Get to Know Your Customers With a Customer Satisfaction Survey

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Customer satisfaction surveys provide invaluable information about a person’s experience with your business and their likelihood to return, and they uncover potential ideas for improvement.

It’s impossible to satisfy everyone all the time. You also can’t fix a customer service issue or product quality problem if you don’t know about it. The feedback you’ll receive through a customer questionnaire provides insight into issues that can help you with customer retention and acquisition and with identifying potential new revenue streams.

Increasingly, companies are renaming the role of account managers to customer success managers to reflect the importance of understanding customer experiences.

Overview: What is a customer satisfaction survey?

A customer satisfaction survey is exactly what it sounds like, a tool used for measuring an existing or potential customer’s opinion of your products and services. Well-crafted questionnaires reveal the customer experience, positive or negative, and create an opportunity to increase customer communication.

While these surveys are helpful in collecting information about how satisfied your customers are, they are not substitutes for talking with clients.

What should you include in a customer satisfaction survey?

The results of a survey are only useful if you carefully target the information you collect. The questions themselves are most important, but here are a few additional items to consider:

  • Demographics -- such as age, location, gender, marital and employment status -- that will help you understand how your services or products fit into your customers’ lifestyle
  • Details that explain why the survey is being conducted and how the information will be used
  • Length of time to complete the survey
  • Deadline for participation
  • Incentives for participation, if applicable
  • Testimonial requests

3 types of customer satisfaction surveys

There are multiple types of surveys to choose from. Depending on the size of your business and your goals for the questionnaire, hiring a third-party to conduct the survey can be helpful.

If you decide to go it alone, though, these are three common types of customer satisfaction surveys you might consider.

1. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)

The CSAT gauges how an individual feels about their interactions with you. These use scales, say 1 to 5, to measure the positive or negative experiences or feelings a customer has about your business.

2. Net Promoter Score (NPS) Survey

The NPS-style survey assesses customer satisfaction and loyalty. Loyalty may be a better measure than satisfaction. Research shows a weak relationship between satisfaction and a person's commitment to repeatedly buying a specific product or service. In short, someone can be highly satisfied with your company, but still not be particularly loyal.

3. Usability Survey

Often surveys focus on a shopping interaction or specific product. However, asking how satisfied customers are with your website is also important. User experience (UX) surveys reveal the ease or difficulty associated with using your website, app, or product.

How to create a customer satisfaction survey

You can create and use a customer satisfaction survey for your business in five simple steps.

1. Select survey questions

Question selection is critical for getting useful feedback. Clear, concise questions always elicit the best responses.

There are three basic survey question designs:

  • Open-ended questions: These questions give participants a chance to respond in greater detail. Phrasing is important to get information that is useful. If not worded correctly, they can encourage one-word, yes-or-no answers, which rarely provide the insight you need.
  • Longevity questions: These ask participants for permission and their interest in responding to future surveys.
  • Satisfaction design: You’ve likely taken a few of these yourself. A scale is used for rating satisfaction. It may be numeric, say 1 to 5, or graphic in nature. The scale may also use verbiage on a scale from highly dissatisfied to highly satisfied.
A scale of 1 to 5 from Highly Dissatisfied to Highly Satisfied.

A numeric scale can be used to rank a customer’s experience with a company. Image source: Author

Smiley faces are used to rate customer satisfaction.

Graphics allow customers to easily express their satisfaction with a company’s services or products. Image source: Author

Source: CloudRadial.

2. Create a design

Aesthetics matter. Your design doesn’t need to be intricate, but a questionnaire that invites a person to participate and is easy on the eyes will garner greater participation.

These tips can help you create a survey that gets results:

  • Personalize it: Include the recipient’s name in the greeting in a tone that matches your business. For some, a friendlier first name greeting is more appropriate than using formal salutations.
  • Use a clean, attractive layout: Color and font choice may enhance the appearance, but use design flourishes sparingly to avoid overload.
  • Keep it short: The longer the survey, the likelier respondents are to get tired or quit midway through. Longer surveys have lower completion rates, which means they have higher non-response bias -- something you want to avoid.
  • Test and retest: When using customer service software and online survey platforms have someone else test them to ensure they are programmed correctly.

3. Choose a survey platform

Chances are your email inbox has received multiple satisfaction surveys triggered by a trip to a restaurant or a personal or business transaction. Electronic surveys are managed using platforms like Survey Monkey or customer relationship management (CRM) software like HubSpot CRM.

Phone and mail-in surveys are other methods of testing client satisfaction. Many big box stores include an 800 number on their receipts, encouraging customers to call for a chance to win a reward in exchange for their feedback. Snail-mail questionnaires can be more effective at reaching the intended audience. The Pew Research Center has tips for collecting survey data.

4. Send a reminder

Reminding questionnaire recipients about the survey and the deadline can increase response rates. Wait about a week before sending a follow-up and then set a reasonable interval between then and the deadline. If the deadline is looming and you haven’t received enough participation, you can extend the deadline and send another reminder. Include links to your Contact Us page in case recipients have questions.

5. Understand the response rate

Obviously, you would like your survey results to represent the overall population about which you are trying to make inferences. But a higher response rate doesn't necessarily mean greater accuracy.

One study compared results of a five-day survey using the Pew Research Center’s usual methodology that received a 25% response rate with results from a more rigorous survey conducted over a much longer field time, which yielded a higher response rate of 50%. In 77 out of 84 comparisons, the two surveys yielded results that were statistically indistinguishable.

One thing you can do is use a sample size calculator. If you enter the total population of the group you are surveying, the margin of error you are comfortable with, and the confidence level you want, the calculator will tell you how many responses you need.

For example, if your customer base is 4,500 shoppers and you’re comfortable with a +/-5% margin of error with a confidence level of 95%, plug those numbers into the calculator and it will show that you need 355 participants to obtain survey results that satisfy your objectives.

Consider feedback carefully

While surveys can provide valuable insight into what customers think about your company or its services, they are not perfect. There is a chance that only one group of clients respond -- either those who are really pleased or extremely disappointed -- if the answers all have the same tone.

It’s also easy to fall into the trap of only focusing on the “negative” feedback. Before making major changes to your business model, consider making widespread changes for just one or two suggestions that align with your bigger business goals.

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