Understanding How to Use Customer Surveys

It’s vital that you learn as much as possible about your customer base. You need to know what they think of your product or service. You need to know where your customer service team or customer-facing employees are excelling and where they’re falling short. You need to know where breakdowns occur in the purchase process, in your marketing, and in your service delivery. Unfortunately, gaining access to that information can be quite difficult.

There is a solution, though. A customer survey can provide you with invaluable insight and information, allowing you to learn what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to be changed. Of course, there are quite a few things you’ll need to know about using customer surveys to learn about your customer base. In this article, we’ll explore customer survey best practices and explore how to make the best customer survey.

Why Use a Customer Survey?

Why should you use a survey to question your customers? There are quite a few reasons for this. First, it provides you with information directly from those who matter most to your business, whether you’re in a B2B or B2C market segment. Second, it proves that you value what your customers think about your product or service, which builds your brand and improves your reputation.

Third, it provides you with the means to gain access to accurate information about your company, product, or service. That information can be used as the basis for future decisions and changes within the business, ensuring that you’re making smart, informed moves, rather than deciding based on misperceptions or bias.

In a nutshell, customer surveys provide you with access to vital information. They show your customers that you value what they think. They also ensure that you have the means to improve profitability, growth, and success.

What Can a Customer Survey Help With?

What are the potential use cases for a customer survey? Really, the sky’s the limit here. They are infinitely adaptable and can be customized to meet any need or goal within your company.

Here’s the thing, though. Your customer survey must be tied to a specific purpose. There must be a need for the information it’s generating. And, you must follow through on that purpose. If you send out a survey to your customers, they provide their answers, and nothing changes, then you’ve wasted your time and money, and your customers’ time, as well.

Obviously, this means that you need to have a defined purpose for the survey before you begin. How do you determine that what purpose is?

It’s tied to a pain point or challenge: Your customer survey can be tied to a pain point or challenge on your part, or on the part of your customers. For instance, perhaps you’ve noticed that the ticket time in your customer service department is increasing, but you’re not entirely sure why that is. You could provide customers completing the customer service process with a survey that allows them to share their thoughts on the experience, what went right, what went wrong, and much more.

Based on that information (across multiple customers, of course), you could determine why ticket times are increasing, and then take informed action. This does two things for you. First, it allows you to save money and time. Second, it allows you to deliver a better overall customer experience, enhancing your brand’s reputation.

It allows you to dig deeper: A customer survey, particularly one tailored to satisfaction overall, rather than gathering other types of information, can allow you to dig deeper into customer relationships, in-house processes ,and even how your brand is perceived by customers and others outside the company.

For instance, a very brief customer satisfaction survey might include a short introduction and several categories in which you ask your customer to rate your business on a sliding scale (1-10, 1-5, etc. but keep it consistent from question to question). Let’s say you’re surveying a guest who is checking out of your hotel. You might ask them to rate you on the following:

 

Check-in promptness
Room cleanliness on check-in
Housekeeping quality during the stay
Cleanliness and/or availability of amenities
Promptness/ease of check-out
Likelihood of recommending to others
Provide an optional comment section at the bottom

 

Your guest would rate the hotel in each of those areas. If the guest had previously stayed with you, it would be possible to both show them their previous responses on the survey, as well as use those to benchmark the current responses of the survey. Based on the information provided, you could determine if they were more or less happy with particular elements, and understand specific issues or achievements if the guest chooses to fill out the comment section at the bottom.

You can then take that information and compare it to the results of other customer surveys.

 

How many guests were unhappy with the check-in process?
How many were unhappy with housekeeping?
Were the same housekeepers working on both days?
How many guests were unhappy with the quality or availability of your property’s amenities?
How many would be willing to recommend your property to others?

 

Use that information to make necessary changes to improve satisfaction with your entire customer base.

It helps you take necessary action: All too often, business owners and decision makers can become so involved in the day-to-day operations of the company, that they are effectively blind to breakdowns and problems. In other instances, new initiatives, products or services may create unintended consequences that are not immediately obvious, or that are not visible to those who make decisions. A customer survey can provide an immense amount of insight into these areas.

For instance, let’s say you run a retail store. In an attempt to streamline the customer service process, you decide that everyone coming to the desk must stand in the same line regardless of their reason for seeking out customer service. The immediate upshot of this decision is that it allows you to go from three full-time customer service people at the desk to two, and you can put that extra person out on the sales floor. It saves time, and provides you with additional help in an area where you feel it’s necessary.

However, there are unintended consequences to this decision. For example, because you cut down the number of customer service reps, every customer now has to wait longer to have their problem addressed. It also means that the two customer service reps are dealing with a higher number of customers, which means they have less time for other duties, which might include putting returns back on the sales floor, answering the phone, and more.

A customer survey could shed important light on the breakdowns in this situation, allowing you to take immediate action. Based on negative survey results, you might choose to not only bring back the third customer service rep, but add a fourth, or you might choose to separate the lines based on the purpose of the customer’s visit to the customer service department.

Questions to Ask in Customer Surveys

The questions asked in your survey are of crucial importance. In fact, they are the most important element. You need to do more than just ask questions. They need to be structured the right way. They must be tied to the underlying purpose of your survey. They need to be unbiased. Multiple-choice questions must have all appropriate and potential answers provided. Sound like a tall order? It doesn’t have to be. In this section, we’ll break things down for you.

The purpose of the survey: As mentioned, your questions must be tied to a specific purpose. If they don’t relate to the survey’s purpose, they do not belong on it. This begs the question of how you determine the purpose for the survey in the first place. That’s not all that difficult. Answer the following questions and you’ll be closer to identifying it:

 

What problem are you trying to solve within your business?
What problem are you trying to solve on the part of your customers?
What instigated the creation of the survey in the first place?
What do you hope to achieve by having your customers answer the questions on your survey?

 

If you answer the questions above, you’ll find that your results are far superior to many other company, most of which skip that step.

Who to survey: This is another tough question to answer, but it is important. You cannot simply send out a customer survey to every single customer in your database. Not only is that cost prohibitive, but it is ultimately pointless. What if that customer hasn’t had any interaction with your company in a year or two? What if that customer’s needs have changed significantly and is no longer part of your target audience?

Not only does sending your survey to the wrong people waste money and time, but it can yield incorrect results. For instance, suppose your purpose in creating the survey is to determine the cause of recent problems with your customer service department. However, you send the survey out to all of your customers. You get a good response rate, and feel encouraged.

The problem is that many of those customers who replied have not recently interacted with your customer service department, so they may not have experienced any problems at all. This would be reflected in their answers. If you choose not to act on anything because of erroneous information, the problem in your service department only grows worse, your reputation continues to be damaged, and you still don’t know why.

Obviously, targeting the right audience is absolutely essential. Identifying that audience can be problematic, but it should tie into the problem you’re trying to address. In the example above, you would only send surveys to customers who had interacted with your customer service department recently, within the window determined by complaints or problems with the department.

The customer survey questions to ask: Once you’ve identified the purpose of your survey, as well as the audience you intend to target, it’s time to explore the questions that you will ultimately ask them. There is no way to address specific questions for your individual survey within this text, but there are some pointers that can help ensure you’re able to ask the right questions on your own.

The single most frequently used survey in the world today is called NPS, or Net Promoter Score. It uses just a single question, with a sliding scale answer that ranges from 0 to 10. The question is usually a variation of “ow likely would you be to recommend us/our product/our service to a friend or family member?” The score your company receives from this question is based on an average of those who would promote you, those with a neutral view, and those who would not promote you.

However, because that single question is incredibly brief and doesn’t really shed a lot of light on what your customers think, beyond their willingness to recommend you to people they know, you can and should go further. Some example questions to use might include:

 

How would you describe your recent experience with us/our customer service department?
How would you rate our product/service on a scale of 1-10?
Have you ever contacted our customer service department?
If you have contacted customer service, what was your overall impression?
How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
Service was prompt
Service was lacking
Product quality was high
Product quality was too low
Sales staff were knowledgeable and helpful
Sales staff were not knowledgeable/helpful

 

As you can see, there are several different types of questions, including yes/no questions, multiple choice, and those where the customer can explain their experience in their own words. You will also notice that none of these are “leading” questions. That is, they’re not designed with bias in mind. An example of a leading question would be, “What did we do well during your experience?” without a balancing question of, “What could we improve for your next visit?”.

Ultimately, you need to create questions that bear on the purpose of the customer survey, and ensure that they’re formulated so that your customers can provide you with honest, accurate, factual customer feedback.