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Make Customer Surveys Count

Make customer surveys count

By Holly Hammersmith

 In the early 1990s, customer service consultant Phil Bruno noticed that a client was closing one of it’s amusement parks daily for an employee lunch break. While the action made employees happy, it was flat-lining customer satisfaction levels.

“We started on a whole new campaign to serve the guests as opposed to the guests serving the system,” says Bruno, founder and president of Treat ‘em Right. The owners also agreed to keep the park open all day.

“Within three years, we were setting records on attendance, revenue, gift shop sales – you name it,” Bruno says. “Satisfaction was going through the roof.”

Bruno works with organizations to help them create customer experiences that exceed expectations. To do that, companies must gain a strong understanding of how their customers think and feel about their business – and why.

One powerful tool to collect customer feedback, and enact the changes you need to grow your business, is one you’re probably already using: Customer surveys.

“It’s a way to gain two things: One is to gain feedback. The second is to get input on how we can get better,” said Chip Bell, senior partner at The Chip Bell Group, a collective group of customer experience consultants.

Here are some strategies to help you get the most value out of customer surveys.

Supplement with other data

Customer surveys are typically conducted after some ‘experience’ has taken place. But that only provides a “rear view mirror” look at what transpired, says Bell, a best-selling author, consultant and speaker on customer loyalty and service.

“It is dated by definition,” Bell says. “It’s yesterday’s information. When organizations use surveys in concert with other ways to collect customer data, they’re going to get a much more comprehensive and accurate picture of what matters most to their customers.”

Those other data collection methods could include seeking input from front-line employees who are working directly with the customer.

“They are in the moment – and oftentimes, their feedback can be the most important and most valuable,” Bell says. “Now I’m getting a real experience, not a historical way to look back on events.”

Customer complaints are another important source of feedaback.

“When we get a complaint from a customer, we need to know what it’s about and what the focus of that feedback is so that we can learn,” Bell says.

Step into your customers’ shoes

One of the biggest challenges associated with offering customer surveys is making sure the customer fills out the survey. To improve your response rate, Bell recommends writing surveys using language your customers might use. The survey shouldn’t sound like a researcher wrote it.

“It needs to be interesting – even entertaining,” he says. “[Taking the survey] needs to be something I enjoy doing, which means it also needs to err on the side of being short.”

A customer panel can help you craft a survey with the ideal length and language for your audience, Bruno says.

Questions must be worded carefully and in a such a manner that the survey taker isn’t conflicted on how to answer.

“Sometimes companies overwork a question,” Bell says. “You’ll find questions that have double adjectives like, ‘Please rate our service in terms of its accuracy and professionalism. What if the service was totally perfect, totally accurate, but totally unprofessional?”

Customers also want to know that their voices will not only be heard, but that change will happen. To motivate people to respond, Bell says, “You’ve got to provide a way to make the customer believe that their input really matters.”

Consider adding a note with your survey that explains who will be reviewing the responses, and how they will be used.

Set clear expectations

Any time you do a survey, you’re setting expectations for someone, Bruno says. Make sure survey questions do not address areas your company has no control over – or areas that you know will not be changed right now.

“Otherwise you are getting someone’s hopes up that something may change for the better,” he says.

Surveys can be offered in a variety of formats, and promoted through multiple channels in an effort to increase engagement. Start with the channels you know that customers prefer – but don’t be afraid to branch out, Bruno says. “You want to offer every avenue that you possibly can for engagement,” he says.

Incentives can help with engagement, but offer these with caution, Bell says.

“They can be good if customers also believe you’re going to do something with the feedback,” he explains. “If they don’t, and you give them an incentive, they’ll think you’re bribing them.”

Prepare to act on feedback

Not being prepared to handle feedback is one of the biggest problems organizations face when conducting customer surveys, Bruno says.

“Fear of change is a huge problem when it comes to feedback,” he notes. “People get defensive. It might mean change coming their way.

To prevent customer surveys from going nowhere, create a formal process for implementing customer feedback. This can help organizations prioritize survey feedback and get buy-in from leadership.

“As far as leadership is concerned, you should expect that there will be some resistance,” Bruno says.