Create Customer Surveys that Pay Off, Big Time


8 Tips to Turn Customer Insights into Action

Last time, I talked about the importance of customer surveys and the perils of proceeding surveying without a clearly defined plan. I also promised to share my favorite tips for avoiding those surveying pitfalls.

Here they are.

No matter what your industry, the demographics of your customer base, or the survey format you choose, these 8 important steps are geared to helping you ask the right questions, access the most useful information, turn feedback into action, and respond meaningfully to respondents.

  1. Define Your Objectives

You’re probably familiar with the Stephen Covey quote, “begin with the end in mind.” That rule applies here. No matter many amazing, insightful questions you may know you want to ask, you’re not ready to ask them if you don’t have a plan in place for what you will do once the responses come in.

 Sounds obvious, right? But following through on survey results isn’t always easy. What happens if you discover issues that take you by surprise? What if resolving those issues will require new thinking, new process design, or new investments? You won’t be able to cater to every customer whim. But you should be ready and able to analyze the input you receive, report the results internally, make decisions on the best actions to take, and communicate your next steps to all key stakeholders.

A great surveying plan always defines the purpose of the survey itself. For example, are you trying to gauge interest in a new product? Understand reasons for recent attrition? Make decisions about channel enhancements or service delivery methods? Define your survey’s purpose, then stick to it, beginning to end.

  1. Define Your Target Audience and Methodology

A customer’s response is far more meaningful when you know more about who they are, why they use your product or service, how they use it, and what they need and expect from you. If you already have detailed demographics, you won’t need to ask. You can simply target your surveys accordingly. If you need more detail, see below.

Your budget, staff availability, and general organizational appetite for the information will also determine your sample size and the format you use to conduct it. The shortest surveys that are the easiest to complete will, unsurprisingly, yield the highest response rates. Be sure to shop around for the survey software or vendor who can meet your needs and your budget.

  1. Draft Your Questions to Support Your Objectives

I really understand the temptation to add a few questions because, you know, “as long as we’re already surveying them, it would nice to know…

No. It would not be nice. It’s a waste of time for your customer. And it’s a waste of resources for your organization. Stick to the plan and you’ll gain customer data and insights that pay off. A basic survey might include 4 sections:

  • Demographics

Depending on your sample size, breadth of your survey, and budget, you may want to ask a series of demographic questions, in order to better group respondents into different target buyers. These questions might include your customer’s geographic location, job status, family makeup, age, even household income. Just remember to balance your need for information with your customer’s comfort level with disclosing that information.

  • Needs and Expectations

This section is often created in a “scale” format (e.g. “on a scale from 1-5” or “1-10”) and the questions are often framed as “importance” questions. (e.g. “On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being not important and 5 being extremely important, how important is product cost to you?”)

  • Experience and Satisfaction

Here, you find out how well you’re performing, according to the expectations of the respondents. The scale format is often used here, as well. 

  • Open Ended Input

If you’re certain you’ll have the human resources and budget to thoroughly gather, interpret, analyze, and report on verbatim feedback, you might want to ask a few closing, open-ended questions. (e.g. “What else do you want us to know about your experience with us?”)

  1. Test Before Going Live

There will be kinks, wrinkles, and clumsily worded questions. That’s why you wrote it in draft. Run the survey by as many staff members as you can and ask them to give you pointed feedback on the quality of the questions, the clarity of the language, and the ease of completion.

  1. Get It Out There

This is the easy part (if you’ve done your homework).

  1. Gather, Analyze, and Report Results

Most survey software will provide excellent reporting. But the real decision-making – and serious action – happens after you’ve reviewed those reports. What did you learn? How well are you meeting customer needs and expectations? What do you need to do next? What is realistic? What isn’t?

  1. Create a Realistic Action Plan

If you don’t act on what you’ve learned, you’ve just squandered your efforts.

  1. Thank Every Respondent and Share Your Intentions

This is the step that is so often neglected. Yet it’s one of the most beneficial steps you’ll take. This is where you solidify your relationship with each customer you invited to respond, whether they did respond or not. When you circle back to your respondents, you’re showing your appreciation. You’re also demonstrating that you are serious about serving them well, reliable in your commitments, and committed to making improvements.


by Bobby Matthews
Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing
Skybridge Americas


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