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CUSTOMER RESEARCH

Surveys Made Simple Leave in-depth market research to the pros, but get quick customer feedback via DIY surveys. Here’s how. BY CHRISTINE BIRKNER | SENIOR STAFF WRITER

 cbirkner@ama.org

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hile discrete choice modeling, conjoint analysis and the like are better left to the pros, marketers with or without a research budget can do a pulse check on their customer base via a simple survey. All it takes is results-oriented planning up front—although some friendly advice from a research professional certainly wouldn’t hurt, experts say. “It’s so easy to put surveys together now with all of these survey tools, but the thought process isn’t always complete,” says Sandy McKee, marketing specialist at SurveyGizmo, a Boulder, Colo.-based online survey provider.

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“It’s much more powerful if you’re able to build a plan based on your results.” Here’s how to get started.

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Define your goals. Determining the problem that you’re trying to solve will help you write more targeted questions, says Rieva Lesonsky, founder and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a Lakewood, Calif.-based small-business consultancy. “Sending out a broad, general survey is going to give you vague answers. If you’re going to do a survey, it has to have some specific data you can adopt. If it’s a restaurant and you’ve introduced new food items and you’re not sure if people want them, or you have a retail store that

sells women’s clothing and you’re thinking about branching out into girls’ clothing, you can ask what people think. It needs to be specific, and the answer needs to be something you can get and say, ‘Here’s how I can apply it.’ ” Adds Sheila Grady, marketing programs manager at SurveyMonkey, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based online survey provider: “It’s very tempting to jump in and start adding as many questions as you can think of to your survey, but … if you keep your goals specific, it’ll help you rein in that natural tendency to ask as many questions as you can.”

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Keep it short. “When you go beyond 10 questions, response rates really drop off,” says Ron Cates, director of digital marketing education at Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., an e-mail marketing and online survey provider for small businesses. “Let people know up front how many questions are in the survey or how long it will take. If you say, ‘Please take our three-minute survey,’ that’ll boost the number of people who take it.”

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CUSTOMER RESEARCH

A survey should require no more than about 10 minutes to complete, says Danielle Wanderer, head of marketing at Qualtrics, a Provo, Utah-based survey technology provider. “Remember that one open-ended text question counts for three multiple choice questions.” And to make the survey feel shorter, consider your question order, she says. “Place broad and general questions at the beginning of the questionnaire as a warm-up, followed by more specific questions, followed by more general, easy-to-answer questions, like demographics, at the end.”

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Use simple language. “Don’t use acronyms or phrases about your business that are particular to your business. If you’re selling cell phones, don’t assume that everyone knows what 4G is. You might have to explain these concepts,” says Chris Kelly, co-founder of San Francisco-based online survey company Survata Inc. Lesonsky agrees: “Conversational language works best. Ask your question in the way you would ask it if you were asking a different kind of question to your friend or spouse. Always give ‘none of the above’ and ‘other’ as options.”

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Edit and test. Have an outside expert review your survey, Kelly suggests. “Make sure your questions aren’t confusing or have too many assumptions in them of what the respondent knows. Have someone who’s done market research before look at your questions.” Adds McKee: “Sometimes, businesses already have their hypothesis, so they start asking questions that are leading. When you’re so married to that, it’s hard to not see it. You need to test your survey by sending it out to external people who aren’t as close to it and won’t be blinded.”

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Deliver with care. “Don’t assume that e-mail is always the best channel. Try different channels. Try SMS or Facebook ads, tweet it out, put it on your payment confirmation page after someone buys a product,” Kelly says.

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“If you just want to get a sense of what your customers think of your new logo, then a home-page survey or the iPad survey would be the right methodology. Some coffee shops will have an iPad in the store and after you pay, they’ll spin around the iPad and ask people to take the survey. But if you want to find out what soccer moms think about your product, you’d want to do an e-mail campaign because there are profiles attached to your e-mail lists.” And be cognizant of who’s delivering your survey, he says. “Send the e-mail from the account of your CEO or business owner. If it’s from the owner, it says you care. You’ll get high response rates on that.”

McKee cautions against offering big-ticket incentives, which could create bias. “If you reward them at the end and offer a coupon or a Starbucks gift card, that’s a great incentive. It’s not a highpriced item that skews your data; it’s just a way of saying thank you.” Kelly posits that foregoing incentives might be more effective. “If you can position the survey as, ‘Can you do this as a favor to help our business?’ we see, especially for small businesses, where people understand that you need feedback to grow, people will volunteer their time. Whereas if you say, ‘Can you do this survey for a $10 Amazon gift card?’ then it goes from a favor to a transaction.”

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Time it right. Grady says that surveys do best when they’re launched on a Monday or Tuesday and are left open for about a week. But according to Cates, the survey window could be even shorter. “When we talk about trying to get valuable information that’s pertinent and timely, it doesn’t have to be up for a long time. Ninety percent of people are going to take it within the first 72 hours of hearing about it.” If your survey is live for too long, outside factors could skew the results, Kelly says. “If you had a negative announcement, or there was a major news event or anything that may trigger people to answer questions differently than they did before, that will affect the data. A shorter window is better because you shield yourself from the risk of news impacting the response.”

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Use incentives sparingly. “The benefit to using incentives is that you may pull in more people, but the downside is if you’re running surveys fairly regularly and you include incentives, people will come to expect them,” Grady says. “If you stop offering them, people will wonder why and they might feel it’s not worth their time because they’re not being compensated. Another risk is the ‘professional survey takers,’ people who are on the lookout just for incentives.”

Share your results. “Always come back later, on your blog or social media, or in an e-mail, and say, ‘Based on this survey response, we’re making this change,’ ” Cates says. “If I had a restaurant and had a survey about dessert … I’m going to say, ‘Based on the results of the survey, we’re adding chocolate cake to the menu.’ The PR value has almost as much value as the survey, itself.” According to McKee, people want to take surveys if they know they’ll make a difference. “If they provided feedback and you never responded and nothing changed, you can stop surveying that individual because they’ll no longer be interested in taking your survey. If you follow up and show them that you really listened, then you’re showing that you care and that they made a difference.” Overall, careful survey planning will improve the resulting insights, Kelly says. “If you put garbage into a survey, you’ll get garbage out. The best case in a ‘garbage in-garbage out’ scenario is you waste your time and money. The worst case is you actually act on the ‘garbage-out’ and make a bad business decision. But if you ask the questions in the right way, your customers will tell you what they’re looking for.” m

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Surveys Made Simple  

Leave in-depth market research to the pros, but get quick customer feedback via DIY surveys. Here's how.

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