Surveys for Small Business: Want to know what your customers are thinking? Ask Them

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Want to know what
your customers are thinking? Go ahead and ask them.

That’s the advice
from some of the country’s best customer experience leaders. But how?

Shep
Hyken, a St. Louis-based customer service consultant
and author, said there is a simple question small businesses should ask
their customers to gauge who would promote their business. “You ask on a scale
1-10, what’s the likelihood that you would refer us to your friends. A score of
9 or 10 signifies a promoter. Another
question should be: why did you give the score you did? You can receive a lot
of good information from those two questions,” Hyken said.

He said
many survey tools are free or inexpensive. “Make sure that you have your customers’
email addresses and email them the survey. Make sure it’s fast and easy,” he
said. “Survey Monkey is free, but Survey Monkey and others have deeper tools
you can employ to achieve better analytics.”

Hyken
said another favorite is: what one thing can we do to make our business better?
“Whether it’s a bad or a good response, it gives you good information,” he
said. “It’s an opportunity to improve on greatness.” He recommended focusing on
the questions owners really want answered.

“If you
have thousands of customers, ask different open-ended questions with different
customer groups,” he said. “I would never ask what they don’t like about your
company. Ask about an opportunity for improvement. You’ll get better answers if
you phrase it differently.” Hyken said focus groups offer an opportunity to dig
deeper into customer thinking on a more personal level.

“A mom
and pop firm should invite specific customers for cookies and lemonade to pick their
brain for 30 minutes. Owners need to be completely prepared and ask pointed,
valid questions about how they can better serve them.” He advised recording the
results, hopefully with a video recorder or tape machine, but at the very least
by taking accurate notes. “Once you have data, what to do with it is the most
important question. What actions is it telling you to take?” he said. “But if
you don’t do anything, it’s a colossal waste of time and money.”

Embrace
the Idea of Feedback

Jay Baer, a customer
experience consultant and the author of: “Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace
Complaints and Keep Your Customers,” said before staring the process, owners
need to really embrace all feedback culturally and strategically. “If you’re going
to solicit information from your customers, know that some will be less than
ideal. But you have to embrace that as a company in order to improve. The most
overrated thing in life is praise. Sure it feels great to hear it,” Baer said.
“But it doesn’t allow you the opportunity to improve.”

Baer, who operates an
online marketing and customer service firm, Convince & Convert, in Bloomington,
Ind., said small business owners need to approach surveys methodically, both quantitatively
and qualitatively. “Owners should consider a larger customer survey and then
face-to-face or phone contacts with at least six customers a month. You do the
surveys to get statistically valid data. And while the monthly conversations
with five or six customers are not statistically valid, every customer’s
opinions are valuable and every one matters. Between the two you should get a
sampling that yields valuable information.”

He said small businesses
cannot afford to get defensive or angry when confronted with negative feedback.
“For the customers, their experience is their truth. The worst thing you can do
is to argue with them. You have to accept their version of events and try to
improve yourself. We’ve found many small businesses don’t answer customer
complaints because they can’t handle negativity.”

Karl Sharicz, founder of Quincy,
Mass.-based CX Partners, LLC, said one mistake that small businesses often make
when considering customer feedback is relegating the task to someone already in
a full-time position, adding to a busy person’s work load. “They go out and
grab a version of Survey Money with no idea how to design a survey or structure
the questions,” he said.

He said many companies create enterprise level tools to manage
customer feedback, but some  may not be
affordable to small businesses. “You don’t have to spend a fortune. You do need
someone who understands the process, how to design surveys and which questions
to ask to obtain the insights you’re looking for. The process of what you do
with that information is more important than the process of getting it.”

The Right Approach

Kylan Lundeen, marketing head for the Provo, Utah-based
Qualtrics, a software research and survey firm whose mission he said is to
democratize the customer experience. “Customer experience usually requires
outsourced third party vendors,” Lundeen said. “Our firm provides the technology
so you can do it yourself.”

Lundeen said most businesses approach customer
feedback incorrectly.“They usually get feedback to learn what’s going wrong and
try to stop the bleeding. And that’s natural. But the best way to approach
customer feedback is trying to discover how your customers feel. You want to
learn which of your customers buy more, shop more often and tell their friends.
The key is to anticipate what your customers want before they ask for it and
create a customer-centric culture. The process is about predicting, delivering
and measuring, and responding to that feedback.”

He said gleaning a representative sampling of customers is key to
assessing the survey’s validity.

“We help them to increase response rates dramatically and assist
in creating the first few questions,” he said. “And instead of asking customers
to take surveys online, build the survey right into an e mail, so they don’t have
to go anywhere or take a lot of time. Some consumers like receiving the surveys
through text mail, even using emojis to allow them to respond faster.”

Dan Ariely, a
Duke University professor of psychology and behavioral economics, said large
companies are very bureaucratic, and experimenting can be difficult for them. “Small
companies can try out lots of small things and observe how people behave,”
Ariely said. “Small businesses should expand their horizons and hopefully find
better ways to do things.”

Karyn
Furstman, vice president of customer experience for Safeco Insurance, said the
first question small business owners should ask themselves before undertaking a
customer feedback program is: “What am I going to do with this
information?”

Furstman, who is chairman emeritus of the
Wakefield, Mass.-based Customer Experience Professionals Association, said many
businesses of all sizes use customer surveys to identify areas that will help
their business improve and grow. “They want to know what they can do to keep
the business they have, encourage repeat purchases and promote positive word of mouth,” she explained.

“If you want to
use feedback to make sure your business is customer friendly, you don’t need
big programs and large budgets. You can do that with something low tech like
comment card or simply asking, “How did we do?”

She said Safeco uses
a short survey shortly after interacting with agents. “We use this feedback to
coach and recognize our people, fix our tools, refine processes, leverage best
practices and act on innovation opportunities.”

Furstman
said most small businesses can do this themselves or hire someone for a
one-time engagement to set up a process of capturing feedback that can be
maintained within standard business processes. “It’s important to have a solid
plan for capturing the data, whether from a formal survey or less formal
methods like one-on-one conversations.”

She said online survey tools like
Survey Monkey, Survey Gizmo and Zoomerang make it easy to create surveys and
questionnaires. “And they often provide guidance on the questions to ask. My
advice is to keep it short, simple and leave plenty of room for customers to share
their thoughts and ideas.”