Have you ever had the feeling that you are being ‘surveyed out’ by companies, especially after purchases or perhaps after dealing with their customer services? While I remain an advocate for finding out what makes a customer ‘tick’, my recent customer experiences in this area have made me question the company’s strategy, for example when I am sent a disengaging feedback form.

In short, where is the value on both sides of the fence in that? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush: most companies are making the effort to understand their customers, but some are still missing an important opportunity to get this area right for their business to maximise benefits and keep customer loyalty.

The four main benefits of survey marketing

The benefits behind businesses using survey marketing can be seen as:

  1. Cost saving – especially in the use of electronic data i.e. through handheld devices vs. traditional paper forms  
  2. Customer reach – the ability to gain insights from your database and targeted audience
  3. Flexibility – the crossover of different ways to engage with the customer i.e. mobile, online
  4. Anonymity – providing the chance of a more honest and unambiguous response

The above points are valid from the business’ point of view, but the tricky part is hooking your captive audience and getting the responses you need from your customers. This is where the thinking needs to happen.

Sending out a meaningless survey is not only bad for business but will reflect negatively on the brand and turn people off quickly. Recent opinion from customers suggests that 66% prefer to give feedback by actively reaching out to organisations rather than spending the time filling a form out that they have been sent. The short term message it would seem is to keep things snappy and relevant.

On the theme of ‘snappy and relevant’, my most recent experiences with surveys have been varied.

In the last month I took out a new contract for myself and my son from a well-known mobile phone company and on completion of my phone call was sent a survey via SMS. The content within that was short, concise and from their point of view probably all that was desired from me.That works for a one-off conversation, but do I really need to have the same link sent to me every time I speak to them? In my opinion, this then becomes more a tick box exercise for them than a personalised experience for the customer.

Contrary to that, a couple of months back I was staying at a popular hotel chain on the last night of a holiday with my wife. The hotel was good but a miscommunication with their driver (who had decided to finish early) left us stranded in town and unable to get back to the hotel for quite some time. When we finally did make it back the manager was apologetic, gave us a couple of free drinks and made sure we had a car in the morning for the airport.

A couple of weeks later I received a link for feedback about my stay at the hotel and thought I’d try it. I wish I hadn’t. It was probably the longest list of questions and sub-questions I have ever been asked to fill out. It’s not a surprise that customers don’t always attempt them.

Building effective surveys

With past and present experiences in mind, it made me think again about the basics of effective surveys. It should come as no surprise that the market space is filled with companies telling how you should do this and opinions on how to create an effective survey and, of course, those that will offer to build one for you at a price. You have probably created a survey yourself through the likes of SurveyMonkey, and if you have you will know the following:

  • The number one rule is a clear set of questions, ones that you really need to gain input from (to build analysis) and that will connect with your chosen audience
  • Survey length should not be too long. If the task becomes laborious for the audience and too generalised, don’t expect a good hit rate back. Rather than engaging the customer, you’ll do the opposite. Even if it comes with the promise of a reward at the end, it still might not seem worth completing
  • Have a clear objective – If the title says ‘Customer feedback’ tell me why you need it
  • Tracking without personalisation – lack of building an affinity to the customer or tracking answers will result in poor returns and impact strategic business decisions and the future relationship with your customers

If companies keep to these simple basics then their chances of better, more informative responses are higher. It is always tempting to ask more questions, but less is more. 

Changing the perceptions of surveys

So, how can companies think about the future of surveys and getting what they want from their customers?

The answer is relationship building. The more a customer likes your brand, the more they will buy from you. The more they buy from you, the better the relationship and trust. The survey is a checkpoint to make sure the relationship grows. In recent years, companies have been quick off the mark to build relationships by consistently reviewing their interaction with customers. With an ever increasing eCommerce marketplace, surveys are still seen to be the best open channel to their customer base, as information extracted provides better service, improves training needs of staff and the opportunity for repeat business.

According to Forrester, the Trends in 2016: The Future of Customer Service would suggest that the value of customer feedback is more vital than ever as retailers become more connected to the mobile consumer. Surveys are more interactive now within social media (although the uptake of customers is low), with other data sources through call notes and webchat also being scrutinised.

Software products in analytics using sentiment analysis are being developed to understand emotive or non-emotive responses which can be extracted from sentences, providing results sooner and better customer insights. Although this can be conflicting and require manual intervention to determine sarcasm and filter out positive sentiment where negative sentiment was intended. 

Perhaps companies have created the perception of a survey as an unwanted chore forced on the customer, over the years.

One thing is for sure, surveys won’t be going anywhere, anytime soon. If designed with a clear objective for the customer and a strategic measurement of customer opinions and verbatim over a course of time by a company, the marriage of these will still build a powerful relationship for customer service in years to come.