When it comes to figuring out what your customers want to get out of your products or services, one of the most efficient ways of doing so is to simply ask them.
Okay, okay. So it’s not quite that easy.
While you might at first assume that most customers would jump at the chance to have their voices heard, in truth the vast majority of consumers don’t respond to customer surveys of any kind. Surprisingly, a response rate of 10-15% is actually pretty decent; a response rate of just 2% is reportedly the norm across most industries.
There are a number of reasons the response rate of customer surveys is so low, such as:
- Survey questions are convoluted or confusing
- Surveys aren’t delivered in a way that’s convenient to the customer
- Surveys are too long or time-consuming, leading to abandonment
In this article, we’ll address these issues – and more – and discuss the best practices to adopt when creating customer surveys.
But before we dig in, let’s discuss why customer surveys are so important in the first place.
The Importance of Customer Surveys
On the surface, the importance of customer surveys might seem pretty cut-and-dried.
Obviously, by collecting survey responses from your customers, you’ll gain a better understanding of what they want from your company, as well as how well you’ve been able to provide for their needs so far.
But, depending on how you create your surveys – and how you analyze your customers’ responses – you can get a lot more out of them than you might think.
As we’ve mentioned, survey responses tell you what your customers want from your company. But this doesn’t just relate to the product or service you offer; it relates to your customer’s entire experience with your brand. Survey responses can help you gain insight into how various aspects of your brand – such as customer service, customer support, the checkout process, and more – meet the needs of your customers (and can allow you to make improvements wherever necessary).
On the other side of this coin, you can also use customer survey responses to determine what’s not so important in the eyes of your customer. In turn, you can take a deeper look at the cost of these rather unnecessary initiatives and see where your time, money, and energy would be better spent.
Offering your customers the opportunity to voice their opinions also goes a long way in terms of customer relations. When you not only ask your customers for feedback, but actually do something with that feedback, you send a message to those who responded that says you truly care about doing whatever it takes to satisfy their needs and make them happy. In turn, your customers come to understand your organization values them as people, not as sources of revenue.
To summarize: yes, on the face of things, customer surveys allow you to know whether or not you’re meeting the needs of your customers. But, on a deeper level, it’s what you’re able to do with the information you glean through these surveys that will truly make a difference.
Of course, as we said earlier, before you can do anything with this data, you need to actually collect it in the first place. So, let’s get into how to create and deliver your surveys in a way that increases the likelihood that your customers will respond.
Best Practices for Customer Survey Questions and Design
In the following section, we’ll discuss:
- How to define your goals for a survey
- How to create the survey and survey questions in an effective and efficient manner
- How to deliver the survey to your customers
Let’s get started.
Defining Your Survey’s Goals
First things first, you need to have a purpose when creating and distributing a customer survey. Otherwise, you might not be able to do anything with the information you collect, as it will likely be too broad and not very focused.
There are a number of questions you can ask yourself to help define your goals for a specific survey. We’ll begin by listing these questions, then we’ll dive deeper into each one, providing examples along the way.
The questions you should ask are:
- What do you want to know? Why?
- Which customers do you want to ask? Why are these individuals the right ones to ask?
- What will you do with the information you glean? How will this information improve your operations?
Let’s start from the beginning.
What Do You Want to Know, and Why?
The answer to this question will set the stage for the rest of your survey (and beyond), so it’s essential that you spend some time nailing down exactly what you hope to learn by sending out a survey.
Common goals for customer surveys include:
- Understanding target customer’s wants and needs
- Determining overall customer satisfaction
- Determining customer satisfaction in terms of a new feature or service (or change in service)
- Pinpoint areas in need of improvement
- Uncover differentiators within your organization or industry
While understanding all of these points is important in the long run, you should also determine why learning more about one specific point is so crucial at a particular point in time.
For example, perhaps you’ve noticed a drastic uptick in instances of cart abandonment. While this likely means your customers are facing an issue regarding your online checkout process, sending them a survey would help clarify exactly what the problem is.
Or, maybe you’ve gained a decent amount of new customers via your referral program in recent months. This would clearly mean you’re doing something right, and that others in your industry aren’t doing this “something.” But, until you actually hear it from your customers, you might not be able to determine what that “something” is.
In any case, before you begin creating a survey, you need to have a clear idea of what you want to learn from your customers, and what you’re going to be able to do with what you learn.
Which Customers Should You Ask?
To get the most out of a customer survey, you want to create it with a specific customer persona or segment in mind.
While, ideally, you get as many people to respond to your survey as possible, you definitely want the people it applies to most to have a high probability of responding.
Let’s go back to the examples from above:
If your survey focuses on cart abandonment issues, you’d only want to send it to those who had abandoned their cart in the past (targeting customers who logged in, loaded up their cart, and left before finalizing their purchase). If you send this survey to everyone on your mailing list, those who hadn’t faced these issues wouldn’t really have much to say – but sending them such a survey might bring these issues to their attention, which is the opposite of what you want to do.
Similarly, if you’ve noticed an increase in customer evangelism and want to determine what, exactly, these evangelists love about your brand, you’d only want to reach out to those who have recently made such referrals. That way, you’ll already know your respondents love your brand, and will be able to focus on why.
You could also develop surveys that focus on specific demographics or other segments, as well.
The point is, the more relevant a survey is to a specific customer, the more likely they’ll be to respond – and the more reliable their responses will be.
What Will You Do With The Information You Discover?
So, you’ve determined what questions you need answers to, and you’ve figured out exactly who among your customers will best be able to give you these answers.
But what are you going to do once you get these answers?
While this doesn’t necessarily affect whether or not your customers respond to a survey (since it’s the step that comes after they’ve responded), it does affect your relationship with these customers in the long run.
We said it earlier: by taking action based on your customers’ responses and comments, you make it clear to them that you truly do care about them and want to provide them with the service they deserve.
And, on your end, if you aren’t focused on what you’re going to do with the survey responses you get…well, there’s no point in sending out the survey in the first place.
Now, you of course need to be realistic when making improvements based on survey responses. First of all, you won’t be able to please everyone with the improvements you make; some customers may be impossible to please. Secondly, the suggested improvements customers have made may be outside the scope of what your company can currently offer.
While, in a perfect world, you’d be able to meet the needs of every one of your customers, you need to accept that it’s probably not going to happen – at least right away.
Rather than using the information you glean from these surveys to completely overhaul your operations, look at which aspects of your service can easily be tweaked to better suit your customers’ needs. This way, you can continue to test and fine-tune areas in need of improvement, working to determine the absolute best course of action.
Creating Your Survey and Survey Questions
Once you know why you’re sending out a survey, who you’re sending it to, and what you’re going to do with the information you learn from the responses, you’re finally ready to actually create your survey.
When writing your survey questions and putting them together into a single document, it’s essential that you:
- Be brief
- Create a flow
- Stay focused
Remember that the response rate for customer surveys is low as it is. Failure to adhere to the above criteria will all but ensure an even lower response rate.
On the other hand, a survey that’s quick, easy to understand, and focused will likely come as a welcome relief to your customers – hopefully making them more apt to respond.
Think about it – when was the last time you took time out of your busy day to fill out a lengthy customer survey that clearly would take more than ten minutes to complete?
Now, this isn’t to say your customers definitely won’t want to complete a rather lengthy survey. But you don’t want to ask questions ad nauseum, either.
A number of studies exist that attempt to determine the “ideal” survey length. The problem, though, is that – since surveys are given for a wide variety of reasons – it’s nearly impossible to nail down a finite number with regard survey to length (either question-wise or time-wise). Really, it all depends on your industry, your audience, and your purposes for conducting the survey.
However, what has been proven is that, in general, the more questions a survey asks, the less valid the respondent’s answers actually are. This is because respondents tend to spend less time on individual questions as the overall length of the survey increases, and they also experience what researchers refer to as survey fatigue.
So, even if respondents do complete a lengthy survey, there’s a pretty good chance that they may have glossed over certain questions and not truly taken the time to answer them with sincerity.
Now, not only is it important to keep the survey as a whole short and sweet, but you also want to make sure the questions within the survey aren’t too lengthy, as well.
For one thing, longer questions inherently make the overall survey take longer to complete. As we just discussed, the longer the survey takes, the less likely your customers are to complete it.
Furthermore, longer questions have a higher chance of being misunderstood by respondents – especially if their wording could have been much clearer.
Consider the following question:
“How would you say our team of customer service representatives was able to meet your needs the last time you came into our store?”
Clearly, this could be much shorter and more to-the-point, reading something like:
“How would you rate our customer service department’s ability to meet your needs?”
Or, rather than a question, you might even decide to make a statement:
“Rate our customer service department’s ability to meet your needs.”
By whittling away at unnecessary verbiage, we were able to cut fourteen words from our original question without losing any meaning whatsoever. In turn, our customer will be able to quickly understand and respond to the question and move on to the next one.
Create a Flow
As we just discussed, making your survey complicated or confusing is going to make your customers not want to complete it (and even if they do complete it, their answers may be the result of said confusion).
To avoid confusing your respondents, make sure your survey flows in a logical, well thought-out manner. This might mean grouping together questions that revolve around the same subject (such as customer service), or asking questions about the customer experience in a sequential manner (i.e., greeting/intake —> customer support —> checkout process).
By framing questions in such a logical manner, you’ll help your customers get back into the mindset they were in throughout their experiences with your company. In turn, this will help mitigate instances of bias such as primacy effect or recency effect.
Flow can also be created – or interrupted – by the way in which questions are asked. For example, constantly switching back and forth between statements (e.g., “Our return policy was difficult to work with.” and questions (e.g. “How would you rate our customer service?”), while not all that confusing, may still cause your respondents to do a double take from time to time.
Switching question structure may also affect the response options you provide, as well. Using the above examples, a high score on the first question would be a bad thing, while a high score on the second would be good. But if a respondent doesn’t take a second look at each, he might choose an answer he didn’t mean to choose.
We’ve alluded to this point a lot throughout this article, so we’ll just offer a brief reminder of how important it is to have a purpose for your survey, and to stick to it.
Whatever your purpose is, make sure your questions deal directly with the specific customer experience that aligns with said purpose. If you’re looking to improve your checkout process, there’s really no need to ask about your customers’ level of satisfaction with your return policy.
Any questions that don’t relate to the purpose of your survey detract from the survey as a whole – and make it that much more unlikely that your customers will complete it.
In fact, you might consider letting your customers know why you’ve enlisted their help in the first place. If your customers know, for example, that your goal for the survey is to determine how you could improve your checkout process (rather than offering a generic survey to gauge overall customer satisfaction), those who have experienced problems with your checkout process may be more willing to tell you about their troubles.
With regard to the questions you ask, you definitely want to be as specific as possible. Focus on a single topic – and a single aspect of that topic. This will help you avoid asking double-barreled questions and making other survey faux pas – and will maximize the validity of your respondents’ answers, as well.
(Remember: You can always follow up specific questions with the option for your customers to provide an open-ended explanation of their response.)
While it’s definitely important to keep your purpose in mind when creating a survey, it’s just as important to keep your customer’s in mind, as well. Remember that they’re taking time out of their busy day to help you.
While you’ll ultimately pay them back by improving the services you provide them, you can pay it forward by making it easy for them to complete your survey in the first place.
Delivering Your Survey
Once you’ve created your survey, and you’re nearly certain that it will accomplish exactly what you want it to accomplish, you’re ready to make it available to your customers.
Assuming you’re distributing it online (which you should be!), you have a number of options for doing so:
- Email invitation
- Landing pages or lightbox overlays
- Web link (distributed via social media, SMS, or other channels)
To determine which method would be most effective, you’ll need to dig into your existing engagement metrics to find your most active channels and your website’s most-visited pages. Or, more specifically, you’d want to find the channels that the people your survey is targeting use. That way, you don’t just get eyes in front of your survey – you get the right eyes in front of it.
One last thing to consider is when you send out your survey (if using outreach methods such as email or social media). Again, there’s no single optimum time to send out a survey; it depends on your industry, your customer demographics, and other such factors.
But, one thing that we can say is, you should avoid sending out surveys during times of the year in which people in general are typically busy, such as the holidays.
You’ve worked hard to create a survey that will ultimately help you improve your organization in some way or another. Make this final push to make sure your customers can easily provide the input and insight you need to make it happen.
As we said in the intro, asking your paying customers what they actually want is such an obvious strategy that it often goes overlooked. But, as is the case here, the obvious answer can sometimes be the most efficient.
But, you still need to approach your customers strategically in order to get the exact answers you’re looking for.