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How to create surveys that collect effective customer feedback

Businesses need to have a plan before surveying customers. While it is important to gather feedback regarding experiences, it is also important to act on the information received.

Surveys can be tremendous tools for gathering customer data -- if done right.

Some experts say that many companies have lost sight of the survey's purpose. They can be sent too often, are often too long and ask consumers to answer questions that businesses already know the answer to, resulting in survey fatigue. Other times, businesses survey customers but don't actually act on the feedback they receive, or they collect quantitative data without gathering feedback from customers about why they gave that response.

In the next five years, surveys will be gone, said Musa Hanhan, Certified CX Professional and senior director of customer experience at a computer software company. Or, at least, surveys will be in a different form than what exists today.

But, if businesses revisit the purpose of sending out surveys, they may be around for some time to come.

"We just need to get better [at] deploying the surveys we're deploying," said Aimee Lucas, senior principal analyst at Qualtrics XM Institute.

If surveys are designed well, businesses can get direct feedback from customers, said Nicole France, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

Nicole FranceNicole France

"There's a real art and science to using surveys effectively," France said.

Optimal use of surveys

Businesses can get customer feedback from a number of different types of surveys, including over the phone after an interaction with a brand, targeted website surveys, email surveys and social media.

But there's a perception that CX revolves around surveys, and businesses need to look at how they are using the data they collect, Hanhan said. Businesses shouldn't send surveys just for the sake of sending surveys.

Musa HanhanMusa Hanhan

"You have the data, and you need to think about how you're going to use that data," Hanhan said.

While surveys have their place in businesses, leadership needs to be sure to optimally use them. Here are some tips for creating and deploying optimal feedback surveys.

Train employees before deploying surveys

Business leaders should train employees before deploying surveys, Lucas said. Leaders should let workers know what the business expects of them and what kind of CX the brand expects to deliver. When things go well, they should celebrate and recognize employees. And, when things don't go as planned, organizations should find out where the roadblocks are, whether it be management, outdated tools or another issue.

Aimee LucasAimee Lucas

"Don't put the fear of customer feedback into employees," Lucas said. "Instead, give them the tools they need to do their jobs."

Use a variety of quantitative and qualitative questions

Asking consumers to answer a question based on a number scale is OK, but it is also important to have them explain why they answered the way they did.

One of the most common number rating scales that organizations use on surveys is the Likert scale. This scale includes the numbers 1-10, with one being the most negative response and 10 being the most positive.

Here is an example of how to set up a question on a survey to get both quantitative feedback and qualitative feedback:

Quantitative question: Please rate the quality of the meal you received at our restaurant:

1 -- Very bad
2 -- Somewhat bad
3 -- Neither good nor bad
4 -- Somewhat good
5 -- Very good

Qualitative question: Please explain why you provided this answer, giving a description of the taste, temperature and quality of your meal.

Following up quantitative questions with open-ended questions enable customers to talk openly about their experience and provide actionable feedback for an organization.

Include Net Promoter Score question

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a common metric to assess a customer's brand loyalty, and businesses only need to ask customers one question: How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?

Answers are assigned a score from 0-10, with zero being the most negative and 10 the most positive. Customers are then divided into three categories:

  • promoters -- the most loyal group -- scores 9 to 10;
  • passives -- satisfied but not enthusiastic -- scores 7 to 8; and
  • detractors -- the group that is unhappy -- scores 0 to 6

Businesses can then calculate NPS by subtracting the percentage of detractors from percentage of promoters.

Net Promoter Score graphic

Avoid bias in survey questions

It's easy for different biases to creep into questions -- and the resulting data analysis. To head response biases off at the pass, it's important to ask neutral questions. For example:

Biased question: How much did you enjoy the service in our dining room?

Unbiased question:  How was the quality of service from the waitstaff in the dining room?

In the biased example, the question assumes that everyone enjoys the service and that the business only wants to know the degree of enjoyment. In the unbiased example, the business asks the customer for information -- positive or negative feedback -- leaving bias out of the picture.

Act on customer feedback

We just need to get better [at] deploying the surveys we're deploying.
Aimee LucasSenior principal analyst, Qualtrics XM Institute

Businesses should deploy surveys with the intent of driving change in their organization. After all, no business is perfect 100 percent of the time. And as customer preferences change over time, it's necessary for organizations to be in tune with customer needs and wants.

Once a company collects customer feedback, it is necessary to analyze it and act on it -- that's why it's important to collect qualitative data. Businesses need to know what the problem areas are before they can fix them.

Don't ask questions for which there is already a known answer

Many businesses include questions on surveys they already know the answer to, which is a waste of both the customer's and business's time.

For example, a customer may get an email thanking them for a recent visit to a store, but when they open the survey, the first question asks, "Did you visit a store?" Instead, consider opening the survey with a question such as, "What brought you into the store today?"

This shows the customer that a business values their time. It also gives businesses the opportunity to collect valuable feedback from customers.

Change up customer survey questions

Many surveys tend to ask the same question repeatedly, regardless of how many times a customer has completed the survey in the past or interacted with the company. Changing survey questions from time to time enables businesses to collect new information from consumers and continue to learn about their experiences to increase customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and customer retention.

Know your target audience

It's important that businesses send the right surveys to the right people.

For example, perhaps an airline seeks customer feedback on the comfort of its first-class cabin, but a blanket survey is sent to everyone on the flight -- including those in business class and coach. Survey results will be skewed, and the airline won't get the data it seeks.

In this instance, it's important for the airline to segment customers into different contact lists -- coach, business class and first class. This way, the airline can create separate customer surveys for each class to find out about the customer experience from travelers in each group.

Email marketing segmentation strategies graphic

Use predictive analytics on surveys

Businesses can largely automate the process of collecting feedback and acting on it using predictive analytics. By purposefully sending surveys to a small population of customers, businesses can project those insights onto a larger population.

For example, an airline may collect customer feedback from a small group of travelers regarding a malfunction with an in-flight entertainment system on a plane and find it was able to remedy a less-than-ideal situation by offering affected travelers free drink coupons or a partial refund on that flight. An airline that uses predictive analytics might see that if the company has the same problem in the future, it can proactively offer travelers those same options before receiving customer complaints.

Alternate ways to collect customer feedback

Surveys are only one way for businesses to collect voice of the customer insights. Here are some additional ideas:

  • Listen to recorded phone calls. Something many businesses already do -- especially in contact centers -- is record phone calls. Business leaders that listen to these conversations can analyze the customer interactions and glean customer feedback for both training purposes and to improve customer experience.
  • Adopt analytics tools. Analytics tools using AI, machine learning and natural language processing can also point to customer pain points. But businesses must first identify why they are using these tools and what they expect to gain from them. A purposeful deployment includes training AI to pick up on certain words, phrases and emotions that may clue businesses in on issues that need to be addressed.
  • Involve customers in creation and testing phases. Customers can help create, pilot and test products and services, giving them the opportunity to provide valuable feedback before they're rolled out to the general population.
  • Use social media monitoring tools. Social media monitoring enables organizations to gather customer feedback online. However, it's important to note that businesses will see extremes. Customers tend to leave feedback showing they're angry or pleasantly surprised with no real understanding of what happened in the middle.

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