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How To Use Customer Surveys

If done properly, surveys can tell you a lot about your company.

Surveys. We all love to fill them out, don’t we? It seems, in this electronic age, that we are inundated with requests to fill out surveys for everything from fast food restaurants to our local car dealer. The question is, are these surveys useful? Does anyone do anything with the data, or does it all go to a black hole in the cyberworld and become a waste of everyone’s time?

If done properly, customer surveys can, in fact, be very useful in studying trends and telling us a lot about our company.

The first step is to make the survey useful and one that a customer will fill out. To do so, you need to consider the intent of the survey. What are you looking to achieve? What are you trying to find out? Who will receive it? Have a plan going in so that you are sure to get the information you want.

See examples of two distributors’ customer survey programs.

The next consideration is survey structure. How will you deliver it? We have found that making the survey available online allows a customer to respond to the survey on his or her own schedule. It is also very important to make the survey brief and to the point—your customers’ attention spans are short, and they will not want to fill out page after page of questions. Part of the brevity is in asking the right questions for your type of business. For example, if you are a design engineering firm, focus your questions on the quality and timeliness of your designs and engineering proposals. If you are a forklift company, ask about the product and delivery. Target your questions on what you want to know, whether that is quality, reliability, timeliness, quoting, responsiveness, etc. You have your customer’s undivided attention for only a short period, so make sure you are making good use of that time.

There may also be customers within multiple levels of the same organization, so it is a good idea to spend some time going over your list to ensure you are sending the survey request to the appropriate audience. We have also found it useful to allow the customer to select the customer service person or salesperson they deal with on a regular basis. This is helpful in evaluating performance of your team by individual. It is a good idea to have an open area of the survey that allows the customer to comment. They may want to leave words of encouragement or point out an issue that they have encountered with your company. Either way, this is good information to have!

The real payback from trend analysis comes once you get a couple years’ worth of data to set benchmarks and goals of areas to improve.

There is no right or wrong time or frequency to send surveys—monthly, quarterly or annually may work fine for your business. After you send out your survey, don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a large percentage of customers to fill out the survey. You will be doing well if half of your customers respond. In fact, Key Survey, a manufacturer of Web-based survey software, says that a return rate of about 15 percent to 20 percent is about average for customer satisfaction surveys.

What to Do with the Data
Really, the purpose of any good customer survey is to analyze trends in the data and see if there are any recurring themes or comments. A quick review of the comments field can point out any dissatisfied or upset customers. These should be gleaned and acted upon quickly by calling the customer to address any issues. Color-coding the scores by question is a good way to find trends in your analysis. You can get a feel for how you are doing in different areas of customer service by seeing how your customers rate your company by question.

After analysis, you can prepare a formal presentation of the data and review it with your team. Make the report interesting with graphs and trend lines; do not just regurgitate a bunch of data and numbers. Review the feedback with individuals in your group to point out things that they are doing well and perhaps some areas that need improvement. You really get some payback from the trend analysis once you get a couple years’ worth of data to set benchmarks and goals of areas to improve. Once you have had a chance to share the results with your team and further digest them yourself, it is helpful to take a step back and look at what your customers are telling you from a big picture perspective. Are there root causes of negative feedback? (Or positive feedback, for that matter?) Are there individuals on your team who need to step up their game? What are some direct-action items you can take away from this process? Sometimes, when you are neck-deep in the data analysis, it is not apparent what you need to do to improve your score—and, therefore, customer satisfaction—for the following year.

Be forewarned that customer surveys are a lot of work and take a significant time investment to do correctly. They are very valuable and give frank feedback from customers that you may not otherwise be aware of. If suggestions are taken to heart and acted upon, it is possible to improve the customer survey scores from year to year, which should ultimately increase your customers’ overall satisfaction with your company. After all, taking care of our customers is the most important thing we do every day!

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Jason Effing Meet the Author
Jason Effing, P.E., is general manager of Blue Arc Engineering, located in Greenfield, Indiana, and on the Web at www.bluearceng.com.

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