Written by: Heidi Capodanno, Director of Customer Experience, Union Savings Bank
There’s not a single small business owner out there who wouldn’t jump at the chance to get inside their customers’ heads. After all, to understand exactly what customers are looking for and to predict what they might want in the future would be invaluable. While there’s no magical way to read your customers’ minds, you can create a great survey to help you better understand your customers and what is important to them. As long as they are well thought out and carefully planned and executed, customer surveys can be gold mines of critical information for small business owners. Follow these 7 steps to create the best customer survey for your small business.
Step 1: Decide what you want to gain from your survey. The most important thing to keep in mind when creating a customer survey is that your customers are doing you a favor by completing your survey. It can be very easy to lose sight of this fact; after all, this feedback should be used to improve your customer’s experience. Knowing that you have your customers’ attentive eyes (or ears), don’t be tempted to pepper them with questions on everything from A to Z. Be considerate of your customers’ time and you will receive honest and thoughtful feedback.
Decide on a singular takeaway that you hope to gain from your survey to help you stay on topic. Ask yourself, “What is the one question I want to be able to answer about my business once this survey is over?”
Figuring out what you most want to learn and setting survey goals can then help you determine what type of survey you should use.
Step 2: Choose your survey format. Surveying your customers can be done in several different ways using a variety of resources and techniques. Some of these techniques depend on your small business budget while others are based on your customers’ comfort level and the type of information you want to receive.
After reflecting on what you hope to learn from the survey, start thinking about how your customers could best communicate their thoughts. Could they easily narrow down responses with multiple choice questions or do they need open fields to provide detailed feedback? Your desired survey format can be created easily with a do-it-yourself tool like SurveyMonkey or by investing in a company that specializes in developing and executing customer experience surveys which can include in-depth phone calls or live chat messaging.
Now that you have an idea of what information you are looking for and how you think your customers would best respond, it’s time to select what type of customer survey you want to use. If you are looking to evaluate customer loyalty and advocacy, a Net Promoter Score survey will be your best bet. If you want to know more about your customers’ purchase process, whether in-store or online, go with a post-purchase or customer satisfaction survey. If you are a service-based small business, you might want to conduct a customer service feedback survey.
Step 3: Map out your timeline. Before you spend days or weeks writing questions only to realize that your survey is now outdated, take the time to map out your full timeline. If you are basing a decision like introducing a new product line or opening a new location on the response to your customer survey, make sure there is ample time between the completion deadline you give your customers and the first planning stages of your next venture.
From there, it should be fairly simple to work backwards, marking important intervals along the way. Those intervals may include reminders to complete the survey, resending the survey if conducting via email and deciding when to place rounds of follow up calls. Of course, the key points in your timeline will be when you launch the survey, when you collect results and perform survey analysis, and when you report on your findings, if you decide to share that with your customers. And if you are sending a post-purchase survey, decide how long after a purchase customers can form an opinion. If you own a restaurant, the sooner the better, but if you sell industrial equipment or provide educational services, you might want to give your customers some time to experience your product. Best practices also suggest avoiding sending surveys during holidays and other times of the year when your customers may be less attentive.
Step 4: Write your questions – and start with the answers. You might be surprised to find that writing the actual questions for your survey falls down to Step 4, but a successful customer survey takes lots of advanced planning to produce the most reliable response. With your main goal in mind and your survey format and timeline laid out, it’s time to start developing your survey questions, beginning with the answers.
This does not mean that you should frame your questions in such a way that your customers only have one real way to reply. Your questions should leave no room for misinterpretation. This strategy can also help you cut down on repetition because you can already visualize how your customers will arrive at each conclusion. Apply a process similar to the one you followed in Step 1 and boil every item on your survey down to a single answer. For example, rather than starting with three questions about where to open a new location for your small business, start with the conclusion that yes, your customers want a new location or no, they do not. From there, try creating a decision tree to illustrate how your customers would arrive at either answer.
If you are using an online tool like SurveyMonkey, you might want to consider conditional questions which allow customers to move through your survey more quickly by skipping questions unrelated to their experience. For example, if you want to identify a customer concern within a specific timeframe, begin your survey asking if customers visited or called your business on a certain date. If they answer no, they can either be sent to another question or the survey can be terminated. Remember, your customers are doing you a favor by participating, so making their experience as smooth as possible will serve you in the long run.
Step 5: Test your survey, then test it again. Just as you (hopefully) proofread each email and marketing material you send to customers, you need to check and double check your survey. Do all of your questions make sense, both grammatically and chronologically? Are your questions easy to understand and your instructions explicitly clear? Inspect your survey a few times yourself then pass it along to your coworkers, friends and colleagues. Select people who have varying levels of familiarity with your small business to ensure that your survey is as clear and concise as possible. Rectify any significant issues or errors then ask a select few people to check it again to make sure it’s ready for distribution.
Step 6: Planning to incentivize? Proceed with caution. There are many scenarios and types of surveys that make incentivizing your customers to participate a great idea. However, when it comes to a Net Promoter Score survey or other measure of customer loyalty, proceed with extreme caution. Incentivizing can be misinterpreted as leading your customers to a desired response rather than their real and honest one. If you are looking for feedback on your customers’ most recent purchase, however, incentivizing with a discount or product trial can be a great way to boost response rate.
Step 7: Launch your survey, and start analyzing the results. The day has finally arrived to launch your small business survey, and you deserve to congratulate yourself for getting here. A lot of time, thought and effort has been put into this process. Now you can sit back, relax and watch the responses (or phone calls, or live chat messages) roll in.
Depending on the size and demographics of your customer base, you might be able to start performing survey analysis right away, identifying trends and pulling context out of the data. If you require a larger percentage of responses or have a small, diverse customer base, it’s probably best to wait until you close the survey or place your last call or message before extrapolating data to avoid misleading feedback in your survey analysis.
When you have gathered all of the data you need, you can start evaluating the responses in comparison to the goal you set in Step 1. You will also want to decide if you plan to share survey results with your customers, and if so, how. If your survey was distributed in order to help you resolve a known issue, you should make sure that you include an action plan along with the results.
Conducting a small business customer survey is an excellent way to help you weigh a decision, solve an issue or better serve your clientele. If you carefully match your goal, questions and survey format to your customer base, you will likely find yourself with a wealth of information that will ultimately help you improve your small business.
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