In my blog last week, I discussed the question of When Is a Survey Too Long?  In this week’s blog, I want to continue a discussion about the elements of creating a good customer survey and a good survey process.  If you are conducting surveys, either in your company or working with an outside vendor, I want to pose the question, “Would you take your own survey?”  If the answer is “No,” continue reading this blog.  Even if it is “Yes,” you will likely find some useful ideas for future surveys. 

There are three areas I consider when working with clients to create a feedback process that works and surveys that engage your customer:

Approach: Fundamentally, I am trying to create a process that engages customers so I can learn from them.  I am not simply designing a process to get some predetermined information that I think is important.  What I want to know matters less than what the customer wants to tell me.  While I may have some areas of interest I want to explore through the survey, it is most important to create opportunities for customers to let me know what matters to them. 

Keeping this approach in mind is especially critical when doing product or service satisfaction surveys.  Our firm works exclusively with b-to-b companies.  Most often, the products and services sold by our clients are complex.  As am example, I may start designing a survey thinking about the purchase drivers that I think are important and/or my client thinks are important.   Quite often, when we test the survey, we find that some of the purchase drivers are not nearly as important as thought.  Customers quickly tell us what really matters and we adapt the survey accordingly.  It is critical to think of the survey as a way to engage customers and not just to obtain certain predefined pieces of information. 

Focus: In my blog last week, I discussed the imperative to have clear and focused outcomes when conducting a survey.  Generally, the fewer outcomes the better as this provides as a long list of outcomes can drive a longer customer survey, which is not easy on your customers.  This brings up the question of what is the appropriate number of questions for a survey? 

I did some research in an attempt to answer this question and found there are no hard rules.  In short, it depends on how difficult customers perceive it.  Difficulty is increased by such as:

Longer instructions.
Asking customers to think about the future or the past (outside of one month)
Ranking questions
Grid questions
Choose a single response

There are others I could list but these are some good examples.  Survey elements such as those shown above as well as others, should be used sparingly in order to create a survey that is easier for your customers.    

Design: Here, I need to talk about phone and digital surveys separately.  If you are doing phone surveys, keeping them as short as possible is critical.  In particular, keep the introduction to the survey as brief but as informative as possible.  Our experience shows that our interviews have just a few seconds upon reaching the customer to engage.  Making the introduction as friendly and conversational is critical.  When I listen to recordings of interviews, I can quickly sense whether the customer is willing to engage.  As I continue to listen to the interview, I can also tell when the customer begins to disengage.  This helps me identify areas where different types of questions can help boost that engagement. 

For email surveys, visual design and ease of use are critical.  One thing we have found that improves engagement is to insert the first question of a survey into the body of the email.  By asking the first question in the email body instead of having a “click here to begin survey,” customers are quickly taken into the survey, which can improve response rate. 

Pay attention to colors used on email surveys.  The less color is preferable because you do not know how the survey will appear on the many devices that could be used by customers.  Using shading does help in creating a survey that is easier to negotiate. 

The next time you draft a survey for a project, take it yourself and grade the survey carefully.  If an email survey, was it easy to navigate and was it easy to answer the questions?  If a phone survey, was the length about right?  Were there points where you engaged during the entire interview? 

Let me know what things you have done and are doing to improve your surveys.  

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