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Customer surveys: The five Rs to ensure actionable responses

19th Dec 2012
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Larry Freed from ForeSee outlines five best practices to help you harness the power of online surveys and avoid 'survey fatigue'. 

Time today is precious and let’s be honest, if we’re going to sacrifice some of it to complete a survey, it’s going to be for a company you know and respect, who asks us politely and where you think there’s some benefit for you in doing so. Not a financial benefit, but the opportunity to improve the way that company does things in the future, because you like engaging with them and you can think of ways they can do better.
That said, every so often, questions bubble up about the best way to measure the voice of our customer without placing too much of a burden on them in the process. Pre-internet methods are less than ideal: phone surveys during dinner; mystery shoppers; painful focus groups in return for retail vouchers or £100. Online surveys represent a powerful way to collect information when the old ways are failing, but some worry about 'survey fatigue'.
The reality is that customer experience metrics are critical for companies who want to drive future business and financial performance, and the only way to measure the customer experience is to survey customers. As an industry, we’ve got to figure out how to get good information from customers without driving them away.
When online surveys are done well, we find that customers gladly take them. Our clients across sectors find that generally 5-25% of sampled customers complete the survey, meaning customers want to share their insights if you ask them in the right way.  
Here are five Rs on how to harness the power of the online survey:
Be Respectful: Be sure your survey is delivered at a suitable time, not at a critical or distracting point in your visitor’s online experience. Also make sure they’re an appropriate length - our research indicates that if customers know they’re sharing their opinions for a good cause, they will give you thee to three and a half minutes of their time.

The time it takes them to complete a survey is far more important than the number of questions you ask them. And don’t ask them for a bunch of personally identifiable information (PII), especially if you are going to use it to market to them. Always let them opt out and decide not to take your survey. It should be simple and obvious to click yes or no and either share their opinions or not. If they decline, don’t ask them again for a few months.

Be Relevant: Ask them about them and their experience. Ask questions that make sense. Don’t assume every visitor to a sports website is male and give them a market research survey about quintuple-blade razors. Worse yet, don’t ask age and gender of site visitors and then give a 43 year-old male a survey about handbags.
Be Real: Don’t trick your customers. Don’t tell them you want their opinion in order to improve their experience if you’re really looking to upsell them or get their feedback on an advertiser. Don’t try to mislead them about the length of the survey, or the usage of the data. You will lose their trust.
Be Results-Oriented: If you’re going to take your customers’ time by asking for their opinions on your business, make sure you know what to do with it by implementing customer analytics tools that actually allow you to improve your business. Here is where short surveys can really let you down. Your customers are complex; we aren’t going to be able to gather actionable insights with a couple of questions. 
Where you can add value to your business is when you use the customer intelligence you are gathering to take action and improve the experience for the consumer. That’s a win for the consumer (and you). They’ll notice you’ve listened, and appreciate it.
Be Random: It has to be random to be representative. While the idea of opt-in feedback sounds nice because people can choose if they want to give you their opinions, you only get the squeaky wheels — the people who love you and the people who hate you. You have to randomly intercept customers during their experience to get actionable intelligence. You’re still giving them an option to share their thoughts or not — they can always decline the survey.
While most of our own clients conduct their research in this manner; some do break fundamental rules. Some intercept their customers at the wrong time, some insist on long surveys, some mislead customers about why they’ve asking the questions in the first place. However when they follow the five Rs, our clients see very high completion rates which buck industry averages and fly in the face of any popular notions about survey fatigue.
Some exciting developments are taking place too, which we will watch for 2013. With the advent of mobile survey technology, you can prise highly valuable feedback from customers almost effortlessly by making it really easy for them to provide that feedback simultaneously while using an app or accessing a website on their mobile device.
By providing detailed near real-time insight, businesses can now map their strategy more closely to customer needs and developments such as these revive the tired notion of the online survey and show how when asked appropriately, customers are still prepared to answer.
Ultimately, the survey is only a tool. A business can be transformed through customer experience analytics if the data is accurate and actionable, and you have to invest in a good tool to get robust data. Surveys are not the end goal; they are a means to an end and ultimately, it’s what you do with it (the insight) that counts.
Employ a precise, reliable, accurate, valid, sensitive, and actionable measurement technology, and the end is better business.
Larry Freed is president and CEO of customer experience firm ForeSee

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By carojcooper
07th Jan 2013 13:33

Point 4: be results orientated, particularly resonates for me. You seem to get 2 extremes of surveys. Those where you really want to see an improvement (my local gym comes to mind here) but the info they ask for is all yes/no, and there’s no opportunity to give any detail. As you say, of little value in determining what to change. Then at the opposite end of the spectrum there are those that seem to want everything but your inside leg measurement (exhibition / events follow ups seem to be the worse culprits) where you think you must be at the end and then you get yet another page of questions. Sometimes I carry on just for the shear curiosity to see how many Q’s there are, but I think your average respondent would give up far, far sooner.

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