Customer Surveys

This section provides a 10-step process and best practices for effective customer surveys:

10-Steps to Better Surveys – Treat the survey like any other process.  Invest the time and effort to plan ahead and you will benefit from accurate and actionable survey results.

1.   Connect the Dots – Document how the survey will contribute  to your organization’s mission, strategic plan, or other key objectives.  Doing so will yield better survey questions and help prevent ‘scope creep’ – attempting to obtain more information than what was originally intended and thereby reducing the quality of the responses obtained.
2.   Stay on Target – Identify the target population, those people, organizations, etc. you want to survey and base you decisions upon.  Are they existing customers?  Potential customers?  They might be customers in a specific geographical region or market segment.  When surveying employees, be sure to consider confidentiality of results.
3.   Do the Math – Determine your budget, the number of respondents and how the data will be collected, stored and analyzed.  A random sample of 30 respondents is often more than enough to obtain good information about your target population.
4.   Build the Bridge – Determine the incentive or reward offered to respondents for completing the survey.  Incentives could be a $5 coupon to a coffee shop, a free admission ticket, or cash.  The longer it takes to complete the survey the larger the incentive should be.
5.   Practice Makes Perfect – Develop a draft of the survey and conduct a pre-survey among using a small (5-10) group of detail-oriented people.  Ask them to take detailed notes regarding completion time, readability, clarity of questions, etc.
6.   Know Before you Go – Before disseminating the survey, identify the actions to be taken once the results are tabulated and analyzed.  Obtain agreement from all stakeholders.  For example, if the survey results indicate 9% of respondents rate customer service as ‘poor’, what would you do?  Is this good or bad?  Is it enough to warrant immediate corrective action?  Whose job is it to fix it?
7.   Do the Do – Create and conduct the survey, send one or two completion reminders for those that have yet to respond.
8.   Survey Says! – Analyze and summarize the results.  Publish to all stakeholders.  Thank those who contributed to its success.
9.   Take Action – Don’t let the survey report sit on the shelf.  Use the report, make decisions, and change how the work gets done in your organization.
10. Survey Debrief – What worked well?  What can be done better next time?  Is a follow-up survey required?  Were there any survey respondents that indicated they would like to be contacted directly for additional discussion?

Best Practices and Tips
1.    Shorter the Better – Your survey objectives can be achieved with a 1-page survey (8-12 questions).  The longer the survey the fewer completed surveys you’ll receive..
2.    Obtain Unbiased Sample – Randomly selecting those who will complete the survey will help ensure accurate results.  Also, be careful surveying employees as a proxy for actual consumers.
3.    Avoid Double Barreling- Ideally, each question should reference one subject.  Consider the following question: ‘Rate how often the doctors and nurses treated you with respect.”  The question asks you to rate both doctors AND nurses.  It is not uncommon to have very different perceptions of during the same hospital stay.  By creating separate questions for each profession your continuous improvement efforts will be more focused. 
4.    Avoid Jargon – Are the terms or acronyms in your question job, industry, or culture specific?  Are your respondents likely to know what they mean?  For example, ISO 9001 is commonly known among quality professionals to be a quality management system.  The general public does not knows this and would not be able to provide an informed response.
5.    Collect Actionable Data - The survey responses and results should tell you exactly what to do next.  Rather than using a traditional ‘Poor’ to ‘Excellent’ scale to rate customer service, consider a rating system that states how often a desired behavior or outcome occurred.  For example, for the question Did customer service treat me with respect?, responses would be never, sometimes, usually, always, or did not interact with customer service
6.    Emphasize Quality over Quantity – The quality of the questions, responses, format and readability of the survey are far more important than the number of completed surveys.  A small number of responses to a well-written survey is superior to 1000 responses to a poorly-written one.
7.    Scrutinize ‘neutral’ responses – In keeping with the goal of collecting unbiased and actionable data, neutral responses like ‘neither satisfied nor dissatisfied’ leave both the surveyor and respondent scratching their heads to wonder what it exactly means.  In those cases, provide the respondent the opportunity to explain what changes to the product or service would make them ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied.’
8.    Provide open-ended responses – A respondent’s open-ended comments (when they can write whatever they like using their own words) are to be treated like gold.  Valuable information lies within the words they choose and how they use them.  Leave enough space to write them and offer them the opportunity to write about things not captured in the closed questions – you may have missed something.
9.    Be clear about what your asking - Consider the following question: Is there a staff member that you would like to recognize?  Believe it or not, a very common answer among some populations is “Yes.”  Not very helpful information and not what was intended.  A better worded question: Is there a staff member that you would like to recognize?  If yes, please write the name of the staff member and your comments in the space below.
10. Understand Correlation vs. Causation – Survey question responses may be highly correlated.  As one goes up, the other may go up or down.  To understand what causes a survey response to be lower or higher requires a designed experiment or some change to the underlying process.
To learn more customer survey best practices and receive a free 1-hour consultation, call or email us today!  We will be glad to provide feedback on a draft of your survey or answer questions regarding the survey process.