Customer surveys need to be engaging, experts say

If small businesses think about customer surveys as

If small businesses think about customer surveys as ongoing conversations, the results are most likely to be better, experts say. (Credit: Fotolia)

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Consumers don't have a lot of tolerance or time for surveys, yet marketers and businesses are consistently asking them to take them.

After all, it's still a very popular method for garnering customer feedback.

Unfortunately, many surveys fall short, and the challenge for most businesses lies in creating enough engagement and incentive to entice customers to participate and provide honest feedback, experts say.

"They need to think about them as an ongoing conversation with their customers," says Jeanne Hurlbert, CEO of MySurveyExpert, a Baton Rouge, La.-based survey consulting firm. "They need to make it feel like a conversation."

Most surveys are not framed with the customer in mind, she notes. Some start by asking for demographics, like age and income, which can be an immediate turnoff.

A GOOD START

Better surveys begin with an introduction (such as how the business is going to use the information to improve the customer's experience), advises Hurlbert. There should also be some incentive or reward to get them to participate.

Then you need to ask something that's "engaging and focused on them," she advises. For example, businesses can ask what the customer's experience with their company has been, says Hurlbert. Demographic questions should be asked at the end of the survey.

"A survey is an information-gathering tool," says Richard D'Amico, brand strategist and research director for EGC Group, a marketing firm based in Melville. "They've got to be really clear in their minds as to what they are trying to determine, and how they are going to use that information."

Targeting is important. Otherwise, you risk gathering the wrong information and making the wrong decisions based on it, he notes.

USE MORE THAN ONE METHOD

There are various ways to administer surveys. Many are now online, but it's always good to use a mix of methods, including direct mail, says Hurlbert.

Even a telephone survey can be effective.

Monthly surveys are conducted by phone for Senior Helpers in Garden City, an in-home senior care agency, by Home Care Pulse, an evaluation company.

"We do surveys to assess basic care and to be able to provide our clients with the best quality of service," says Laura Giunta, business development director for Senior Helpers.

Senior Helpers receives a detailed follow-up report on how they break down in 12 levels and categories, including physical appearance and professionalism, allowing them to assess areas that may need attention, says Giunta, noting Senior Helpers also does its own bi-weekly follow-up calls with clients.

DON'T BE LENGHTHY

Whichever method businesses use to reach their audience, they should be mindful of the respondents' time. You don't want to ask too many questions -- but you also don't want to ask too little, experts say.

The rule of thumb is three to five questions per minute depending on the expected education level of your audience, says Philip Garland, a vice president at SurveyMonkey, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based provider of Internet-based survey solutions.

Respondents' attention span significantly declines after eight minutes, he notes, adding it's best to avoid using just "agree/disagree" answers. Outcomes are more reliable and valid when using five or seven response scale points, Garland says.

For instance, for the question, "How interesting was the performance?" companies might offer the following range of answers: "extremely interesting;" "very interesting;" "moderately interesting;" "somewhat interesting;" and "not at all interesting," he says.

Fast facts

Surveys should be:

1. Conversational

2. Concise.

3. Customer-focused.

4. Consistent with the businesses needs.

5. Cost-effective, producing a return on the investment.

Source: Jeanne Hurlbert, chief executive of MySurveyExpert, Baton Rouge, La.

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