Online surveys make it easier to get feedback from your customersBy Fiona Haley
Generally, the best way to get someone's opinion is simply to ask for it. Surveying customers has been a longtime business strategy, but now customer service and employee surveys have moved online. Companies like Quask, QuestionPro, and Inquisite are all providing businesses with the tools to create Internet surveys.
For many years, creating a customer survey meant either calling each client or sending out a massive mailing. Online survey software has lessened much of the energy spent on surveys by putting all the tools in one place. "The nice thing about Web-based surveys is that there's almost no cost and a quick turnaround," says Freddy May, CEO of Quask. "The tools are available to design the survey, and everything else is done for you."
While paper surveys could cost anywhere from 5 cents to 50 cents each for printing and shipping costs, online surveys start at about $49 for a basic package. In addition to the cost of paper surveys, there is time spent creating the survey and calculating the data. "The manual work in tallying data happens automatically online," says Kevin Battey, chief operating officer at QuestionPro. "Collecting and compiling data has been done in any number of ways in the past."
Survey creators should make content relevant to their customers, keep the survey concise, give their audience an idea about how long it will take to complete, and make the goals of the survey clear. Sometimes, it's worthwhile to offer incentives to complete the survey by offering a prize or posting the results, but survey experts claim that the most important incentive is to take as little of the client's time as possible.
Online surveys are not without challenges, however. Companies don't always have their clients' e-mail addresses, and even when they do, their requests for information are sometimes mistaken for spam. More importantly, experts warn that the most significant consideration when creating an online survey is content.
Knowing the client base is essential, says Kenn Turner, senior vice president of AOL Access Marketing for Multicultural and Emerging Markets. Before launching its AOL BlackVoices service in October 2004, AOL conducted extensive research, including online polls asking users what programs they like and want. As a result, AOL was able to create a site that spoke directly to its audience. "Understanding your audience is critical," Turner says. "You have to ask, 'What does the customer need? You have to talk to people to understand their life."
The feedback gained from a survey is essential, says QuestionPro client Scott Zaleski, senior account manager at atlas DMT. "It's the best way of acquiring and translating knowledge. QuestionPro's online survey technology is one of the best products out there for efficiently collecting and analyzing data."
Surveys can also be used for employee input, allowing companies to poll their employees about anything from the holiday party to job satisfaction. Meg Murphy, vice president of business development for Inquisite Inc., claims that understanding employees is as important as understanding clients. "The best insurance policy a company has is having satisfied employees," she says. "Employees know their customers; they know why they purchase, why they defect. You can get a lot of business intelligence by asking employees."
Three years ago, interaction design consultant Brandon Mitchell was given two weeks to survey 250 employees for a consulting project. He used Quask to do it, met his deadline, and has been a customer ever since, mainly because of its ease of use. "Within six hours, you can literally create a detailed survey that you can blast via e-mail," he says.