A customer satisfaction survey can be an invaluable bellwether to determine what your customers are thinking. A well-written and well-received survey can help shed light on what your customers expect when doing business with your company, including their concerns and, most important, areas of dissatisfaction.
It does not have to be an expensive or time-consuming undertaking. In fact, an effective survey can be worth its weight in gold if it helps you to maintain your customers and improve your services to attract new ones. Otherwise you are shooting in the dark with no concrete feedback from the people who keep you in business.
Distribute Your Survey
Depending on your business, you should determine the most opportune manner in which to reach your clientele. Obviously a Web-based business can easily place the survey on its site, either in a pop-up window or on the home page. For traditional brick-and-mortar businesses, surveys can be handed out at the checkout or at some other point where customers complete their transactions or interact with employees.
Place surveys on tables, such as in restaurants. Or if you finish a contracting job and may not see the customer again, the best route is to send a follow-up survey via e-mail or postcard. You may even opt for a telephone survey. The type of business or service will dictate how to distribute your survey to get the best results.
Know What to Ask (and Not Ask)
Word your questions carefully. Ask customers about both the specifics and the overall impression of their interaction with your business. Were you welcomed pleasantly to the store? Were you easily able to find someone to help you? Were the products you were looking for readily available? Did employees answer your questions to your satisfaction? If you are running a restaurant, ask if they found your business clean and if the food and service was to their liking.
Whether you ask open-ended questions or simply provide customers with a 1-to-5 (or poor-to-excellent) rating depends on how much information you are looking for. If, for example, you are simply looking for a general idea of how your servers or salespeople treat customers, a simple scoring system should suffice. To get deeper insight, ask more direct questions. However, keep in mind that the more you ask of people in your surveys, the less likely it is they will take the time to fill them out.
Stick to what you need to know to better serve your customers. Do not ask for personal or identifying information. In an age of identity theft, people will stop answering if questions become too personal. You can ask age range, income range, and so on, but make sure the individual can maintain a sense of anonymity if he or she so chooses. Online questionnaires should limit required fields to possibly an e-mail address and nothing more. If people feel you are looking for too much information, they won’t answer.
People are pressed for time. Five to 15 questions is a good number. Make sure you put your most important criteria in the first few questions because some people will stop if it looks like your survey goes on and on. Be concise.
Sweeten the Deal with Incentives
While some people can be eager to fill out surveys (especially when they want to register a complaint), some may need an incentive to participate. You could enter all participants into a contest to win a prize (a gift certificate, a free meal for two, a cash prize), or provide all respondents with a discount coupon. The idea is to get results. The downside of offering an incentive is that you will get an increase in junk responses from people who simply want the freebie. For this reason, you do not want to make your incentive anything too valuable but instead something simple that is worth the time it takes to fill out the survey card.
Use What You Learn
Don’t drop the ball. If you are going to go to the trouble of asking questions, be sure to make good use of the answers. Take the time to tally up the responses. Look for levels of satisfaction and levels of dissatisfaction. Don’t assume because 10 people had marvelous things to say and only five had negative comments that you can ignore the results. You are in business to please all 15 respondents. While that may not always be possible, if you can make changes that will appease two of the five dissatisfied customers, you’re better of than you were.
When reviewing the responses, look for trends or patterns that may indicate an ongoing problem. Read any suggestions carefully and determine whether they are valid. Sometimes you can be too close to something to see it objectively, and this is true for many business owners who often devote their entire lives to their companies. Use the responses to gauge how your business is perceived in the marketplace.
Make sure you thank your customers for filling out a survey. And don’t forget to follow up by letting customers know that you have made changes in response to their needs. Customers who know that they have been heard are more likely to return.