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Use Surveys to Get Close to Your Customers

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We all know that it costs less to keep a current customer than it does to acquire a new one. As budgets continue to be pinched and resources diminish, businesses would do well to stop looking at past and future customers, and focus some love and attention on the customers they already have.

Increasingly, an enterprise's long-term viability will hinge on the strength of its customer relationships. But just as we don't wake up one day with abs of steel, a strong customer relationship requires dedication and commitment.

Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges of getting close to your customers has been purely logistical. But online tools now make it easy to gather insight into what makes your customers tick; how you can better meet their needs; and, hopefully, what other products and services you can provide for them.

Often a simple online survey is an effective way to do just that. When you've made the decision to start getting closer to your customers by using online surveys, it's important to remember a few rules of the road.

KISS (Keep It Super-Simple)

One of the biggest mistakes people make when designing an online survey is making it too long or too complicated.

To create a successful survey, you want to keep it simple. Questions should be very clear, and the answer choices should be easy to understand. Make sure you spend some time thinking about the survey's flow. Ask yourself the following: Do the questions progress in a logical and thoughtful manner? Is there a central theme to the survey, or does it cover too many issues?

Once you think you've nailed it, take the survey yourself. Chances are you'll probably see a few things you can improve.

Make your survey fun

An online survey is a great way to show your company's personality. You can enliven your survey with a theme (sports, holidays, etc.) and use related language and themed artwork to grab your customers' attention. Even the smallest touches can leave your customer with a smile and, more important, remembering your company well after completing the survey.

For example, instead of having consumers complete the survey by clicking on a Submit button, why not name that button something else? A race car-themed survey—"let's move ahead into the future"—might end with the Submit button renamed Step on the Gas!

Make the survey easy for your customers to use

Make the exchange of information simple. Try to keep required fields to a minimum so it's easy for people to participate. Be careful not to use an unnecessary CAPTCHA, a type of challenge-response test used online to ensure that a computer does not generate the response.

Remember, the easier it is for participants to submit their information, the more you will learn and the better your customers will feel about interacting with you.

Allow customers to skip questions that don't apply to them

Have you ever been filling out a paper form and come to a section or question that says, "If this question does not pertain to you, please skip ahead to the next question"? Online surveys allow you to show and hide questions based on how customers respond to other questions on the survey. This is a great way to keep surveys short and usable while ensuring that you capture the information you need and your users don't abandon the survey before they complete it.

Use your data

When creating your online survey, it is just as important for you to determine what you will do with the data collected. Creating a survey and not acting on that data is a waste of your time and that of your customers.

So, how can you act on the data? To start, know why you are creating the survey and what you will do with the answers once you receive them. Make sure you tell your customers in clear and concise language at the beginning of the survey what you plan to do with the data.

Also, once customers submit their responses, send them a confirmation email to let them know that everything was submitted properly. Some form providers even allow you to customize email responses with information that was submitted. That provides your customers with a record of what they submitted and shows them that you are focused on listening to them.

Finally, if your survey draws negative responses to certain questions, route them to people who can act on them quickly so your customers know you are responsive to them. Plan for negative responses, and act promptly on all responses that need your immediate attention.

* * *

In summary, online surveys are a great way to stay in touch with your customers and build strong, long-term relationships. It's best to take the initiative now to ask your customers what they think than to wait for your competitors to do it.

With this knowledge, you will be well on your way to creating an environment that helps you achieve the maximum lifetime value from your customers.

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John Wechsler is president of Indianapolis-based FormSpring (, which provides ways to collect and manage data online. Reach him via

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  • by Mitch Glasser Sun Sep 6, 2009 via web

    I applaud you for encouraging businesses to listen to their market using surveys. However, one addition I'd make to your article is to recommend engaging the assistance of a professional researcher who knows how to structure a questionnaire and write clear, unambiguous questions.

    Poorly written questions can be interpreted by a respondent to be asking for information or opinions other than what the author intended. They can produce invalid, often misleading information—a condition rarely evident by simply looking at the data. You run the risk of drawing the wrong conclusions from the information, sending you off in the wrong direction in your product designs, promoted benefits, or a host of other dead ends. Don’t risk investment in a professionally developed product or service to market intelligence that is not created likewise.

    Just as you would never hand your accounting to someone just because he is a self-proclaimed wiz with Quicken for his home finances, so too should you not entrust the gathering of critical market knowledge to someone not professionally trained in the field. Given there are dozens of books and articles written specifically about writing questions and constructing questionnaires, this activity shouldn’t be left to someone simply because they have a Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey account.

    Mitch Glasser, Principal
    Glasser Research

  • by John Wechsler Fri Oct 23, 2009 via web


    I concur. As with most things in life and business; a little research can go a long way - whether through the help of a professional or via a little "self-enlightenment."

    Thanks for your comments.


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