Survey Says: How to Effectively Use Online Surveys to Improve Your Business

surveyWhenever you make a purchase online, there’s a good chance that the company you bought from will send you a survey to follow up on the transaction. When you receive one of these surveys, what do you do? Complete it honestly? Delete it? Ignore it?

From a business owner’s standpoint, effective surveys are an important part of a successful site. Rather than guess your customers’ wants, needs and opinions, you can go right to the source and find out what they truly think about what you’re doing. However, an effective survey requires more than just sending out a questionnaire asking customers whether they are satisfied or not since, as you know, there’s a good chance it will be ignored or deleted.

Set the Stage

Consumers are inundated with messages these days. The average person receives nearly 100 e-mails a day, many of them “special offers” or surveys from businesses they’ve worked with. If you want a response to your survey, you have to entice customers to do so.

In one sense, a successful customer survey is all about timing. If you are trying to reach professionals or business people, sending your survey early in the morning on a weekday will get you a better response than a weekend message. In fact, weekends are never a good time to send a survey to anyone; you are much more likely to get responses during the week.

When a consumer opens the survey, they should be able to immediately tell how long the survey will take, and how you will use the information they provide. Explain why you’re collecting the information, and how they can help you improve your business.

Should You Dangle a Carrot?

One way to draw in survey respondents is to offer an incentive — perhaps a coupon or code for a future purchase, or free shipping on the next order. Some businesses offer the potential for a significant prize at the end of the survey period. The bottom line is that a special deal can be a good incentive for respondents, but choose your deal wisely and budget for it. If you offer free shipping to survey respondents, for example, you could end up spending more on online postage and shipping costs than you expected, which will eat into your profits.

Ask the Right Questions

One reason that business owners are often disappointed with the results of a survey is that they didn’t design the survey correctly. The questions were unclear or ambiguous, or there were simply too many questions.

If you want to get usable information from your survey, consider the surveys that you’ve completed and what has kept you engaged and willing to complete the questionnaire. In general, the survey should take no longer than five minutes to complete, and should have only a few simple, easy- to-answer questions. For example, you do not want to ask the same question three different ways, or offer too many subtly different response options. A simple scale rating agreement with a statement will provide you with accurate information while keeping respondents engaged. And don’t forget to offer a place for respondents to offer their own comments. What they choose to write in the open-ended response box could prove to be the most useful and actionable part of the survey.

Listening Is the Key

It’s all well and good to design a good survey and get plenty of responses, but what you do with the information is the true key to effectively using surveys. If you’re going to ask people what they like the least about your business, and not use that information to guide your planning, then why bother asking the question?

As survey responses start to come in, look for patterns in the responses. Inevitably there will be outliers — one person who’s disappointed in your service when 99 others love it — but when you see themes, take notice. You might be able to make small tweaks in your operation that will delight both existing and future customers.

Getting customer feedback via an online survey can help you take your business to the next level, giving you accurate, relevant information about your products and services that you might not have access to otherwise. Take some time to develop an effective survey, and pay heed to the responses, and your survey won’t be a waste of time and money.

About the Author: Len Oscarson is a marketing consultant who has worked with dozens of online entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses. He helps them with everything from site design to customer service, and recommends services like to help manage the postage and shipping.