How Well Do You Know Your Customers?

May 8, 2015

If you’re not regularly surveying them, they may be strangers to you.

By Martha Spizziri

Surveys that gauge customer satisfaction and explore their core concerns serve many purposes: They can help fine-tune your marketing message, provide testimonials for you to use in promoting your business, and aid in R&D efforts to improve your existing products and services—and help you develop new ones.

You may think you already know what your customers want, but a survey never fails to turn up a few surprises, says marketing expert Jeanne Hurlbert, CEO of customer-research firm My Survey Expert.

Types of surveys

Online surveys work best in most cases. They’re easy for the user to complete, and they save work for you in compiling results because no one has to type in data.

Paper surveys can help brick-and-mortar businesses to get on-the-spot feedback. The downside: The data tend to skew negative, according to market-research firm iPerceptions. It’s best to use this type of feedback tactically.

Social media conversations (for example, dialogue posted on your company’s Facebook page) can provide quick, free feedback. But the results can be hard to quantify, and you may not get a large enough sample to be meaningful, according to a blog post by Rieva Lesonsky, CEO and president of GrowBiz Media, on the U.S. Small Business Association website. And if you’re doing research to guide overall strategy, representative data based on random sampling is a must, says iPerceptions.

Should you offer incentives?

“Absolutely,” says Hurlbert. She suggests offering two: a free gift, such as a white paper, that each survey-taker gets immediately, and a chance to win a bigger reward. This could be one of a number of iPads or $50 gift cards offered, depending on your survey campaign budget.

If you’re seeking a simple, quick response from visitors who visit your website, an incentive isn’t necessary, says iPerceptions. If you do one, do so at the end of the survey to avoid biased results.

Use the data

Survey data should be used throughout the organization. That includes applying what you’ve learned to marketing and social media efforts, product improvements, enhancing customer service, and, internally, toward improving employee performance.
“Find the story in the data and use that story to solve problems and augment strengths,” Hurlbert says.

Plan to keep surveying customers over time to track improvements—and to report back to customers with the results. Show how you’ll use the information for the customers’ benefit, says Hurlbert. That will build customer engagement while increasing the odds they’ll respond to future surveys.