April 21, 2016 | InBrief

10 ways to improve your next customer experience survey

10 ways to improve your next customer experience survey

Surveying has been around a long time. Before we had web analytics, social media, or data warehouses, we had surveys. With today's technology, brands can be connected to their customers like never before. Yet despite this world-shaking shift into the digital age, for many customer experience practitioners (us included, we fully admit!), surveying still remains a favorite method of data collection. The popularity of surveys makes sense. A survey allows your organization to gather a lot of valuable insight in a relatively short amount of time. Survey results can easily be turned into appealing spreadsheets and charts. Surveys can also inform a large scale shift in customer strategy. We're not here trying to kill off surveys. Quite the contrary - we would like to make surveys better! We want to help rid the world of surveys that suck. Here's our list of 10 tactics for writing a good survey:

1. Identify the purpose of your survey

The survey's purpose should be direct and concise, and your organization should easily be able to describe that purpose. We recommend that a survey measure a specific aspect of the customer's journey. Longitudinal and all-around studies are best left for more in-depth primary research methods (think focus groups). It's fine to build a suite of surveys that each measure a different purpose. After you draft the questions, an easy first step is to decide which questions do and don't directly address the stated purpose.

  • Good: Banking survey to measure only the loan application experience. Uber survey only measures the ride experience.
  • Bad: A hotel survey that asks about the check-in, if travelling for business or pleasure, the room amenities, the housekeeping, the pool temperature, and everything plus the kitchen sink

2. Right-size the survey for the situation

Think about the experience you wish to measure, and the amount of data it will necessitate. Good surveys are contextual within the transaction the customer is doing with you. They are not all-encompassing. A good, general measure is to limit surveys to 3 pages, or under 10 questions. If you are trying to ask more than that, you should break it up into multiple surveys. All too often, we see surveys being used to replace more in-depth data collection methods like customer interviews, focus groups, or customer panels. Or on the flipside, we see surveys being used to collect data that can be mined from other existing sources, and thus shorten the overall length. Don't bug your customers for information that you already have!

  • Good: Apple offers to collect your device and diagnostic information electronically before you arrive at the Genius bar.
  • Bad: A survey that is longer and trying to dig into everything, I rate less than “satisfactory.” Use journey mapping to gather this information!

3. Test it

Gain honest feedback from someone you trust, and do this exercise both within your organization and outside. Ask the simple question – “was this annoying?”

  • Good: A website that offers for you a “thumbs up/thumbs down” and write why during any portion of your visit but is completely optional

4. Tailor it to the customer’s journey

Think about the customer’s intent in the situation. What was your customer trying to accomplish when they interacted with your company? For example, if they’re contacting the support line, asking about the agent’s behavior is misdirected. The customer was trying to solve a problem. Ask them about that problem, what led them to need help with it, and how they feel about the resulting outcome.

  • Bad: Any survey that asks "what did you come here to do today?" Instead of that question, try to meet the customer halfway. Suggest and let them correct - “It looks like you were trying to _____ today, is that right?”

5. Don’t air dirty laundry

If you think about it, many surveys indirectly say “we care about our own needs more than yours.” This occurs because surveys are frequently developed as a result of some internal research or improvement initiative. Or they’re used as a policing effort (I’m looking at you, franchisors). Your survey should not reflect the internal projects or challenges at your firm. It should be strictly focused on the customer, and written from the point of view of what the customers are trying to do. Outside-in data is incredibly useful to inform your internal priorities, but it should be designed in a way that focuses on customer outcomes; not checking an internal box.

  • Bad: A survey that says “we’ve been investing in our shopper experience. Did you notice a difference?” (Also, this is a leading question and will bias your responses)

6. Reflect your brand positively

In everything from the visual design, the verbiage, and even the flow - leave the customer feeling better about your brand after taking the survey.

  • Good: Using surveys to reinforce your brand’s positioning. Quick, high-touch, fun, dedicated – whatever it may be.

7. Wait for the right moments

Please, please, don't push a survey with every transaction. Your most loyal customers will get them too often - and guess what - may get exhausted. Once something occurs that you really could learn from, they will be sick of seeing it.

  • Good: An airline surveys passengers on a flight that was delayed.

8. Always provide a way to get in touch

Remember comment cards? It used to feel so satisfying to use a pen to check those boxes and write down your feelings. Then you would put it in that little metal box and walk away knowing that you shared a piece of your mind. Guess what – the key to open that box departed 2 managers ago. Customers shouldn't feel their responses are going into a black box, never to be read again. Any survey should provide a direct and reliable method for a human to follow up.

  • Good: After picking up an in-store order, the app says “tell us how we did” with an optional checkbox stating, “I’d like to somebody to get in touch with me about this.”

9. Make it human

I know it’s tempting to make the survey seem like it’s written by a robot whose feelings can’t be hurt. But customers will feel better using conversational language. Avoid using industry or internal jargon. And please, don’t force me into a weird rating scale. Do you go through life thinking about your experiences in terms of numbers? Not really. People either have a good feeling about something or they don’t. They have gut reactions. There’s no reason you can’t ask questions in a colloquial way.

  • Good: Turbo Tax asks how you’re feeling about doing your taxes and tailors things accordingly.
  • Bad: An endless barrage of questions and Likert scales.

10. Put the data to use

Response data should be layered into everything else you know about your customers. Your organization should also use an ongoing, time-based data store to hold all responses. Beyond simply aggregating and summarizing response data, you should send it to your CRM, use it to refine customer segmentation, initiate quick-win experience projects, and inform future process improvements. Building the organizational infrastructure to act on your primary and secondary research is no easy task, but it’s the hallmark of a great customer experience program.

We think surveys can be better. It is indeed possible to design a survey that customers enjoy taking, even without offering compensation! It's also possible for that same survey to provide your organization with actionable data that truly informs your target customer experience. Here’s to your customers liking your surveys! Of course, if you need help – we’re always here.

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