Do you have customer feedback on the agenda for 2019? (Hint: you should. Hint number two: It should be on your list every year.). Having conducted tons of customer feedback studies over the years, I’ve identified several things that I think can make or break a study. I thought it might be helpful to share some thoughts with you.
Have A Plan
Make sure you have a very clear idea of what you are trying to learn. Many surveys are launched without an end plan in mind. You should always start with a research brief. Write it out and share it with your team. It gets you and your team focused on your true purpose, your primary objective.
Ask The Most Important Things…and ONLY the Most Important Things
One of the critical things I’ve noticed that separates the good studies from the bad is a willingness to truly invest time in identifying the questions that really matter and then having the guts to ask them.
And, yes, it takes both. It’s important to dig beyond the initial questions that come to mind. Invest the time to discuss with your team what is really important in the customer relationship. Look at past research. Maybe talk to a few customers. Do some real thinking here. And remember to leave some space on the research instrument to allow them to list other things that might be important to the relationship; something you didn’t even think about.
It does take some guts to go ahead and ask. Think about it. You’ve narrowed your inquiries into what you believe are the critical aspects of your customers’ relationships with you – and then you’re asking how if you’re succeeding. What if they say no? What if you missed the mark about the things you thought were important? I ask clients if it’s better NOT to know. Is sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich a better strategy? The current situation exists whether you ask about it or not. Isn’t it much better to ask and learn (and show them that you’re interested in improving the relationship)? The answer’s obvious.
Keep It As Short As Possible
Kind of a collar to the above. Even the most loyal customers will only give your questionnaire a limited amount of attention. Use that attention wisely. When you focus on the most important questions you are respecting the customer’s time and attention. Keep your survey as short and focused as you can. Make it as simple and quick as possible (while STILL getting the information you need) to complete the questionnaire
Ask Questions Properly
This one may seem obvious, but it’s important to say it anyway. Be careful about HOW you ask your questions. After you draft your questionnaire, look for things like compound questions (which should be split into more than one question), questions that use lingo or buzzwords that respondents may be misunderstood, poorly worded questions, etc.
Ask someone else to take survey. Someone else in your company. A friend. A trusted customer. Someone who will tell you the truth. And then take their suggestions seriously. Remember: A feedback questionnaire is another extension of your brand. It’s another contact point with your customers. Do everything you can to make it a positive one.
Ask the Right People
Decide who you really want to respond – and do what you need to do to get your questionnaire in their hands. Don’t just send it to some anonymous person. It should be targeted to a specific person for a specific reason. Again, is it better to have thousands of completed questionnaires when many are form people who really don’t have any true insight into your relationship? Or is it better to have fewer data points, but from the right people? The latter of course.
Allow Open-ended Responses
Be sure to leave space for respondents to add some open-ended responses. This one is sometimes simply unintentionally overlooked . If you have customers that are willing to go a little deeper or tell you something outside the set of questions you devised, why wouldn’t you want to hear their thoughts? You should. Just don’t forget to do it.
Limit “Required” Questions
I know, I know. In a perfect world everyone would answer every question. Well, guess what? This is a less-than-perfect world. But, don’t try to force people to answer questions. It’s a little like a police interrogation. Pushing and pushing someone to answer a question under duress may just get them to tell you what they think you want to hear or answer without thinking. Junk data. If you’re going to force them to answer a question, they may either just pick an answer so they can move on or they might just quit your survey at that point. Either way you’ve probably annoyed them. Not our goal. You might ask: Is it possible that they will give you a truthful answer? Sure. But the problem is that you simply don’t know. You’ve introduced a bit of unnecessary uncertainty or bias into your results.
A better way is to focus in on important questions and allow them the freedom to answer or not. Make it so that they WANT to answer.
Close It Out
In their rush to get the results tabulated and analyzed I’ve seen business leaders forget one (critical) thing. Circling back with customers – those that responded and those that didn’t. Don’t leave them with the empty feeling that you got what you wanted and you don’t need them anymore.
One of the most impactful things you can do is to go back to your customers and do three things: (1) thank those that participated, (2) summarize what you heard (and not just the positives), and (3) tell them what you plan to do with what you learned. Don’t underestimate how impactful this communication can be. On more than one occasion we’ve had our clients’ customers tell our clients that no one had ever done that before. No one ever shared any survey results with them. And that openness and transparency helps grow a stronger customer relationship.
Use The Results
Customer feedback truly requires a commitment. It’s a commitment to ask your customers what they think of you and what’s important to them. It’s a commitment to making the relationship stronger by acting on what you learn. Take the time and invest the energy to truly “hear” and understand what your customers are telling you. Drop the defensiveness.
And, by the way, one of the actions can be to do further research. We have sometimes paired a phone or email survey with follow-up focus groups and/or customer interviews. The idea is that we could learn some broad ideas about areas for improvement through the survey, and then we use the other method(s) to drill down further and more fully understand issues. We find this to be a pretty powerful methodology.
When it comes to customer feedback the BIGGEST problem is not asking at all! But once you’ve decided to ask….do it the best way you can. Make it a useful tool for you, while respecting your customers’ time and opinions. It can be a transformative, customer relationship-strengthening exercise if done well. Commit to doing it the right way and make the most of this valuable tool.