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Harvest Customer Intelligence Through Smart Surveying

Harvest Customer Intelligence Through Smart Surveying

One area that many companies overlook when they roll out a customer experience program is how to get feedback from non-customers. If you're a restaurant, hotel, retailer or other business trying to get a complete picture of the customer experience, it can be just as important to hear from those people who didn't make a purchase as those who did.

By John Abraham
11/07/13 5:00 AM PT

Satisfaction surveys can be much more than a yardstick to measure customer opinion or an extra channel for customer support. The optimal survey presents an opportunity to uncover important insights about your business process and drive real improvements in the organization.

Before your business can start reaping the customer intelligence benefits that result from direct customer feedback, however, you have to lay the right groundwork to ensure that the people you need to hear from are actually responding to your surveys.

Time is one of the most important factors in a successful survey. It's best to survey your customers as soon as possible after an interaction -- within minutes of a small, simple purchase, or within about 24 hours for a large, more complex one. Surveying quickly not only increases response rates but also provides more actionable detail since the interaction is fresh in the customer's mind, and can give your front-line employees an opportunity for impressively rapid customer recovery.

While it's best to survey early, surveying too often is not such a good idea. There is no hard and fast rule, but a good starting point is to survey the same customer no more than once every 90 days. Imagine if your neighborhood grocery store surveyed you every time you stopped in to pick up some milk. This would drive you nuts, and quite possibly out of the store. Customers should never feel as though they were surveyed recently -- it's even better if they can't remember the last time you surveyed them at all.

Don't Overlook Non-Customers

One area that many companies overlook when they roll out a customer experience program is how to get feedback from non-customers. If you're a restaurant, hotel, retailer or other business trying to get a complete picture of the customer experience, it can be just as important to hear from those people who didn't make a purchase as those who did. Most surveys are triggered by the completion of a transaction such as a retail purchase or new business contract, so they often exclude non-customers. Yet there are ways to capture the voices of non-customers and reap the important insights that come from them.

To capture feedback from non-customers, you can engage them "in the moment" -- that is, while the customer experience is happening, not after it's over. Leveraging mobile, with its increasing ubiquity, is key to capturing in-the-moment feedback. Not only do most people have mobile devices -- 77 percent of millennials had smartphones in 2012 and another 7 percent planned to buy one within the year -- but consumers are increasingly bringing mobile devices into the shopping experience by checking product availability, looking up product reviews and comparing prices. Asking people for feedback about their experience via mobile is just an extension of how they're already using their phone.

Going Mobile

Collecting feedback from non-customers (and customers) through their mobile devices can be achieved in a variety of ways. For example, you can embed a URL that directs them to your survey in a QR code, those funny-looking black-and-white icons that shoppers (whether they buy or not) can scan with their smartphones. After the person scans the code, he or she is immediately directed to a mobile survey on the phone to provide feedback right then and there.

If you are concerned about adoption of QR Code technology (it's still pretty low in most countries), you can also initiate a survey via text message by putting up a sign or poster that asks visitors to text a short code to a number. They will then receive a text response directing them to a survey, which can be completed from their mobile devices.

A newer way to collect mobile feedback is to take advantage of geofencing technology available on most smartphones. Create an application that shoppers can download onto their mobile phones (make it fun and sticky so the interest is there), and when they enter your store, hotel, restaurant or business, the application can sense the phone's location settings. It will then recognize when the shopper has left, which is the perfect time to solicit feedback on their experience and whether or not they found what they were looking for.

Optimize the Survey Experience

Persuading a range of customers and non-customers to open your survey is hard work. Start by keeping the survey short -- especially for non-customers, who typically are less engaged than people who have purchased. But the job doesn't end there. The survey experience (yes, the survey is still part of your customer's experience) is also very important. It should feel as if it is personally customized to each respondent. Pelting every customer with a generic survey is a surefire way to annoy your happy and unhappy customers alike.

The survey should also be available on your customers' terms. Make sure your survey can transfer seamlessly from desktop to tablet to mobile device, the way your customers do. With the right technology platform, a customer should be able to start the survey on a smartphone and, if they are interrupted, go back to complete it from a desktop or tablet when it's convenient for them.

Finally, respect a customer's preferences. Make it simple and easy for a customer who doesn't want to be surveyed to unsubscribe -- trust me, they weren't going to fill out your survey anyway. One click should be all it takes. And never, ever re-subscribe a customer if they don't specifically request it.

When it comes to gathering customer intelligence, small discoveries can lead to major rewards. Get these bedrock principles right, and you'll be well on your way to a program that brings in more high-quality feedback to boost your company's customer intelligence.


John Abraham is general manager of the Medallia Institute, the education and consulting arm of Medallia, a global leader in SaaS Customer Experience Management solutions. John can be contacted at john@medallia.com.


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