Surveys play a vital role in customer experience (CX) and are often referred to as the “backbone” of a successful program. While there are many ways to gather information from customers and consumers, surveys serve as a very important tool in collecting and managing feedback.
As an experienced CX professional, I can tell you firsthand that most of us—even with operations or marketing backgrounds—often lack formal training in market research techniques or survey construction and administration.
This reality can be a tough pill to swallow and overwhelming for those just starting out. Add to this the shortage of resources needed to bring in survey-related help or expertise, and you’ll find yourself searching for answers about how to design, deploy and analyze a valid survey. These answers might not be found simply through a Google search, as a poorly constructed survey will ultimately point you in the wrong direction and create problems down the road.
So how then is a great survey created, and beyond that, how do you ensure effective usage of the truth that a well-constructed survey provides? CX professionals can position themselves for survey success by keeping a few fundamentals in mind:
1. Focus on a specific goal. There is value in general, small group, transactional and ad hoc surveys, but no one survey or survey approach is effective for all of them. Be precise about the information you want to gather and what you want to do with it. Ask yourself, am I being formulaic or am I asking the most salient questions given the facts I want to uncover? Every survey should be undertaken as a distinct effort and one that deserves individual attention. Even after years of writing and deploying surveys, I formulate a goal statement for each new survey. This helps me stay focused as I proceed to the next steps of survey development.
2. Survey the right people. Even the best survey is of little value if you put it in front of the wrong audience. Make sure you are getting insights from those individuals who can provide you with the facts you seek. If you are in doubt, hold off—the costs of incentives (which are a legitimate debate among survey experts) or additional lists pale in comparison to a survey that is fielded to the wrong customers.
3. Use reminders and deadlines to ensure the highest response rates possible. In today’s busy world, presenting customers with a survey is merely the first step. You’ll want to make sure you do everything possible to secure participation. At the same time, there is a balance between gentle reminders and irritating emails. If your customers are complaining about the number of reminders, stop! Generally, I send out no more than two reminders for quarterly or annual surveys. If you’re responsible for an ongoing, transactional survey, you might consider sending no more than one reminder to ensure that a reminder from one transaction doesn’t cross with an invitation to the next survey.
4. Proactively address survey fatigue. It’s a real condition, and poorly configured surveys are a leading cause. Ask yourself, would I take this survey if I were asked to be a respondent? Is it too long? What would I think of the company after taking it? If you struggle with your answer to any of these questions, your survey isn’t ready to issue.
5. Don’t ask questions to which you should already know the answers. Nothing turns a potential respondent off faster than being asked a question that the surveyor should already know. For example, asking a customer what company they work for not only wastes their time, it also comes across as disrespectful. For our surveys, we extract what we know about the account and customer from our CRM system, preloading the data into the survey. By taking this extra step, we don’t ask our survey respondents needless questions. At the same time, this allows us to segment the data based on region, size of account, etc. and makes our analysis much more precise.
6. Ask objective, real questions. Resist the temptation to sugar coat your survey or pose questions you don’t want the answers to. A few months ago, I took a survey that asked me to characterize my experience using a multiple-choice format, but every choice was complimentary of the company. I’m sure the CX professional meant well and probably was genuine in their enthusiasm, but no one wants to be forced to paint a rosy picture, especially in a survey that reports to be objective.
7. Conduct a trial run. Make sure the flow of your questions makes sense by asking colleagues to carefully take and critique the survey. Ideally, you can present the survey to several objective individuals who can give you an unrestrained appraisal, not only of the structure of the survey, but how it made them feel about the company. Again, this extra step is tempting to skip, but even after years of deploying customer surveys, we still find opportunities to improve the tool in this testing step. Remember that your customers deserve the best survey you can offer them!
8. Use the information you gain in the survey company-wide. Don’t be stingy in your use of the facts you gain through surveys. My team presents the results we gain to various departments throughout the company, leading to discussions with many teams about how the feedback can help better serve customers. Invariably, this also helps our CX team uncover opportunities to align siloed improvement efforts around a more strategic list of priorities.
9. Close the feedback loop. Make sure you act on the findings of the survey with the individuals who matter most—your customers. While most are quick to point out the value of addressing any concerns raised by customers, it’s equally important to follow up with those who are complimentary. In addition to developing action plans for dissatisfied customers, we ask happy respondents about their willingness to be references. Of course, the other feedback loop is around acting on trends and themes in the data. These help set priorities for the organization to improve, invest in or even lower the investment. For our organization, the executive team tracks trends and includes them as priorities and primary metrics in our operational areas.
10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As noted above, surveys are a discipline. Over time, we’ve expanded our survey organization to include experts on everything from methodology to predictive analytics, to ensure that we focus on the right things. It takes time to get to that level of sophistication, but we would never have achieved it if we did not appreciate the fact that surveys, like any distinct discipline, require deep expertise to perfect.
Surveys are at the core of our feedback efforts. They present us with an exceptional opportunity to discover what our customers think of our products and services, and what their expectations are. More to the point, surveys provide us with the facts on which we base our CX efforts. And in a very real way, the information surveys lay bare is the foundation for the roadmap that lays out where we are going with our programs—all while providing us with the benchmarks needed to gauge our progress along the way.
Because of this critical importance to the organization, it’s important to develop a discipline around the design, deployment and analysis of the survey tool. The long and short of it is that for great CX, you need great surveys.
This blog originally appeared in Customer Think on September 29, 2016.