surveys – Google has customer survey options and can help you compare your data to other information from your local market.

Once you have chosen the best tool to create your questionnaire, you need to decide how to deliver your survey to customers. The survey creation sites all show you how to link to your survey using multiple delivery methods. According to Hawkins, there are advantages to each delivery method.

Survey delivery options include:

Email – If you have an e-mail list, that’s a natural first choice for distributing your survey, particularly if you’re using one of the free online tools outlined above. If you don’t have an email list, start building one today. It is a valuable sales and marketing tool.

Social media – In addition to providing customer feedback, surveys on social media can create community buzz about your business or a specific event and can provide almost instantaneous feedback.

Text message – Many customers may prefer to have the survey link texted to their smartphone.

Website – If you have a customers-only section of your website, or if there’s a user profile/control panel of some sort that your customers log into, place a survey link there.

Postal mail – Even now, some customers will prefer to have a survey mailed to them, that they can fill out with a real pen, on real paper. If you go this route, be sure to include a return envelope with prepaid postage.

“Ultimately, you want to focus not just on surveys, but on feedback mechanisms overall. If a customer wants to text message feedback, they should be able to do that – plus phone, Twitter, Facebook, email, and beyond. But in terms of surveys per se, email is probably the most consistent method,” Baer said.

Survey answers are rolling in, what now?

While you are an expert in your business, you may not be a wiz at data analysis. Have no fear, online survey sites include tools to help you count and organize your customer survey results. Use them to calculate responses and to decide which questions and answers are most helpful for your goals.

According to Baer and Hawkins, there are many uses for your survey data beyond improving customer service or identifying your most popular item or service.

Customer survey data can help:

· Increase sales – Surveys are the perfect opportunity to make customers aware of new products or services you offer.

“You may remind a customer of your product or service, spurring an impulse purchase. Or, your survey may simply help your business stay top-of-mind, giving you priority in the next purchase decision the customer makes,” Hawkins said.

· Identify trends – The world of small business changes constantly, and so do customer preferences and cultural values.

“By surveying regularly, you may be able to spot an emerging trend within your customer base, and get ahead of it before your competitors do,” Hawkins said.

· Create loyal, repeat customers – According Baer, “Too many businesses care too little about retention, placing much emphasis on outbound marketing and the attraction of new customers, with comparatively little attention paid to keeping the customers they’ve already paid to get.” He said more interest needs to be paid to existing customers and those who take the time to complain.

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