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Ask Customers (Online) and Ye Could Receive

Ask Customers (Online) and Ye Could Receive

There are still varying opinions out there about the value of the online customer survey, but those who advocate for them do so fervently. Among the tips they offer: "Constantly ask: 'What does the brand lover love? What is the primary benefit he or she derives from doing business with me?'" suggested Ozzie Coto, cofounder of The Cult Branding Company.

By Erika Morphy CRM Buyer ECT News Network
07/11/13 5:00 AM PT

If ever there was a case for conducting online customer surveys, Adam Lasky, global social media coordinator at Spreadshirt, has lived it.

"A week after a customer makes a purchase on the Spreadshirt platform, we follow up with a customer review survey," Lasky told CRM Buyer.

That's how the company learned that its customers usually had clear expectations about shipping times -- and, perhaps more importantly, that those expectations did not always match up with reality.

"In response to this, we were able to more effectively communicate reasonable expectations to our customers and provide more shipping options," Lasky said.

There. Problem solved.

'Incredibly Inaccurate'

Would that all companies could glean such valuable customer data from their surveys.

In fact, opinions and research on the subject appear to be all over the map, despite the seemingly slam-dunk rationale for using customer surveys -- online ones, in particular -- to stay on top of customers' needs and desires.

For example, Omer Trajman, vice president of operations for WibiData, finds that online customer surveys are "incredibly inaccurate and are often biased simply based in the questions and self-selection," he told CRM Buyer.

Rather, the best way to understand customers is through observation of their actual behavior, he said.

"Digital interactions captured by Big Data applications and the calls to action that present consumers with real choices are much more accurate and provide an ongoing updated view as consumer sentiment changes," Trajman explained.

A Question of Resources

Trajman makes a compelling case -- but then, so does Lasky.

One reason for the ambiguity some companies may feel towards online customer surveys is that they require resources. Last year, a survey by Acxiom and Loyalty 360 found that the most common hindrances to gathering customer insight -- a category in which customer surveys are included -- are budget limitations (52 percent), lack of IT support (49 percent) and lack of the right tools (48 percent).

Assuming a company has the necessary resources, however, there are strategies that can help get the most bang out of those bucks.

Think Through the Questions Carefully

Surveys, like all data-gathering instruments, are only as good as their design, noted Ozzie Coto, cofounder of The Cult Branding Company.

"To increase the accuracy of a survey, ask questions that shed light on what are the true benefits your best customers experience when they do business with you," Coto told CRM Buyer. "In other words, constantly ask: 'What does the brand lover love? What is the primary benefit he or she derives from doing business with me?'"

This step is tricky because what you want is the real benefit here, not just what the benefit might appear to be on the surface, Coto acknowledges.

"Harley-Davidson sells motorcycles, but as we know from our study of cult brands, Harley-Davidson offers their customers an experience and affirms their values: freedom on the open road," he explained. "Think carefully about the true benefit your customers derive. This is the most important question."

Take the Advice You Do Have

Consumers like to know that their opinion is being heard and matters and ultimately could change the way a company does business, Dwight Zahringer, CEO of TruReview, told CRM Buyer.

"If they are saying they read other customer reviews to help make a purchasing decision then I would advise you to incorporate some of those conversion components -- yellow stars, visible 'quotes' of testimonials, etc. -- into your design," Zahringer suggested.

Really, this step should be a no-brainer, but some companies seem to have a block against absorbing the message in customers' complaints and comments.

In actuality, the latter usually outweigh the former, said Syed Hasan, CEO of ResponseTek.

"Contrary to popular belief, only 25 percent of incoming feedback is from unhappy customers, and more than 43 percent will write to share a positive experience," Hasan told CRM Buyer. "The remaining 32 percent are neither happy nor unhappy and are willing to provide their opinion.

"Given the opportunity, consumers are wanting to share their opinions," he said.

Think About the Downside of Not Doing a Survey

That 25 percent of vocal customers who are unhappy need someplace to complain, Hasan notes -- it might as well be with you.

"If you're not asking for feedback directly, consumers will look to alternative means for expressing their experience with the company," he explained. "This is why it's so important for companies to proactively seek customer feedback and resolve any issues that are within their means.

"This can turn an irate customer review into a glowing one that will continue to grow and expand your business," Hasan added.

There's No Data Like Fast Data

Given the pace of business today, organizations cannot afford to make decisions without first having secured accurate and actionable data, Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics, told CRM Buyer.

"The challenge is in getting it quickly and from the sources that matter -- the customer," he said.

In short, it's impossible today to compete as an organization without fast and accurate data, Smith asserted.

"Everybody's talking about Big Data, but there's a valid argument for fast data as well," he concluded. "Technology and surveys are a great avenue to gather this feedback. Users want to be heard and ultimately, businesses want to be right."


Erika Morphy has been writing about technology, finance and business issues for more than 20 years. She lives in Silver Spring, Md.


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