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Updated Feb 20, 2024

How to Develop a Customer Survey

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Sean Peek, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst

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In an era where consumers routinely consult online reviews before purchasing, it’s never been more essential to ask your customers how you can enhance their experience with your business.

Customer satisfaction surveys can help you identify areas of growth, capitalize on what you’re doing well and cultivate positive customer relationships. Requesting, analyzing and implementing customer feedback can help boost customer satisfaction and develop concrete new processes, products and services to improve your business. We’ll explain best practices for conducting customer surveys, the right questions to ask and the benefits customer surveys can bring your business. 

Did You Know?Did you know

Various types of surveys can help inform your business decisions, including customer satisfaction surveys, market research surveys and brand awareness surveys.

How to conduct a customer satisfaction survey

Customer satisfaction surveys can be customized for your business’s unique needs. While every organization’s surveys will look different, the following steps are a great start for any business. 

1. Identify your customer survey goals.

Your first step is to identify the goals of your customer satisfaction survey. What do you want to accomplish with the survey’s help? Goals can be general or highly specific.

  • General customer survey goals: General goals can help guide overall improvements in your organization. Perhaps you want to pinpoint your business’s top three areas of weakness so you can rectify them. Or maybe you want to gauge how happy your customers are with your customer support resources.  
  • Specific customer survey goals: Specific goals can help you focus on concrete improvements. For example, say you want to decrease e-commerce shopping cart abandonment by a specific percentage. Or you may want to increase your business’s Net Promoter Score to encourage more customer referrals. 

Identifying the goals you hope to achieve with your customer survey provides a solid framework for the rest of the process.

2. Develop questions for your customer survey.

Developing the right questions for your survey is your next step. Various question types are appropriate for different surveys and goals. Here are a few examples: 

  • Product and service usage questions: Product and service usage questions give your team valuable insights into customer attitudes. These questions can help build customer loyalty and maintain customer retention. Examples include:
    • How often do you use X product or service?
    • What would you improve about the product or service?
  • Demographics questions: Marketing demographics questions help you better understand your customer base. They can help you craft a “typical customer” model for your marketing team to help them target their messages and advertising effectively. Examples include: 
    • How old are you?
    • What is your employment status?
  • Satisfaction scale questions: Satisfaction scales offer a quantifiable measure of positive or negative customer satisfaction toward a product or service. These questions provide valuable insights into your business and a consistent way to track and analyze satisfaction, especially after changes are made. Here’s an example:
    • On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with X product or service?
  • Open-ended questions: Open-ended questions let your customers freely express their opinions instead of utilizing supplied answers. Customers value open-ended questions because it gives them a chance to offer honest, unencumbered feedback. Open-ended questions also allow business owners to gather positive reviews and comments for marketing materials. Just be sure to ask permission to use your customers’ comments. Examples include:
    • How can we improve your experience with our product or service?
    • What can our employees do better?
    • Do you have additional comments you’d like to share?
  • Longevity questions: Longevity questions help you build a base list of customers for your next survey. They identify an engaged and honest group of customers ready to offer feedback on new changes and offerings. Here are some examples:
    • May we contact you with follow-up questions?
    • Would you be willing to take this survey again in the future?

Build an email marketing contact list of promising responders for your customer satisfaction surveys. However, you must stay compliant with online business laws surrounding email marketing.

3. Use the right tools for your customer surveys.

After the prep work of identifying goals and developing questions, it’s imperative to use the right platform to collect your surveys. Choose easy-to-use tools that can grow with your business and provide survey data in a readable format.

Typical survey options include the following:

  • Email using your list or via online tools like SurveySparrow
  • Cloud-based survey software like SurveyMonkey, Help Scout and Asana
  • Online tools like Google Forms
  • Big data solutions like Qualtrics 
  • Text message surveys via Google Forms and Zoho Survey 
  • Customer service platforms like Zendesk (read our review of Zendesk to learn more) 

4. Follow best practices with your customer surveys.

Follow these best practices to help ensure honest feedback from a wide range of customers:

  • Ask questions that accomplish your goal. Identifying a concrete goal early in the survey creation process is crucial. Asking relevant questions keeps respondents focused on that goal – and keeps the survey concise.
  • Ask one question at a time. Don’t ask multiple-part questions. Keep each question focused on one thought. If you’d like respondents to offer the same feedback on several parts of the business, consider creating a rating scale instead of posing several questions with an open-ended answer box.
  • Demonstrate the benefit to the respondent. Consumers need an incentive to respond to surveys and provide their valuable input. Discounts, giveaways, credits and customer loyalty programs can motivate customers and show that you value their time. The incentives should be feasible and sustainable for your business.
  • Get multiple perspectives when creating a survey. Creating a customer satisfaction survey isn’t a one-person job. Consulting your leadership team, various departments, internal teams, employees and even vendors can help you create a nuanced survey that employs strategic thinking and yields actionable insights. 

The benefits of conducting customer surveys

We’ve touched on the fact that customer surveys can yield valuable information to improve your business and better manage customer relationships. Here are a few more specific benefits customer satisfaction surveys can bring: 

  • Customer surveys help define audience demographics. Surveying your customers yields crucial information about who they are. Aside from concrete demographics like age, job, income and location, you can identify their pain points and help craft solutions that meet their needs. Defining your audience helps you identify your customer base and focus on meeting their needs.
  • Customer surveys boost customer loyalty. Customer surveys provide valuable information about their buying habits, preferences and feelings toward your business. Asking insightful questions (and following it up with real action) shows customers you care about them, helping to foster customer loyalty.
  • Customer surveys reveal areas that must be improved. Customer surveys often reveal weak points business owners were previously unaware of. Discovering specific patterns of feedback and criticism shines a light on problems that can erode your customers’ goodwill. Conversely, you may also discover areas of strength to continue prioritizing.
  • Customer surveys help prevent negative reviews. Unhappy customers often crave a space to address their dissatisfaction. Without an outlet, they may express their frustration on online review sites or social media accounts. However, a customer survey can serve as a space for customers to feel heard when expressing frustrations. When you respond to and act on their concerns, you can turn a negative situation into a positive one.
  • Customer surveys can give you a competitive advantage. The better you know your customers and their preferences, the more of a competitive advantage you gain over similar companies. Your industry rivals may not take the time to properly gauge customer opinions, preferences and pain points. Knowledge is power, and you can use this information to better fulfill their needs. 

If you use chatbots for customer service, tailor them to ask specific questions about the customer’s experience and collect feedback to improve your processes.

How often should you conduct a customer survey?

Proper planning about customer survey timing is critical to securing actionable, honest feedback. Most customers who’ve engaged with your business for at least several months are happy to complete a customer survey semiannually, especially if they know the process will take only a few minutes.

Targeting customers who have engaged with your business for three to six months can ensure the data you collect is valuable and well informed. In contrast, very new customers often haven’t interacted with your business enough to offer insightful feedback.

In the months between sending out customer surveys, continue interacting with survey respondents. This communication demonstrates that you found their feedback valuable, listened to what they’re saying and are dedicated to enhancing their next experience or encounter with your business.

Show your customers you value their input

Customer surveys are effective only if customers actually complete them. As mentioned, incentives, such as discounts or special offers, can encourage customer participation. Additionally, make it as convenient as possible for customers to complete your surveys by formatting them with mobile access in mind and keeping their layout concise and visually appealing. Your customers should feel valued as you provide a space to express their frustrations, needs and preferences – and then act on their input. 

Sammi Caramela contributed to this article.

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Sean Peek, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
Sean Peek is the co-founder of a self-funded small business that employs more than a dozen team members. His years of hands-on entrepreneurial experience in bootstrapping, operations management, process automation and leadership have strengthened his knowledge of the B2B world and the most pressing issues facing business owners today. Peek uses his expertise to guide fellow small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs in the areas of marketing, finance and software technology. Peek excels at developing customer bases and fostering long-term client relationships, using lean principles to drive efficiency and cost-saving, and identifying growth areas. He has demonstrated his business savvy through collaborations with Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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