How to make the most of customer surveys

Employment & Skills | How To

Written by Lorraine Rough, Kantar TNS

Customer surveys are a powerful tool in a company’s arsenal, helping them to understand how they’re perceived, what they’re doing well, where they can improve and what opportunities exist to upsell.

However, customers can often feel inundated by feedback requests. With so many brands jostling for attention, how can you make sure that your survey stands out, respects your customers’ time and delivers the insight you need to inform decisions?

The key is to gather feedback in a way that isn’t seen as intrusive, annoying or complicated.  Our experience shows that a third of people will abandon a brand they love after just one negative experience – and that includes customer surveys.

It’s a fine balance between being user-friendly and ensuring you get the right level of detail.  Here’s how to do it.

Make it count

Firstly, keep feedback requests relevant and explain what benefits customers will get from responding.  They shouldn’t feel like they’re filling in surveys because an algorithm has asked them to do so, but that their answers will make a difference to the business and the service it offers.  Think of your survey introduction as an advert.  This is the point at which you have to convince someone that what you are about to ask is worth their time.

Engaged customers are more likely to feed back genuinely useful information.  To maximise the relevance and value of the insights gained, base questions around experiences which they will have had recently and make sure each is different from the one before – nobody wants to feel like they’re answering the same point repeatedly.

Telling a story

Levels of survey fatigue are increasing.  Keeping things pithy and fresh.

The key is a good narrative: having a clear beginning, middle and end turns a random set of questions into an interesting story that people can follow and shows progression and intent.  Behind every survey is at least one main research question which can be used as a hook to draw respondents in and help them see the relevance of the exercise.

For example, a questionnaire about a customer’s experience can be teed up with an overarching, almost philosophical opening question like ‘what is the secret of a great financial services product?’.  This approach makes it more interesting for consumers to go on and answer questions about specific technical features like the website, advice functions and branding without seeming slapdash.

In it to win it

Make your survey fun.  Multiple choice and ‘disagree, agree and strongly agree’ style surveys are simple to create but repetitive and boring for respondents.  Instead, for example, look at how a dull task can be gamified and apply this to how you ask your questions.

Research shows that people respond well when there is an element of challenge or competition: setting responses against a time limit, giving people a target number of responses to hit or by introducing role play exercises.  For example, at Kantar when we asked respondents ‘Imagine you could design your perfect shopping centre.  What shops would you have in it?’ the number of retailer brands they listed almost tripled compared with the blander wording: ‘List your favourite shops’.

However, people shouldn’t be forced to play.  We know that making sections of a survey voluntary can actually increase engagement compared to questionnaires where all the phases are mandatory.

Games also reward participation and survey writers can learn from this too – but this does come with a word of caution.  Incentivising is a double-edged sword, while it might encourage responses, it can also lead to users taking part purely for the prize.  However, winnings don’t need to be tangible, learning something new, solving a puzzle or being entertained – all these things can be an award for individuals taking a survey.  For example, research shows that by demonstrating to people how their responses compare with others, respondents take up to 21 per cent longer considering their answers and give more insightful results.

Read between the lines

Ultimately, customers are there to voice their opinions – not tell you what you want to hear.  Give them the best opportunity to do this by facilitating more flexible responses.  This doesn’t mean lengthy free-form text boxes, think about things like voice notes, video, photos and even emojis.  Not only is this more interesting, these kinds of qualitative and descriptive replies get closer to people’s emotional feelings about a business and its services.

It’s important for businesses to consider which response type is appropriate for different devices.  While surveys need to be accessible by every user and device-neutral, one size doesn’t always fit all and giving people options is important.   

Stay on brand

Remember, the last impression you leave is often the most enduring and no one wants to undo great customer service by sending out a damp squib of a survey at the end.

With that in mind, approach feedback gathering in the same way you approach any other customer engagement.  This means getting the messaging right, staying true to your brand values and maintaining the tone your customers expect.

And breathe

This all sound like a lot – but refining your approach should be an iterative process, not a single overhaul.  As a starter for ten, concentrate on in the moment responses as these produce better quality answers, higher response rates and the chance to fix any immediate problems your customers see.

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