Getting the Customer Feedback You Need

Previously we discussed the importance of learning more about your customers than what simple traffic data can provide. The straightforward approach is to survey. Today many Internet businesses are making better decisions as a result of customer intelligence surveying programs. Fortunately for web marketers, the Internet has significantly reduced the cost and time required to deploy and analyze a survey.

This article is a quick primer on survey design. Instead of talking about particular vendors or software, I’ll arm you with some general concepts for creating valid and actionable surveys.

Why Survey?

There are many reasons for surveying. Some of the most common fall into four broad categories:

    Who are your customers? (Demographics)

    What do they like and dislike about your web business? (Attitudes/satisfaction)

    What are they doing on your web site? (Behavior)

    Why do your customers do the things they do on your site? (Motivations)

Before you begin thinking about the details of your customer survey, you must first have a well-defined reason for surveying. What is the problem that you’re trying to solve or the issue that you need to learn more about? Remember that brevity is a key requirement for Internet surveying. Having a clear purpose will allow you to create a short survey.

The Blueprint

Once you have defined your survey’s purpose, you’ll need to lay out the overall survey structure. Try to create a survey structure that is clear and painless. Questions should be grouped by topic, and the question sequence should flow logically. Jumping back and forth between different topics will disorient your users.

You’ll also need to determine the format of questions in your survey. I recommend that most questions be “closed-ended.” Closed-ended questions have predefined sets of answers, including multiple choice, yes/no responses, and answers on a numerical scale (e.g., 1 = not at all satisfying, 9 = extremely satisfying). These types of questions are much easier to summarize and analyze than open-ended questions, and in the end they will be more useful for making decisions.

Open-ended questions do have their uses, especially when you don’t know what the full list of answers to a question should be. They also work well for ensuring that your survey captures all of the relevant issues (e.g., “Is there anything else that you want to tell us about our site?”).

Questions and Answers

Once the outline is complete, it is time to write the questions. Three useful principles for writing questions are:

Singularity. Make sure each question addresses one and only one issue. A question such as “Which of the following causes you to visit and purchase from our site?” is bad because it lumps together two issues that may be unrelated — the reason for visiting and the reason for purchasing.

Clarity. Respondents should need to read questions only once to understand them. Avoid complex sentence structure, double negatives, and technical jargon. Read questions aloud to see if they read naturally.

Neutrality. Never ask questions that bias the respondent toward a particular answer. A biasing question might be: “Did you know that 75 percent of e-commerce sites use cookies?” The respondent may not want to seem ignorant, so this question wording may bias toward yes responses.

Gathering the Feedback

The final decision is implementation. The trick with data collection is to be proactive enough to elicit a response without annoying your customers in the process.

Site links. You can put a link on your web site that directs customers to your survey. Although site links aren’t intrusive, the passive nature of this method’s respondent selection can often produce substantial bias.

Email. Email surveys work well when you aren’t asking questions about the actual web site experience because they allow respondents to complete surveys at their convenience. You can either send a link to the survey in email or include the entire survey in the body of the email.

Pop-ups. If the last time a customer visited your site was two weeks ago, how accurately do you think he or she can answer a question such as “How was the length of our product description?” On-site pop-ups allow you to catch users “in the act” and can greatly enhance the accuracy of feedback about your site experience.

This article is by no means meant to be a comprehensive training course on survey creation. Now that you know some of the basics, my final piece of advice is to involve a trained market researcher in your survey activities. The cost of this professional input will easily be recouped by the mistakes that you’ll avoid.

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