Published in General

So, You’ve Been Assigned to Create a Customer Survey

This post originally appeared as a podcast on Allegiance Radio.

4 Key Steps to Creating a Customer Survey

Welcome once again to Allegiance, here on Blog Talk Radio. I’m your host, Jeff Olsen, and after a temporary hiatus through the summer, I’m back with you again, discussing topics concerning voice of the customer, survey design and management, and data analysis. All very exciting things, I assure you.

When we were going over some ideas for the show today, we decided to follow-up on some feedback that we received from a lot of our listeners. Since Allegiance is the voice of the customer company, we decided to practice what we preach. We don’t just ask for opinions, we actually follow-up on them. In fact, let me invite you to take a 5 minute survey and tell us what you would like us to talk about in future broadcasts.

We’ve had a number of inquiries, and a lot of the questions we were getting were from people who are new to survey design, many of whom are doing this as a responsibility that was ancillary to their actual job description. So the content of this show will be centered around the idea, “You want to create a customer survey, now what?”

paper survey responseFist of all, I totally sympathize with you. Perhaps you weren’t in the meeting when they asked for volunteers and you have no idea where to start.

In the next few minutes, I’m going to cover 4 key steps to creating a survey, not just in the “What kinds of questions do I use” sense of creating a survey, but what things to consider before you even start composing the questions.

The 1st Step – WHY

If you and I were sitting across the table talking, my first question to you would be, “Why in the world do you want to survey your customers or your employees?” Seriously, what prompted you or your organization to feel like you wanted to reach out and get people’s opinion about widgets or whatever it is? Why was it? What was it that was the impetus behind this? What prompted somebody to care or want this information? Let’s talk about it.

If your reasons are among these:

  1. Because thought it would be a good idea.
  2. Because our competitors are doing it.
  3. Because the manager just asked me to do it and they’re checking a box off their list.

You’re probably going to be wasting your time because the desire isn’t there. The goal isn’t there. It’s like parking cars or something else. We’ve just got to do it to get out of the way, it’s something we’re crossing off our list, but we really don’t see the big picture of how this is going to benefit us.

Don’t just do it because your competitors are doing it, and don’t just do it because it was thrust on you and somebody from the corner office decided that this is a good thing to do. You better have a better reason that, and what’s more is, a poorly-designed, employee-deployed survey is actually more damaging than if you never surveyed in the first place.

You’ve taken surveys before. You get those “win a coupon” surveys in your inbox. There are well-designed surveys, then there are surveys that are just obvious that the people designing them really don’t care. They’re just crossing it off the list. Guaranteed that if your customers or employees get a survey that smacks a little bit of that … “We really didn’t care” … it’s going to come across to them, and they’re not completing the survey, or definitely won’t take another one if you send it out.

Let’s move into what are some good reasons, then. Here are a few good reasons to spend the time that you’re going to spend, and the money and resources, to put this survey out:

  1. Because we care, honestly care, what our customers or employees think.
  2. Because we want to improve our products and our processes. We generally realize that we don’t have all the answers. There’s nothing like getting feedback from the trenches, from the people that are actually using the products or transacting business.
  3. Because we want to improve the work environment to retain employees. We don’t want them getting picked up by our competition, and it isn’t just about asking for opinions – we genuinely want to use this data as we improve.

If your reasons for doing your survey campaign fall into the latter examples, you’re on the right track! The “why” behind your survey campaign is a big key because it’s definitely going to get reflected when you deploy this thing.

The 2nd Step – WHAT

What is the objective of your survey? Those of you who remember your school days might remember that in English class, your teacher would say, “It’s time to write a thesis, time to write an essay, time to write a paper.” Whenever you did that, what came first? An introduction paragraph containing your thesis statement.

If you remember, the thesis statement of the paper was essentially a declarative statement that summarized what the paper was all about, that I could read in one sentence, and actually I used to teach English, so I know a little bit about this. A thesis statement is like the road map to the paper that follows.

No different with a survey. My question to you is, what is your thesis? What is the thesis of your survey? Some examples that I’ve got here, and this is not all-inclusive, but I want you to think of this by considering these examples:

To get data that will help us improve our customer service experience.
Something precise. We’re all about improving the customer service experience. We’ve already surrendered the fact that we don’t have all the answers, and we generally want feedback so we can improve it. Great. That’s a great thesis.

To find out what elements of our product the customers like or dislike, and why.
Why on earth would I care about that? Back to that improving our processes and products, I want to know exactly what you like. We don’t assume we know everything. I don’t want to put a product out on the shelf unless I know, based on feedback, this is where the demand is. This is what you have told us that you want.

To find out the employee’s opinions about the company benefits program.
Again, a very precise end. It’s not just, “We want to know what you think.” Think about what? What are we going to do with it? Define the “what.” Come up with a thesis for your survey.

I know this sounds corny, and I know it’s taking you back to those nightmares of staying up all night writing college papers, but you really should be able to summarize, in a single statement, what your survey objective or purpose is. Without it it’s like crossing a mountain range without a map. The thesis or objective summary will be a great help as you start to create your questions and focus on your survey design.

The 3rd Step – WHO

My next question to you would be, who is going to see the survey results? Who has called for this and what kinds of reports do they want? What should the report include? “Jeff, I’m the manager of Customer Service, and I want a survey that shows me what they like or don’t like about Customer Service or the Customer Service experience.” “Okay, Mr. Director of Customer Support, what do you want to know?” “I want to know what they like and dislike.” “Beyond that, what do you want to know?” “I’d like to know what region they’re in.” “Okay.” “I’d like to know who they are. I’d like to know how long they’ve been a customer. I’d like to know what elements they’ve interacted with. Was it the on-line support, telephone support? Was it training class, face-to-face, whatever.”

It’s important to know … and I refer to this sometimes as starting from the end and working to the beginning. We’ve got to know what the reports or the data needs to look like, and what data they need before we begin. Understanding the needs of your stakeholders is a key element to know before you start writing your questions. Unfortunately, many people, it’s the last thing they think about. They want to hurry and get those questions in there, because they’ve got all these great ideas.

You should know, and I know it’s silly to state this, but it’s really difficult to create questions after the survey has been deployed and the data has been fathered. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’ve worked for Allegiance for six years, been in this business for a long time, and I’ve heard, more times than I care to think of, customers who say, “We just had this great customer experience survey, but I went to show it to the manager, and the manager wants to segment this by demographic and by sales region. Help! Guess what? If you didn’t think about that before you deployed the survey, if you didn’t feed that data into the survey, or ask it, it’s really, really impossible to get it after the fact.

I use this example all the time: once you pour concrete and it hardens, it’s tough to make it wet again. If you didn’t include the sales region info in the survey, it’s too late to get it. The key here is to ask the potential report recipients, or the ones that are going to be looking at and analyzing the data, for their input on how they want to see the data and how they want to segment it. Once you know this, you can make sure that it is included in the survey before you deploy.

It’s a good idea to just ask, “What is your ideal report going to have in it? What is it going to include? Segmentation properties or demographic columns? What’s going to help you get more out of the results?” Because I’m going to tell you, you might end up with a lot of data but find out it’s fairly useless, because the survey didn’t include some key segmentation elements that would really help the company take action (responding to some key customers, key complaints, whatever the case may be). Again, start from the back end, work to the beginning.

The 4th Step – METRICS

Finally, you need to establish a success metric and really … I’ve only got a few minutes left in the time we have allocated today, but … What question would be that key indicator or that key question that would say, “Based on the results of this question, we know that we’ve improved, we’ve benchmarked against it, we know we’re nailing our competition.” How do you measure success?

There are a myriad of ways that you can do this. For instance, will you have a question with a five-point scale? A lot of you are sitting there going, “Yeah, Jeff, we have a satisfaction question. How satisfied were you? How satisfied were you with your support or with the product or whatever?” That’s great, but sometimes satisfaction is just that you haven’t irritated. You have a balanced scale, excellent to poor or something like that. They’re okay, but okay isn’t good enough. Okay means that my competition can pick that person off and offer them a better deal.

How will you know when you look at the results of the survey, “These people don’t like us? These people are disengaged.” or, “These people are our cheerleaders.” You need to have a metric. Some of the leading metrics include the Likert scale (1 to 5) and the NPS (0 to 10). I’m not taking a lot of time today to go into all of the variables of the scales and metrics but wanted to point out that it’s important to establish a company-wide metric. Consistency will ensure that all your data will make sense later and adhere to your guidelines. We may talk about this in a future episode, but people like to correlate. They like to look at their data and say, “How did experience with customer support correlate with overall experience, or how they rated us overall?”

Hopefully, this has been beneficial to you. We haven’t even struck the surface on types of surveys and question design, but I’ll leave you with this conclusion: Don’t just survey for survey’s sake. Have a genuine intention, because your intention will really come across to your recipients.

This post comes from an Allegiance Radio episode. We invite you to visit Blog Talk Radio and save us in your favorites to receive updates and invitations to upcoming shows. Also, look for us on Facebook and Twitter, and remember to contact us for a no-obligation assessment of your data gathering and data analysis needs.

We always welcome your feedback. If you have ideas for upcoming shows, or maybe an interview that you think would be good for us to do, leave us a comment or take a quick survey to let us know how we can make the show better!