Playing now

Playing now

Want to find out more about your customers? Give them a voice by doing a customer survey.

Growth & Customers

Want to find out more about your customers? Give them a voice by doing a customer survey.

Business owner surveying customers

If you want to learn more about your customers, analyze customer satisfaction, or validate ideas for new products, a customer survey is a great tool for gathering information. In addition, surveys are a win-win for you and your customers: it’s a great opportunity to gain valuable insights into ways you can improve your business and your customers appreciate the opportunity to be heard.

Here’s how to get the most out of customer surveys.

First, set specific goals for your survey. The survey could focus on overall customer satisfaction, their satisfaction with specific products, or their reactions to potential new products and services. Or you might want to validate the assumptions behind your customer profiling.

According to the latest GreenBook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) report, 46 percent of researchers still use in-person focus groups, 14 percent use online surveys and 11 percent conduct telephone in-depth interviews.

The goals you define will help you decide whether to conduct the survey in-person, over the phone or online. In-person and phone surveys are more labor and time intensive—and therefore more expensive—than online surveys. However, in-person and phone surveys generally get higher response rates because interviewers can personally engage with respondents and encourage participation.

In-depth probing is more feasible with in-person and phone surveys, so you can expect more insightful answers for developing your strategies. Online surveys are less intrusive for the audience; respondents can go online at their convenience and take their time answering questions. Also, online surveys can show charts, graphs, or other images to respondents.

Short online surveys work well when you want to repeat the same questions regularly to spot significant changes in the answers.

Excellent tools for online survey tools are available from providers, such as Client Heartbeat, SurveyGizmo, and SurveyMonkey. Here are some factors to include in your evaluation checklist:

  • Pricing
  • Support availability—by phone, chat, and email
  • Ease of use
  • Branding control: the ability to match the survey’s look and feel with your website
  • Database integration features
  • Sample questions, question templates, and industry-specific questions
  • Ability to capture testimonials
  • Benchmarking with customer feedback from similar companies

Next, develop a list of questions that lead to actionable information in support of the survey’s goals. Make sure every question serves a purpose!

To achieve high response rates, experts advise that you limit the survey to fewer than ten questions. Wherever possible, you want to make life easy for respondents by giving them simple preselected answers to choose from. Minimize the number of questions that require free-form text answers.

You can also boost the response rate by giving customers an attractive incentive for participating. Another key: Follow up with nonresponders after one week—and follow up again after two weeks.

Even if you opt to use an online survey tool, consider getting advice from a third-party research firm. It can help you home in on the right survey questions, assuring unbiased feedback to guide your business decisions.

What experiences have you had with online or in-person or phone surveys? What tips do you have for conducting a successful customer survey?

Small business survival toolkit

Get your free guide, business plan template, and cash flow forecast template to help you run your business and achieve your goals.

Download your free toolkit

Subscribe to our Sage Advice Newsletter

Get our latest business advice delivered directly to your inbox.

Ask the author a question or share your advice

When you leave a comment on this article, please note that if approved, it will be publicly available and visible at the bottom of the article on this blog. While your email address will not be publicly available, we will collect, store and use it, along with any other personal data you provide as part of your comment, to respond to your queries offline, provide you with customer support and send you information about our products and services as requested.  For more information on how Sage uses and looks after your personal data and the data protection rights you have, please read our Privacy Policy.