These days, its all about staying in touch with the customer. And one thing you should be doing in those interactions is surveying customers to find out how they feel about your product or service, your marketing, and your business overall.
Customer surveys have probably been around as long as businesses have, but the-ve never been easier to do. Today, you have a raft of options for getting the scoop on what your customers really think. Here are just some of the ways to solicit customer feedback:
Social media: If you have a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn presence you can conduct informal surveys using these social media tools. Post questions, send out tweets, or start a group discussion and yo-ll start getting some of the answers you seek.
Social media is fast and free. It's also a great way to get quick feedback on simple issues like a name for a new product or how much people would pay for something. On the downside, you may not get a statistically significant percentage of your customers responding, and results can be tough to quantify and measure.
Online surveys: Survey companies, such as Zoomerang.com and SurveyMonkey.com, let you develop surveys that your customers can take online. Basic plans at both sites are free; you can use templates to create your survey, embed the survey on your site and get responses from up to 100 users. If you want more customization or scope, pay options start at about $20 a month very reasonable.
Online surveys are great for a wide range of needs, from customer satisfaction to market research to creating an online focus group. On the downside, because they're online they will only attract users who are comfortable on the Web, so if a significant percentage of your clients aren't, you'll need a different option.
Telemarketing: Depending on your company's staffing resources, you can handle this in-house or enlist a telemarketing company. Outbound telemarketers call customers and survey them over the phone.
Telemarketing is a more costly and time-consuming alternative than the others, so it's best reserved for high-end products or services, B-to-B sales or complex surveys. A good telemarketing firm can help you develop a survey and get a meaningful cross-section of your target customers, making the results of this type of survey very useful.
Focus groups: Marketing firms charge big money to hold focus groups, but you can do one yourself as well. Invite a representative group of sample customers to your business. You'll want to pay them ($50-$100 is typical). A moderator (that can be you, or someone else from your business) leads a group discussion that is recorded on video. Be sure you have at least one other person watching the discussion and taking notes so you don't miss anything.
Focus groups work best for general market research or seeing how potential customers feel about new products, services or marketing campaigns. On the downside, focus groups can give skewed results as a few people will often monopolize the discussion, and sometimes people are less than honest when they are in a group. You need a skilled moderator to draw out the silent members of the group and keep the discussion on track.
Survey forms: For retailers, restaurateurs or other businesses with a physical location, a plain old survey form can be the best option. Place survey cards at checkout or deliver them with the restaurant bill. These forms are a good way to keep tabs on customer satisfaction. Keep in mind, however, those who fill them out are likely to be either very satisfied, or very unsatisfied, with your business, so take them with a grain of salt.
Talk it up: As a small-business owner, you have the advantage that you're in your business every day. So get out there and mix with the customers, and while you're at it, ask them how you're doing. Talking to customers is the most informal survey of all, but it's often the most useful. By getting the pulse of how your customers feel, you'll get gut instincts for what changes need to be made.
Whatever type of survey you choose, follow these tips:
- Keep it simple. No one wants to take a lengthy survey, so pick one key issue to focus on and ask 5-10 questions about it.
- Quantify it. Tabulating results is easier if you ask customer to rate things on a scale of 1-5 or otherwise use standardized rating systems.
- Make it worth their while. Even with a simple survey form at checkout, more customers will complete it if you offer them something of value. Entering everyone who takes the survey in a contest or drawing for a free product or prize is a good way to encourage participation. (Just make sure you're following all rules in your state regarding contests.)
Last, but not least, use what you've learned to improve your marketing and your business.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva. Visit SmallBizDaily.com to read more of Rieva's insights and sign up for her free TrendCast newsletter.