The art of surveying is as alluring and detailed as it is mysterious and misleading.
Why a survey? It’s a terribly important question that can easily be under appreciated. It would be all too simple to say “the goal is always to improve customer satisfaction” but in fact that’s not necessarily true. Goals may be internal to the company. The ‘why’ should therefore inform the ‘how’. Further, the size and structure of the company, the complexities of the product and service mix, the demographics and many more factors play important roles in the success of a survey. Keep reading for some references to help sort through these issues.
For example, for large global organizations, keeping it simple may be the most effective use of a survey. Take the Net Promoter Score, developed by Fred Reichheld, as an example. This survey asks one question. How likely would you recommend the company’s product or service to a friend or colleague? High scoring results are ‘promoters’, low scoring are ‘detractors’, with ‘passives’ in the middle. After subtracting the % of detractors from promoters, you have a score that tells you how many people enthusiastically endorse your product or service. Ok, so it’s a barometer of customer satisfaction, but it won’t lead you to the reason for success or failure. Still, it’s a great first step for a large organization that needs to find ways to zero in on hot and cold areas of the business. You’ll find case studies and loads of information from their website for more on NPS.
On the other end of the spectrum, it may make sense for highly engaged customers to participate in more complicated and lengthy surveys. There are of course software companies who use statistical analysis to help you make sense of the results. MarketSight is one such company that can do that with cross tabular data and which can interface with other software like SPSS and SurveyMonkey to name a couple.
Jumping back to the why informing the how, how will you act on the results? I am reminded of working for my grandfather’s business and how they treated every customer who walked in the door as the most important person they had ever met. He had the luxury and the curse of being in a business that did not attract casual shoppers. These were industrial and commercial customers who needed something, usually right then, but if left alone, would breeze through the store and leave because there was simply too much inventory to easily display and hundreds of thousands of items available by special order. So they asked every customer “what can I help you find” or “is there something particular you were looking for”. Then, if they didn’t have it, they would try to find something in the store that would do the job. As a last resort, they would offer to special order. But no customer escaped the survey question. Calls would go on hold if a customer appeared to be leaving the store without a purchase and without being asked what they were looking for. The business, in it’s infancy, needed to grow to survive, customers were encouraged to talk at length about their needs. Every time a product was mentioned that wasn’t carried in the store, it was circulated to purchasing. It didn’t take more than two mentions before that product would find it’s way to the shelves. Knowledge was as valuable as price and availability. We kept a directory of people and businesses who performed services we didn’t so that when a customer mentioned needing it, we would respond with one or more potential solutions. While we didn’t formally have a process for following up with those customers, we often asked returning customers what their experience was like with the referring business. If it didn’t go well, we made a note of it and sometimes removed the business from our directory.
Best of luck and success in your surveying!