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Angry and Bored? You Must Be a Customer

Finding out what customers really think is a crucial first step toward an improved bottom line. New technology may help.

Hence the appeal of the online survey as a valuable pulse-taker. “Online surveys make it easier than ever to interact with your customer base,” says John Ragsdale, former vice president and research director at Forrester Research and now vice president of research for the Service & Support Professionals Association. “They provide an accurate gauge as to how customers truly feel about the value and convenience of a company’s products and services.”

Online surveys may take just a few seconds to fill out, and the response rate is substantially higher than traditional mail and phone surveys — 20 to 30 percent compared with less than 10 percent. The responses are fresher and can be quickly aggregated, analyzed, and integrated with other data to produce useful metrics that, at least in theory, aid decision-making. Equally simple, and useful, are follow-up queries to the same customer base to discern whether changes that were made based on the initial round of surveying have improved customers’ opinions.

Most EFM products work in a manner similar to that of WebSurveyor: a line manager, or anyone with data-collection needs, creates the survey, usually with the help of templates that are built into the software. Then the survey is added to a Website via a single button click and is ready to go. A target audience is then invited (usually via E-mail) or prompted (via a link or popup window) to take the survey. The survey creator can view the results in real time. Typically, the creator will check the data regularly as it is being collected and begin to analyze it and form some initial conclusions. After viewing some of the initial data, the executive may decide to modify the survey to deal with unforeseen circumstances, such as adding missing response options, adding or clarifying questions, and so on. Eventually, the data collection winds down and the real work of analyzing it begins. Depending on the product, built-in analysis tools may help, and the survey sponsor might also be able to export the raw data or charts for further use in other applications, Websites, or presentations.

Question Authoritatively

Online surveys are not a panacea, however. They may still result in bad data driving poor decisions. Knowing the right questions to ask of the right people at the right time is critical, as is appreciating the suitable number of questions to ask (no more than 10 seems to be the best practice). “The technology is easy, as is administering it,” says Susan Piotroski, brand and customer strategy senior executive in the Boston office of Accenture. “Asking the right questions is not.”

In drafting questions, Piotroski says the surveyor “must understand the original problem that drove the need for the survey. If the right questions are asked, the answer to the problem is there.”

Customer-loyalty guru Reichheld says that companies have to “get to the sane customers, the people who don’t waste their time,” and convince them that their input has value. That’s the key to turning a detractor into a promoter. “If customers are willing to promote you,” he says, “that’s the clearest indication of loyalty. If they’re not going to promote you, follow up with more questions to determine why — build a dialogue that turns them into promoters.”

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