Sunday, January 16, 2011

How to write customer surveys to produce the response you want

Where I work, we probably have 20-30 different surveys on the go at any one time - largely run by different people, I might add! These range from surveys with specific questions about our products through to surveys about our customer service and the website. These present us with a wealth of opinions and data to aid our strategy. Crucially, many of the answers we’ve received have stopped us from wasting valuable time on projects or activities that customers aren’t interested in.

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of talking to your customers and how surveys can help. I’m going to use this post as an opportunity to share some of the things I’ve learned from this and how you can write surveys to improve your business.

Start with the end in mind
What is it that you really want to find out? The surveys that don’t produce enough responses or yield valuable data are the ones that don’t work towards a specific objective. This is because the people filling in them want logical connections between questions and want to understand what it is you’re hoping to get from the survey. If they have a good idea about what it is you want to achieve, they’ll write more useful responses.

So before you begin thinking about questions, write down what you want to achieve from the survey. From here, the questions will flow and as long as you refer each question back to this statement, you shouldn’t go off track.

Target your responders
Think about the type of people who answer surveys:
  1. Those who love you
  2. Those who have a grudge against you
  3. Those who are neutral and are responding out of the goodness of their hearts (or because they have nothing better to do!)
The type of survey and questions you ask are likely to affect the type of group you target. For example, if you want to find out what your brand’s strengths are from a customer’s point of view, you’re likely to target the first type.

Whereas it’s good to get a range of opinions from all types, the first two here can skew your results, so aim to target a majority of the third type. I guess your next question will be: how do I target that group?

In truth, you can never be truly accurate; however the easiest way is to segment your customers into a group that are most likely to fall into the third category. These are likely be first time customers with one transaction - query your database and pull off a list of customers in this segment and you're away.

If you include an opt-in checkbox on your surveys for you to contact them again with further survey requests, you can then build up a profile of that customer, making them easier to target in the future.

Keep your questions short and personal
Surveys with long questions are the surveys with few responses. Long questions are intimidating and, psychologically at least, demand long answers. People are giving up their time and aren’t anticipating long, wordy questions that require essay responses or could cause confusion – they want to be in and out. So reduce the length of your question, reduce confusion and you’ll get more responses.

Write your questions so that whoever reads them feels like they're the only person being surveyed. This intimacy will produce honest and detailed feedback.

To achieve this, use emotive words and avoid asking anything too generic or patronising. If someone feels like they're just an anonymous customer providing a company with valuable feedback, they're likely to quit the survey or complete it with negative feelings.

Open/closed questions
Use a mixture of open questions, which require opinions and written answers and closed questions, to narrow down opinions. Closed questions are quick to answer and due to this will provide instinctive responses, which are often the most honest. If your survey only has open questions, try not to ask too many, otherwise it'll take ages to complete, which may sway people's decision about taking your next one.

Offer an incentive
Many people’s first reaction to a survey request is to ask, what’s in it for me? A fair response really – why should we expect someone to give up their time for nothing? Offering an incentive to complete the survey will increase the number of responses you receive.

We used to run surveys with no incentive and got very few responses. In fact, our response rate was around 15%. We then began offering discount codes upon survey completion and the average response rate shot up to 40%. In the 18 months following its introduction, these discount codes had been used just under 2,000 times, which has proven to be a very lucrative channel for us!

Act on the data
Finally, one of the things that some companies are guilty of, is receiving survey responses and not doing anything with it. Use the feedback as the basis for change, even if you don't take much of it onboard.

It's also easy to get consumed by negative feedback and concentrate on what you're doing wrong and how to improve it. However make sure that you spend some time focusing on the positives and react to those strengths. If you're being told that you do something well, play up to it and make it better - turn it into your USP and a reason for people to use or purchase from your site.

As a final comment, I use to handle all of our surveys and they make it very easy to set up and distribute. They also present the feedback in a straightforward manner, making it easy to consume and spot trends etc.