Customer surveys: Beneficial or bothersome?

By Leon Gettler

Customer surveys have been around for a long time. They are basically tools for measuring customer satisfaction. But in an age when customers blog, tweet and text about their experiences in real-time, these independent reviews, assessments and spontaneous protests serve as critical feedback for companies. The smart ones monitor what's said about them in social media and follow up with surveys.

Have you noticed how many web companies are built around customer surveys?

Almost all major companies survey their customers and use the results to help determine best-practices as well as staff bonuses and pay rises.

A good example is Amazon, which constantly monitors customer preferences and acts on them. Not surprisingly, it always gets the top rating when it comes to online customer- satisfaction surveys. Amazon has shown the world that good customer surveys and regular interaction with customers can be highly effective tools for building sales and turning prospects and one-time buyers into loyal, repeat customers.

Survey fatigue

Customers love and hate surveys. Some welcome the idea of providing feedback, but for others it's bothersome to be constantly asked to rate products and services that they think of as trivial.

Tom Ryan at RetailWire says many customers now have 'survey fatigue'.

"Some seem perturbed at the volume of such requests as well as the principle of being asked to do a time-consuming chore for free," he writes. "To some, feedback about major purchases such as trips and cars makes sense, but rating the shopping experience around more trivial purchases wasn't worth the time. Others felt the surveys were a perfunctory request, the questionnaires overly scripted, and overall doubted their responses do any good. Any rising complaints come as satisfaction surveys have risen in recent years because of technology as well as a greater zest by brands to seek out and learn from customer input."

Still, companies will continue to request customer responses to surveys, and in a time dominated by social media, the number of surveys will only increase. So how can companies conduct this research without annoying people?

How to create engaging surveys

Joanna L. Krotz at Microsoft identifies three ways to create good surveys that engage customers.

Firstly, choose the right timing. This could vary from company to company.

"Consider how often your customers use your products and gauge your surveys accordingly," Krotz writes. "Restaurants, for example, often have comment cards at their tables or included with the bill. But let's say you run an event-planning business. Most clients will hire you once or twice a year or even every few years. So a monthly survey or a weekly e-mailed customer satisfaction form makes little sense. Instead, you want to tap your client's reactions directly after each event, and perhaps follow up six months later to reinforce the impression and keep the relationship active. In that case, you might include postage-paid survey postcards with the materials you give clients for events."

In other words, formulate the survey around the level of customer contact.

Secondly, ask the right questions. Make sure you include some open-ended probing that requires more than a yes or no response. Your questions should engage people and get them thinking.

Finally, says Krotz, make sure you follow up.

"There's no point in mounting a survey if you don't follow through. Whether your survey was done via phone, e-mail or surface mail, you should call and personally thank each customer who responded."

Done well, surveys can keep existing customers and bring in new ones. Done badly, they just annoy people. The art of good business management involves learning the difference between the two.

What compels you to take part in a customer survey, and what makes you run a mile?


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