Survey Says…Online Feedback Key to Success

Lena West

Updated · Sep 18, 2006

It used to take months to plan a survey. There was the matter of compiling questions and getting the surveys printed and mailed. Once the responses were received, someone had to manually tabulate the numbers and then try to piece together the story the numbers told.

Often, surveys were a way for line managers to placate upper management, employed to show that everyone was doing a good job. It was a real numbers racket: get as many people to respond as fast as possible with the goal being to get the highest customer-satisfaction score. It was all so very uninspiring — until the Internet.

In a world where people are bombarded with junk mail and telemarketing calls, business owners have turned to online surveys to get customer feedback because the Internet makes sending, responding, gathering and tabulating survey results so much easier. As more businesses embrace e-commerce, over-the-counter chats become less frequent and online surveys can very well be the sole touch-point with their customer base. Here we provide a round-up of tools and tips for turning customer feedback into sales.

Online Surveying Trends
Two of the most popular online survey providers are SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang. The chief difference between the two is that Zoomerang, which charges on a per-use basis but also has a professional subscription of $599 a year, allows you to use your own in-house list. For an additional fee, you can use its database of survey-participants based on your demographic parameters. SurveyMonkey, which costs $19.95 a month for a professional subscription but has a free standard package, currently does not have a database for its customers to use. (Most sites offer free trials.)

Zoomerang: All the answers come back to you with this online survey tool.

Amy Millard, VP of Marketing at Zoomerang, says that small businesses are becoming much more engaged in obtaining feedback from their customers, vendors and employees. “Online surveying allows small businesses to fight the big guy with an affordable yet sophisticated tool set. They can now get democratized feedback quickly for very little cost.”

Millard says that Zoomerang clients use online surveys to get feedback on everything from the validity of new products to assessing customer needs.

The same is true for SurveyMonkey. “We are surprised at how small businesses are using online surveying technology. They're using it in ways we never expected. One of our clients solved a major customer complaint, a delivery problem, just by surveying their customer base,” says Ryan Finley, SurveyMonkey's founder.

SurveyMonkey: A top banana in the online survey market.

Although Finley says that 80 percent of the Fortune 100 have active SurveyMonkey subscriptions, uploading your sensitive customer data might not give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. If that's the case, there is always FormSite,an online-form creation tool that offers more than 100 templates along with survey consulting services. With FormSite, you create the survey using their online toolset but conduct the survey on your own site.

The Payoff
One big advantage of using one of the current online survey tools out now is that you can conduct a quality survey in weeks instead of months. This rapid turn-around allows business owners to implement changes quicker, which results in increased customer satisfaction and increased revenues.

Grant Miller, Marketing Manager of SparkPeople, says that the free, five-year-old diet-and-health site has been using FormSite for four years. “When we shifted away from a subscription-based site to an advertising-based site, we needed to have basic demographic information for advertisers. We wanted to make sure that we developed tools and information that people would use.”

They use FormSite to create surveys and then cross-tabulate the information to see which type of customer is more likely to use different aspects of their fitness community. This makes the community more user-friendly, with members returning more often to the site and spending more time there when they do. Miller says the surveys lets business owners present accurate, detailed information to advertisers. “The more we know about our customers,” he says, “the better we can tell advertisers what they can expect.”

Denise Brouillette, founder and president of the executive coaching firm The Innovative Edge, uses Zoomerang for her quarterly online surveying needs. “We did a national survey of our demographic and got a 27 percent response rate inside of 16 hours,” says Brouillette. “The survey increased our visibilty, and I landed (more work). I now have these accurate and informative survey results to wield under my ‘data belt.' You just can't put a price on that.”

For Fred Meyers, founder and president of The Queensboro Shirt Company, surveys provide the opportunity to better meet customer-needs, and have increased the customer retention rate by at least 20 percent. “Our surveys have given us an opportunity to resolve issues that would have otherwise not been addressed,” says Meyers. “If I had known how easy it was, I would have starting using online surveys a lot sooner.”

Just Do It…Right
And that's the potential pitfall that Linda Keefe, CEO of Shared Results International , helps clients avoid. “Jumping on board to deploy online surveys, just because it's easy to use, may get companies the first level of information but they miss the second and third level of information. They are not thinking about using surveys strategically. Businesses must ensure that their surveys are developing conversations,” says Keefe. Assessments and surveys, when written correctly, are one of the most powerful communication tools businesses can use. “You cannot achieve your vision if you don't have everyone on the same page, and one of the best ways to get everyone on the same page is with a survey. Using surveys as a strategic tool is the most overlooked strategy of small businesses,” says Keefe.

She offers four tips for businesses that want to leverage online surveys:
    1. Pre-test your survey to a small cross-section of your mailing list, about three to five key people. Call them in advance and personally ask them to take the survey. Then call them back and get their feedback about the survey over the phone.
    2. Always ask the question: “If I get this kind of information, what am I going to do with it? If you are not going to do anything with it, don't ask it,” says Keefe.
    3. Write the survey questions in such a way that they a measure a degree of force. For example, ask your customers to rate your product or service on a scale of 1 to 10, but if they don't rate your service a 10, find out what would have made it so.
    4. Start working with a consultant who can help you communicate “around” the survey questions by making the most of the intro paragraph, the survey title, the e-mail subject line and all other supporting content.

The Future of Surveying
Now that businesses have dipped their toe in the virtual pool of online surveying, they have begun to recognize a slew of additional uses such as measuring employee satisfaction, identifying vendor needs and registering participants for events.

Dominic Cilea, president of New Jersey-based Springboard PR, plans to use online surveys to determine what the media already knows about new clients in an effort to quantify the public relations work they do. “We can also see offering survey creation services to clients as a value-added service,” says Cilea.

Bottom Line
While online surveys are a quick, affordable and effective way to detail your demographics and measure customer satisfaction, just like any other online business tool that offers a host of benefits and opportunities, they need to be used in conjunction with a sound, strategic approach. Just because it seems like a “no brainer” doesn't mean it doesn't require some thought.

Lena L. West is the creator of the Technology Diet, an 8-week teleconsulting course that helps business-owners figure out how to use the power of technology to build the business of their dreams.

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