Lindsay Willott, CEO, Customer Thermometer: Tips for customer survey tool buyers

1st Jul 2016

In the latest in our series of articles where IT leaders provide their take on the purchasing process, Customer Thermometer CEO and founder Lindsay Willott shares her tips for organisations looking to purchase customer survey tools. 

MyC. What do practitioners need to consider before they start looking for customer survey tools, to determine their requirements?

LW. Practitioners should consider their ultimate goals for the information they collect. It is all too easy when creating surveys, to consider simply the range of questions one can ask, or flexibility the tool offers, rather than the desired change that the business is seeking. Spending time up front considering what the business really needs to know, and crafting a sensible way of getting that feedback, is critical.  

Another important point often overlooked is that surveys are usually sent out in order to assess feedback about, or satisfaction with, something. Practitioners can only fix those issues if the feedback collated is actionable. So in conjunction with the features of the survey tool, the practitioner should start with the end in mind. How will the survey output be used, who will use it, and what remedial action may need to be taken?

Finally, some research up front into new technologies such as enterprise feedback management, microsurveys, poll software; looking at what’s more broadly available in the market, will be inspirational and very worthwhile. Survey and feedback technology has moved on a great deal in the last few years and many options are now available.

MyC. What kinds of questions should they ask themselves?

LW. It’s important to remember in most cases, customers don’t love filling in surveys! Practitioners should therefore ask themselves what the best way to solicit the information they need is, with minimal disruption or negative impact on the customer base. In some cases, surveys have been known to contribute to dissatisfaction, so make sure your program is necessary and important.

Other questions would be, does the organisation have helpdesk, CRM, ERP, HR, or other systems? If so, will the customer survey tool integrate with these systems? This can often stop a lot of heartache further down the line, when it comes to generating  the email addresses that the surveys will be sent to. What is the practitioner looking to survey and does the vendor specialise in that kind of survey? Is the survey being sent in the most appropriate way for the recipient (email, text, webpage, etc)?

MyC. How can buyers convince the CFO that investment in this kind of tool is a wise decision? How can you get buy in?

LW. When conducted well, with the end customer’s real benefit at heart, surveys can expose a number of areas where a businesses’ customer processes can be significantly improved.

This includes uncovering areas where customers can be both acquired, and retained, more effectively. Even a small increase in customer retention can have a dramatic effect on the bottom line. Bain and Company, in conjunction with the Harvard Business School have shown that increasing retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. There are 21 more statistics on the value of customer retention here too.

It is important that practitioners fully understand what they want to survey before they start so that they can present a compelling case to the CFO. The good news is, in the vast majority of cases, customer survey tools can be purchased very cost effectively, so there is often a major upside to be derived with even a small uplift in customer retention rate.

MyC. Are there any particular challenges in the customer survey tool market that buyers need to be aware of? What types of different tools fit within this category?

LW. There is an increasing challenge around survey response rate. Online survey response rates can often be extremely low, especially where customers are unengaged with the brand. This can lead to completely unrepresentative outcome. The lower the response rate, the greater chance your survey program has of seeing what’s called ‘non-response bias’. The reason for this is that group of people who choose to answer your survey is not necessarily representative of your customer base as a whole. Your survey respondents have been more motivated to take the time to answer the survey than the non-responders.

Most vendors will have seen thousands of different survey programs in their time, so will be able to add a lot of great input from the outset.

As a result this group tends to contain a higher proportion of people who have had either very good, or more likely, very bad experiences. Buyers need to seek solutions and methods that can get as representative a view as possible from customers. They also need to be sensitive to how and when they survey customers to avoid survey fatigue.

Different tools that fit within this category range from online survey tools, text survey tools, IVR survey tools, polling tools and microsurveys through to enterprise feedback management systems. There are also many different ways of measuring customer satisfaction: These include Net Promoter Score, customer effort score, CSAT and many others. It is important to choose the appropriate measurement for the job at hand.

MyC. Once practitioners are at the solution selection stage, what advice can you share to help buyers find the most appropriate vendor and tool for their needs?

LW. Some questions buyers should ask are, how much support does the vendor provide with the tool? Do they have a relevant case studies and examples to share? Does the vendor have a good process, and/or API to get the survey data back into the practitioner’s systems easily? Will the vendor assist the practitioner in running a pilot, to ensure that both the survey tool and the methodology behind the survey work effectively with the target market?

Good vendors will help buyers scope out the project and assist them with advice and the benefit of their experience to give the survey program the best chance of success. Don’t forget, most vendors will have seen thousands of different survey programs in their time, so will be able to add a lot of great input from the outset.

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