Today, more and more companies around the world understand the importance of really knowing how their customers and prospects view their organizations. They also realize that customer viewpoints can change quickly.

So how do you keep informed of your customers' opinions? How do you know they're continually satisfied? How do you know that they value your company? Or that they feel appreciated?

Gathering this data objectively, accurately and quickly can be difficult. Yet it's critical in today's competitive marketplace.

Customer information usually comes from within a company. While this information may be useful as one data source, it's seldom accurate and can vary across departments. Typically, customers and prospects are not honest when speaking with company personnel. Add to this human filters, interpretations and individual agendas… and the end result can be misleading.

Surveys, properly done, can provide companies with the customer information they need to remain competitive. "Properly done" is the operative phrase. To gather customer data correctly, several critical decisions must be made:

  • In-house versus outsourced
  • Survey versus quality monitoring
  • Objectives
  • Survey design

In-House Versus Outsourced

Only the largest enterprises can obtain objectivity with their own surveys. Consider the auto manufacturer who conducted three identical service-related surveys simultaneously. Professionally designed, the surveys generated the following:

  • One-third, conducted by a dealership, achieved very low response rates because customers did not want to "confront" a local business.

  • One-third, conducted by corporate headquarters, achieved higher response rates because customers felt they wouldn't be identified.

  • One-third, conducted by an independent third party, achieved the highest response rates.

The bottom line: people want to discuss their experiences and opinions—they just don't want to talk directly with the company. Large companies, which can obtain a significant representative sample, have the option of conducting surveys in-house. Midsize and small businesses are best served by outsourcing.

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Angi Fisher is COO of Contact 101 (, a quality-monitoring service company. Reach her at