I am a big fan of surveys. Too often marketers try to use abstract data or personal opinion to define their customers and work out what they want. I find the simplest and most effective method is to ask them.
A well designed survey will help you to clearly define who your customers are, what they like about you, what they think you could improve, as well as offering great product/ service ideas for the future.
This article will look at the software you can use to run your survey and capture the data, the survey structure and questions formats you should be using, questions for you to consider, and finally some general survey “do’s and don’ts”.
Defining the survey’s purpose
The first question to ask yourself should be “What information do I want about my customers?” i.e. what is the purpose of your survey? Is it to find out who they are (e.g. demographics), their likes and interests, what motivates them to buy, what they like/ dislike about you, their opinions on a specific product…etc? Once you have a clear idea on the survey’s purpose you’ll find thinking of what questions to ask comes a lot easier to you. Do you want to find out about:
- Your customers demographic make up
- Your place in the market
- How customers perceive your brand
- Your customer service
- How many customers use your competitors as well
- How people heard about you
- Which features are most important to them
- How you could improve
There are two ways you can go with the survey software, hosted or self-hosted. Hosted software is easier to set up and often comes with point and click branding tools, however they can look amateurish and sit on another company’s domain name.
A self-hosted survey allows for much greater customisation and branding, plus it is hosted on your domain name. However they do require good levels of design knowledge to implement. The three survey software solutions I have used and can judge based on experience are:
Limesurvey: A self-hosted solution which does require extensive design work to brand it as your own. The management tools are a little clunky and it is easier to export the results to MS Excel to analyse.
Survey Monkey & Zoomerang: Although these two hosted solutions do not have anywhere near the customisation options of LimeSurvey, they are far easier to set up and get running. Using a point and click approach, it feels like using desk top software and is a good choice for non-designers. If you don’t have in-house designers, I’d recommend this option, and of the two, I’d lean towards survey monkey.
Survey format & question types
Your survey has to strike a balance between capturing enough usable data to be worthwhile and not having so many questions people don’t complete it. Ask yourself what you will do with the information from each question. If you cannot give yourself a satisfactory answer, leave it out. There are no hard fast rules about survey length, however I tend to try and keep it around the 10 – 15 question mark.
The two broad types of questions found in surveys are called “open” and “closed”. Open questions allow the participant to respond using any answer they see fit, usually in a text input field. An example would be “Do you have any ideas how we can improve our products?” A closed question gives the participant a limited choice of answers to pick from, and these can be a radio button, a tick box or a drop down menu. This website has a nice list of survey question formats.
Open questions allow for any type of answer but are time consuming to analyse, and whilst closed questions only offer predetermined answers, they are very easy to analyse. I would recommend using primarily closed questions, with one or two open questions added to capture data for anything you haven’t thought of.
The way you ask a question and the options you make available can greatly influence the data you receive. Here are some easy traps to fall in to you should avoid:
- Double barrelled questions: e.g.” How useful do you find Widget Inc’s Online Support Database and the email support center?”
- Biased questions: “What did you like about our product?” presumes they liked it.
- Forcing an answer: For example demanding an answer to a closed questions such as “How do you rate our customer support?” without giving the option of “I haven’t used it”
- Weighting the responses: For example, if the choices they have are “Excellent, Very good, Good, Poor”, three of the four answers are positive which will naturally skew the results in that favour.
- Using scale of 1-10: How much better is a 7 over a 6? If you don’t need 10 options, stick with 5 and put a value with each of them e.g. “Very Good, Good, OK, Poor, Very Poor”.
Read more about the science behind setting questions here http://www.greatbrook.com/survey_question.htm
Getting customers to participate
To get your customers to take part in your survey, they must first know it exists. Your customer marketing communications (newsletter, control panel alert, specific email etc.) are perfect methods to drive them to your survey.
A few of your customers will give feedback because they have strong opinions (good and bad) or they have specific areas they want to feedback on, but I would expect the majority won’t take part unless you provide an incentive. Entering all completed survey forms in to a prize draw to win a decent value prize is a tried and tested approach to boost response rates.
General do’s and don’ts
Here are some quick points, to help get the most out of your survey:
- Plan in advance what you will do with the data from each question. This helps trim out any fat.
- Explain the survey’s purpose at the start.
- Put your questions in a logical order.
- Keep scale ratings consistent throughout e.g. 1 = poor in every question.
- Don’t ask people to think back over extended time periods, it is unrealistic to expect accurate answers.
- Don’t put “don’t know” or “NA” as an option in middle (e.g. 3 of 6), it will make statistical analysis a nightmare. Put it as a separate option at the end.
- Pre-test your survey, either within the business or a small sample of customers.
- Give participants the ability to remain anonymous.
Hopefully this should have given you some ideas or pointed you in the right direction for your customer survey. If you have run your own in the past and have any ideas you would like to add, leave a comment below.