How To Effectively Survey Your Customers

Written by Ian Landsman · 12.22.2022

Last week, we talked about how to measure the effectiveness of your customer service efforts. We don’t want to just talk about providing delightful support, we want to prove we’re doing it, every day, for every customer.

One of the tactics we mentioned briefly was a customer survey. You’ve seen them before – most often, questionnaires asking you about your experience, sometimes in return for an incentive such as money off a future purchase or an entry in a drawing. But surveys aren’t just about asking how well something went, they can also be helpful in assessing what your customers want in the future.

Of course, your survey only works if it’s written well, people complete it, and you learn something from it. We’ll cover those points today.

Why Survey?

Successfully working surveys into your customer relationship can be incredibly insightful and beneficial to your business’ ability to provide what current customers are looking for and make future customers’ first impressions increasingly more positive.

These surveys can be introduced at a variety of points:

  • After a predefined period of time in which the product or service has been in use
  • After a question or request has been addressed – hopefully well – by your team
  • After a customer has chosen to change their service, whether upgrading, downgrading or canceling the agreement they’d previously selected
  • On an as-needed basis, as your product/service iterations are being considered

Surveys allow you to quickly identify what’s working, what’s not, and what unanticipated consequences occurred when you made certain choices developing your product or service. They can also inform you on directions you need to take as you evaluate various efforts, from branding, marketing and sales to product development, customer service and retention.

And of course, on this blog, we’re all about customer service. Quality service keeps customers happy. Happy customers are more likely to stay with your company and make more purchases. They have the potential to be brand ambassadors and advocates. And they can teach you a lot.

So, let’s hear from them!

How To Write A Customer Survey That Works

Surveys can provide valuable insight, but only if constructed in a manner that appropriately questions the participants and allows them to provide appropriate and accurate answers.

Don’t lead your customers’ responses. The question isn’t “What made your experience good?” It’s “How did you feel about your experience?”

Write questions that are actionable. Have a goal or an intent for every question you pose to the customers. If you’re not going to be able to change a system you have in place, don’t ask your customers how they feel about it. Don’t waste their time.

Use questions that are easy to answer. Were you able to find what you needed? Did you use (feature X)? Was your problem addressed quickly? Provide optional message sections for customers to add context if they want to.

If you are providing multiple choice answers, give the appropriate options. Consider these:

  • I loved your service!
  • It was okay, but I wouldn’t sign up for it again.
  • Your service did not provide what I need.

“Love” is a strong word. What about the customers who felt satisfied with your service, just enough to remain subscribed – but not enough to imply it nears perfection? What option would they choose?

The above is a simple example of how poorly written surveys can dramatically skew results. No, maybe you don’t have a tremendous amount of customers who are head over heels for your product. Or, no, you don’t have six dozen moderately satisfied customers who are destined to depart when their contract ends. But you didn’t leave an option for the in-between, so you’re about to either take no action (because they LOVE you!) or scramble because (panic) they’re all about to leave.

Use the appropriate amount of questions. Your customers probably didn’t have time to contact you to begin with about their problem or question. So taking up more of their time is tricky. Surveys should be brief. Keep it simple. Can you get away with five questions? Maybe eight? Identify what information is most important for you to get, and focus on that. Don’t bury the point you really want to know at question 13.

Consider context & access point. When and where your customer is accessing the survey matters.

For instance, if you’re surveying a customer as they’re leaving your website or ending a live chat conversation, you’ve got a very limited amount of time. They’ve already indicated they want to go somewhere else. Keep it quick. Meanwhile, if you’ve sent a questionnaire to their inbox – one they can access on their own free will, at their convenience – you can get away with a few more questions requiring lengthier response.

But wait, there’s more! Consider what device your customers are viewing your survey on. Checking a multiple choice box is easier than writing a story when your customer is using their cell phone while standing in a moving subway car. Your website data can help inform you about your customers’ device preferences.

Motivate your customers by indicating how valuable their feedback is – and consider assigning value to it by offering an incentive. Proactively sending out a survey to ask how your current buyers, subscribers or audience members are doing with your product or service? While created on your time, it has to be completed on theirs. You won’t get a 90% response rate. In fact, you might only get a 10% response rate.

But you will hear from the biggest brand ambassadors about what they love, and even some very helpful people with complaints. Getting feedback from more moderate customers with pros and cons is incredibly valuable, too. Give them a reason to offer you that feedback.

Of course, you might hear some sarcasm, as well.

Remember, letdown customers can be your best educators – and you can make changes to ensure their unhappiness is only temporary.

Segment.Who do you want to reach? All customers? Or a select few?

The truth is, people are more willing to pay attention the more closely you can make your messages uniquely relevant to them.

This means creating surveys for specific segments of your audiences, based on their purchase types, observed usage of your service, or other factors that allow you to create specific questions about how you can provide a better customer experience for each audience segment. One buyer’s needs are different than another’s. The questions you ask may be, too.

Following the tips above will help your audience be able to provide you with useful feedback you can act on. And when you act on it, they’ll know their feedback had an impact.

Analyzing Your Survey Results

Conducting a survey is only worth your time and your customers’ time if you actually pay attention to the responses and learn something from them.

Consider these points:

  • What are common themes that have emerged? Are there improvements requested repeatedly? Certain customer frustrations that seem to repeat across completed surveys?
  • What are the most extreme responses, good and bad? Are these customers who have been seriously engaged with your products and services or are these outliers you haven’t heard from before? While you don’t want to let the extremes skew your perception of your overall survey results, you should examine the validity of their stories and their responses, and see what can be learned.
  • What changes to your service protocols can you make, and what efforts are involved to make these improvements? Prioritize your changes based on their importance and their ability to be introduced effectively and efficiently.
  • What survey responses provided insights that go beyond informing your customer service department? Happy customers are happy when what you offer works extremely well. Make sure to share what you learn with the appropriate team members companywide. Supporting the customer experience is everyone’s job.

Your customers have a lot to say, if given the opportunity. Take advantage of their insight, because you have a lot to learn.

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Ian Landsman
Ian founded HelpSpot in 2005 with the goal of making every interaction with your customers simple and efficient.
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