Planning your customer survey project

So you've decided to conduct a customer survey. Below is an example of what you need to consider when conducting a customer survey with a third party provider. If you decide to run your survey yourself, you may find that clients aren't completely candid or that the interpretation of your survey findings internally is biased. Also, if you run your customer survey yourself, you may find that you've asked the wrong questions, used the wrong scale or can't perform the required statistical analysis due to the poor quality of the data collected.

Know your customer survey objectives

Often the purpose of a customer survey is to identify key customer concerns that may exist or be at risk of emerging. It's important to be clear with your provider as to your objectives.

The overall objectives of the customer survey may be to:

  • identify and manage the key issues affecting your customers
  • measure and monitor the performance of your organisation over time
  • allow your customers the opportunity to communicate openly and honestly with your organisation
  • gain product development ideas or road test new offerings
  • identify leads within other departments and reveal account growth opportunities

You may want to define more specific objectives that relate to your organisation or industry.

Pre-survey: Define your customer survey questions

Your customer survey should contain questions considered critical to the success of your organisation.

If you go with a third party customer survey provider they may have "core questions" for comparative benchmarking within your industry. If the customer survey provider has benchmarking, ensure that the organisations in their customer survey database represent organisations with comparable demographics.

Before conducting a customer survey you will need to define the following:

  • the number of key customers you want to survey
  • which individuals you would like to participate in the customer survey
  • how to secure respondents' participation
  • method of surveying e.g.: online supplemented by a telephone interview to delve deeper into identified issues from the online customer survey or for respondents' convenience
  • which customer demographic information you would like to collect such as location and which products and services they use
  • the customer survey questions you would like to ask and whether they produce quantitative or qualitative feedback, or a combination of both
  • the customer survey rating sale e.g. 1 to 7 (1=Low and 7=High)
  • whether you want to measure the importance of each of the survey questions and secondly measure their impression of your performance on each question

You may also think about how often you'd like to conduct the customer survey. It may be a one off, annual project or even a shorter customer pulse survey. Customer pulse surveys are designed to take snapshots of customer opinions on a regular basis i.e. once a quarter. Unlike full surveys, customer pulse surveys are shorter and a more cost effective and time efficient way to collect customer feedback.

Another thing to think about is how much time it can take for your customers to respond to the survey. You don't want the survey to be in field for too long leading to survey fatigue, but you do want it to be long enough for you to gather enough customer feedback. Too many questions can also lead to survey fatigue.

Pre-survey: Create an accurate contact list

An accurate client contact list with correct phone numbers and email addresses will help to ensure you achieve your response rate target. Start working on the accuracy of your contact list a few weeks before your first round of invitations are due to go out to allow time to improve the details. List/database work can be very time consuming, particularly if you're relying on your busy sales and delivery staff to help you out.

During the customer survey

While the customer survey is running, it's a good idea to run weekly response rate updates. This will help you gauge the progress of the survey. If your customers aren't receptive to the survey invitations, you can incentivise participation e.g. offer a gift for participation. If you're more community focused, you may offer to donate an amount of money to your favourite charity for every customer survey completed.

You may also discover it's difficult to get in contact with your clients, or for them to find the time to do the customer survey. In this case, extending the survey period or increasing the customer sample size may be required. Some clients also have an online survey open for a period, say four weeks, then follow up with those who are yet to participant with a telephone survey component to boost response rates, however telephone interviews can be more costly.

Post-survey: from answers to action

Your customer survey provider will usually produce a report of your customer survey results with a debrief to explain the findings. You should approach the results with openness and brace yourself for unexpected negative results.

Study the customer survey results in your own time to make sure you understand what it means to your organisation. Speak with your survey provider to ensure your interpretations are correct.

If your customer survey provider offers consulting services, it's best to speak to them to prioritise your next steps to address the most pressing issues. Using a consultant familiar with your customer survey makes the process a lot easier than approaching another organisation.

Next steps

  • Repeat your customer survey to gauge whether your organisation has improved from the first customer survey
  • Run focus groups to gain deeper client insights, validate and flesh-out research findings
  • Conduct action planning to translate research into action
  • Celebrate successes
  • Implement improvement initiatives
  • Act on new leads and product development opportunities
  • Report back to staff and clients on some of the findings and improvements underway
  • Issue any prizes or make your charity donations

Contact us for more information on conducting your customer survey.