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.

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