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Create a survey to let your customers weigh in

Posted by Jason Keith  September 23, 2011 06:00 AM

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We’ve all taken a company survey at some point in our lives.  There’s little doubt the company that offered the survey took the answers and enacted changes based on the feedback.  Be it surveys about customer satisfaction, an order process, product quality or potential changes to the business, all companies use customer feedback to help inform decisions. They are an incredibly effective way to get insight into how customers perceive a business. 

They are also a tool that small business owners should be utilizing.  With the advent of online surveys - companies like Survey Monkey and Question Pro offer online survey tools – getting feedback from your customer base has never been easier or faster.  You plug in the questions, the service generates a link and voila, you've got an active survey. It can be emailed, shared in social media or put on your website.  It's a great way to stay in touch with customers while giving them a sense that you care about their opinion. You don’t want to necessarily base major decisions off of one customer survey, but they can help guide changes. 

Here’s how you can put together a great survey that gets the results you want:

Keep it focused and simple

You don’t have to find out everything your customer base thinks in one survey. If you do, the results will be mixed and you won’t be able to mine any data to take action on. Instead, keep it focused on a certain area.  For example, if you’re concerned about the quality of your product, that’s what you should be asking about.  And don’t feel you have to ask 20 questions when 10 will do. If you need only a few questions, that’s fine. Customers will feel less burdened and you can focus on the area you want.

Ask questions that deliver real results, not ad hoc feedback

Multiple choice questions are always best for surveys, but really think about what you’re asking.  For example, if your question is “What products would you like to see us offer,” you’re going to get an endless stream of ideas and feedback, not actionable data. Be specific and think about the question as well as the answer.  “Would you purchase custom handbags if we were to offer them?” with yes or no as answer options will gauge interest in a specific product.  If 85% of respondents respond positively, you have another data point to launch a new product. 

Incentivize customers to take it

There’s always a debate about giving people a reward for taking an action. The fear is that some will cycle through the survey just to get the coupon, discount, etc.  But by giving customers a reason to take the survey, the response rate will increase, translating to more thoughtful feedback.  When people are going to get something “at the end of the rainbow” they are more likely to take their time and answer the questions thoughtfully. 

Leave room for open ended feedback

As mentioned above, keeping your surveys focused is important. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give customers an opportunity to give more honest feedback outside the scope of the survey topic.  By adding a “Is there anything else you’d like to let us know about?” question, customers have another outlet to give positive or negative comments.  You’ll have to physically read through these, but some great information can be gleaned, and your customers will feel you are truly listening. 

Keep customers informed

This might be the most important part of the entire survey process.  It’s easy to offer a survey, take the data and leave customers in the dark from that point on.  That’s a mistake.  Keep customers informed of changes their feedback has influenced when you can. Customer loyalty continues to decline, so seizing any opportunity to make customers feel connected to your brand is important.  Reference the survey, indicate that you’re listening and taking action they wanted.  Customers will feel closer to the brand and empowered that their feedback was powerful.  

Have you used an online survey to gather feedback? What have you learned and what changes did you make (or not make) as a result? 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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