No matter what you’re selling, it’s very important to understand what solutions your customers are looking for, who they are buying from, and why. A comprehensive customer survey can provide the answers to these questions and more.
It is safe to assume that you want to do a better job of serving the customer. But, what is working and what’s not? How do you know and how do you find out?
Customers are a great source of information about what your firm is doing right and where you are at risk of losing them.
A sound understanding of your customers’ experience gives you an advantage over competitors who lack that insight. Find out what needs to be improved and get ideas for new products or services. Fixing what’s important in the eyes of your customers leads to higher customer satisfaction, more sales, better profits, improved retention rate, and increased market share.
To be successful, you must be open to customer feedback. Just having a “gut feel” about your customers’ needs, likes, and dislikes is not a sound basis for making business decisions. Instead of relying on anecdotal information from a handful of customers or sales reps, why not ask all customers through an in-depth customer satisfaction survey?
Gain Insight with a Customer Survey
A good customer survey goes beyond measuring just customer satisfaction. With the right questions, you can gain insight into key topics such as:
- Product satisfaction
- New vs. established customers
- Product applications and usage
- New product needs
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Competitive position
- Best markets
- Who’s the real competition
- Future purchase intent
- Net Promoter Score
- Brand position
- Sales rep performance
- Customer service
Find Out What Your Customers Are Thinking
Which of your products are winners and losers in the eyes of your customers? How do they rate your services? The answers to these questions give you the knowledge to focus on your best products and improve products with low satisfaction scores. It could even make sense to discontinue the “losers” if they’re not part of your core business or worthwhile fixing.
For more nuanced feedback, the customer satisfaction survey can include questions on specific topics such as product performance, ease-of-use, reliability, etc. Think about those metrics that are relevant to how customers buy and use your products.
Net Promoter Score
If you asked only one question, it should be about how likely customers are to recommend your company and products to colleagues and acquaintances in the industry. This is measured by the Net Promoter Score.
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is one of the most common customer experience metrics. The NPS is calculated as the percentage of customers that gave your firm high recommendation scores minus the percentage of those with low scores.
With detailed NPS information, you can:
- Determine customer loyalty by market segment
- Find out which markets or customers you’re at risk losing
- Compare your firm against industry and market sector benchmarks
- Determine cross-correlation with other satisfaction and performance metrics
- Monitor how improving products and services affect your firm’s NPS
Differences between market segments
Not every market segment perceives your firm and products the same way. If you’re serving multiple markets, a customer satisfaction survey can provide valuable insight into the differences between market segments.
Knowing which markets show a high (or low) customer satisfaction – and why – helps to refine your target markets. You’ll be able to determine where your competitive position is strongest and what to do to improve in weaker segments, if it makes sense to do that.
Demand for new products
Don’t limit the customer feedback survey to just “satisfaction” questions. By asking open-ended questions you can dig deeper and go beyond just customer satisfaction. Explore what problems customers are facing and the solutions they’re looking for. This feedback provides valuable ideas for new products, services, or applications.
If you have a new product concept on the drawing board, a survey is a great way to get early feedback and gauge market acceptance.
Also, you might find that each of the target markets served has distinctly different product needs or requirements. This is valuable information for fine-tuning your target marketing and product offerings. Rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach, you’ll be able to offer products tailored for each target market.
A comprehensive survey should include questions about the competition and how your company compares in the eyes of your customers. With the insight of where you stand you can fine-tune your differentiation, positioning, and value proposition.
Ask the right questions about your firm’s position compared to competitors in terms of product satisfaction, product offerings, customer service, pricing, sales rep support, just to name a few.
Also, you might find that your customers are buying related products from just two or three other firms. These are your real competition, not all the other firms in your industry that you thought were competitors.
Strengths and weaknesses
More than likely, you’ve done a SWOT analysis at some time or another. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to be objective about your firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. As a result, SWOT analyses are usually too optimistic. So, why not ask your customers for a more nuanced perspective?
In our experience, customers are quite perceptive and, usually, quite willing to share their thoughts. The verbatim answers to open-ended questions never fail to shed light on what they see as your company’s strengths and weaknesses. Make sure to use this information to your advantage.
Customer experience with sales and tech support
No matter whether you have your own sales force, or sell through distributors or manufacturer’s reps, ask your customers about their experience with sales.
Find out which sales channels are the most effective and hassle-free from the customers’ perspective. You can even find out – and this might get a bit sensitive – which sales reps are better liked and more effective in dealing with customers.
Do you know what your customers think of tech support or customer service? Consider including questions in the survey about product delivery, installation service, maintenance support, etc., to find out what’s working and where you may have to make some improvements.
In a competitive marketplace, hassle-free, effective tech support can be a real differentiator.
How do your customers want to be kept up to date on product information and company news? What is the best way to communicate with your customers?
Some customers like e-newsletters, others prefer print. Some like frequent updates, others don’t want to be bothered at all. And, if they do visit your website, what information are they looking for, and what do they think could be improved?
A customer satisfaction survey can provide valuable insight into how and how often to communicate with your customers. Make sure you provide them the right kind of information when and how they want it.
Implementing the Customer Survey
The hard part of conducting a comprehensive survey is developing the questions and the flow of the survey. The survey questions have to cover what the company wants to find out.
Yet, at the same time, the questions have to be relevant to customers as well. Asking questions that are not relevant or that don’t make any sense is a sure-fire way to get survey recipients to disengage and abandon the survey.
Long gone are the days of pen & paper surveys that were tedious to complete as well as to analyze. With today’s online customer survey tools, it has become much easier to develop sophisticated surveys, including advanced features such as branching. Distribution by email, even to a large, global audience, is very straightforward.
As much as the online survey tools have made it a lot easier, most small and mid-size B2B firms do not have the resources inhouse for questionnaire development, survey coding, and response analysis, such as creating cross-tabulations.
With that in mind, it is highly recommended to work with a consultant who has experience developing, analyzing, and interpreting online customer surveys. Another advantage of working with a consultant is that they keep the customer survey project moving forward, without the risk of it getting shelved due to an inhouse resource’s other priorities.
Keep in mind, you want actionable information. To get a real insight into what your customers are thinking, data collection and analysis are too important to put in the hands of someone who has never done this before.
A few more things to keep in mind
For the implementation of the online survey (developing the questionnaire, coding, sending email invitations, and response analysis), there are many online survey tools that offer a variety of subscription plans and features. You’re like to find one that fits your requirements and budget. For example, SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics, QuestionPro, SurveyGizmo, and Zoho Survey, just to name a few, are worth taking a look at. Many of these online survey providers offer free plans with limited features that may be powerful enough for your needs.
For longer surveys, take advantage of advanced features such as branching to create a survey flow that presents only those questions to a participant that are relevant to them. With branching, the survey automatically directs a participant to a specific section (“branch”) of the survey based on their answer to an earlier question.
Branching is very helpful if the customer satisfaction survey covers multiple products and markets. By creating sections in the survey dedicated to specific products and target markets you can design a survey flow that presents only relevant questions to the survey participants.
Keep the questions simple – Difficult to understand questions take longer to answer, might create confusion, and cause participants to exit the survey.
Phrase the questions in a neutral way – Do not lead the participants towards a more positive (or negative) response. You don’t want your personal bias about a topic to influence them.
Keep the survey as short as possible – A good rule of thumb is no more than 15 minutes. The survey completion rate starts dropping off fairly quickly after that.
Test, test, and test some more – In addition to in-house testing, make sure to test the survey with a number of “volunteer” customers who are willing to review the survey. Use their feedback to simplify questions, improve the flow or cut back on questions if the customer survey takes too long to complete.
Offer an incentive to encourage participation – Consider offering an incentive for all survey participants, for instance, a gift card or a discount on their next order. You could also think of raffling off a bigger prize among those participants who completed the survey. Keep in mind that there may be legal implications in your state with regards to incentives. Also, certain professions (for example, lawyers and government employees) are not allowed to receive incentives of any kind. Larger corporations may have their own policies about employees accepting incentives.
Develop a survey budget – Create a budget, based on the size of your customer list and expected response rate, to determine the cost of conducting the customer satisfaction survey and the type of incentive you can afford. Compare that cost to the value of the feedback you’re expecting to get.
Your customers are a goldmine of information. Don’t let this go untapped. Capturing their opinion through an online survey is a very effective way to find out where you stand, what to build on, and what needs to be improved.
If you don’t have the resources, time or data analysis skills to conduct the survey yourself, consider working with a marketing consultant with experience with these types of surveys.
A professionally developed customer satisfaction survey, conducted by a third party, increases the survey’s credibility in the eyes of your customers. This improves the participation rate. Also, it shows that you are genuinely interested in getting customer feedback.