Building a Better Customer Survey for Your Small Business Needs

Are your customers happy with the products and services your small business provides? How can you tell? One way is to conduct a customer satisfaction survey in person, over the phone, via email or the Internet. Their answers to your questions can then be analyzed to determine what changes, if any, you need to make to your operation to increase their overall level of satisfaction — and happy customers are the foundation of a successful small business!

If you already conduct customer surveys, it’s a good idea to tweak their content every so often to gain better insights into who your customers, how to improve your merchandise or services and ways to ramp up your marketing strategies to attract a broader customer base and boost your business. If you’re new to customer surveys, you’ll need some guidance. In either event, read on . . .

When writing a customer survey, start by identifying your goals. In other words, what information are you trying to obtain and how will you use it to help your business? The mission of every question you include in your survey is to get you closer to that goal. A few common goals of customer surveys are measuring loyalty, new product development, gauging the effectiveness of your customer service efforts and helping to train staff. You probably have a few goals of your own, so be sure to include them when formulating the questions for your survey.

As for the questions themselves, the more the better! That way you can gather more information and minimize the margin of error. Questions should be as specific and unambiguous as possible. Steer away from those that require only a yes/no answer. Open-ended questions give broader feedback. Leave plenty of space for your customers to elaborate on their response. Scalable questions that ask respondents to rank their responses on a numerical or quantitative spectrum can also be used. Keep in mind that the broader the scale you use (for example, ranking on a scale of 1 to 10), the more specific respondents can be.

With the advent of mobile phones and do-not-call lists, phone surveys have fallen somewhat out of favor and online surveys have picked up the slack. Experts in the field consider them to be more cost effective, less prone to human error and very efficient when it comes to producing data quickly. If you only have snail mail addresses for your customers, consider sending them a post card inviting them to complete your survey online. You can also follow the lead of many major retailers and print a link to your survey on your register receipts and ask customers to visit the site and complete the survey.

The latter approach is a good way to encourage your customers to respond while their buying experience is still fresh in their mind and when you’ll get the most valid read of their mood. And don’t forget that offering an incentive such as entry of their name in a raffle for a high-value item or a discount on their next purchase may motivate them to participate.

Once the responses start coming in, use them to attain your goals. Customer opinions and attitudes — both positive and negative — provide helpful feedback that is invaluable to your small business. Negative comments, such as dissatisfaction with a recent transaction, should be handled immediately and personally by contacting the customer to discuss what you can do to make the situation right. An apology and/or refund can go a long way towards soothing hurt feelings and unmet expectations.

Finally, share the results of your customer satisfaction survey with your partners, managers and employees. That’s the best way for everyone to know what customers are thinking and saying, and it also enables everyone to work together for the common good of the company.

About the Author: Beth Longware Duff writes about small business merchant services, including why you should accept credit cards on your website.