Building Customer-Focused Products: Customer Surveys Done Right

Customer surveys are fast and cheap and are extremely effective for gathering market research, if you follow some easy tips. There is a dark

Source: Bigstock

Building Customer-Focused Products: An Insider’s Guide to Market Research, is a series compiled by product owners with decades of experience in creating and launching successful subscription products.  The series is full of specific tips, checklists, examples and tools as well as best practices and foundational knowledge that will help you select the suppliers that are the right fit for your business.

This series is written with the beginner in mind.  The content is explanatory and foundational, designed to give someone new to product leadership the practical tools necessary to build a product in a timely and efficient manner. 

Building Customer-Focused Products: Customer Surveys Done Right

Customer surveys are fast and cheap and are extremely effective for gathering market research, if you follow some easy tips. There is a dark side, however, it’s also VERY easy to create a bad survey that delivers low-quality information with misguided direction and insight about your product or business. Unfortunately, it’s pretty common to run a bad survey! 

Don’t let “quick and easy = poor results” happen to you. Make sure, even when creating something quickly, to map out your goals and objectives with a good plan.

Examples of planning, with good and bad questions:

Good Answer
Not Good Answer
What am I trying to learn from my subscribers?
How likely 1st-year subscribers are to renew.
Do they like our subscription?
Who wants to know the answers?  Why do they want to know?
Sales and Finance want to know so they can forecast revenue for next year.
It’s a good idea for all of us to know this.
What are they going to do with the information?
Create next year’s revenue forecasts.
I don’t know.
Who do I need to survey?
1st-year subscribers.
All customers and prospects.
What will motivate respondents to complete the survey?
We’ll offer a $5 gift card to anyone who responds.*
They want us to be the best subscription we can be.
How will I present the results?
Summarize overall responses with 1-2 highlights.
Will just hand over the results.

*Respondents don’t need to receive financial or other prizes, but 1st-year subscribers have a lower level of emotional investment in your product.  Longer-term customers or prospect who know you very well may only need to know why you’re asking the questions.

Elements of a Good Customer Survey:

  • Introduction. Make sure to explain who you are and why you’re asking these questions!
  • Time Commitment. Be honest about how long it will take to complete the survey, and share that information with your respondent.
  • Instructions.  Want to make sure everyone knows that “5” equals “Great” and “1” equals “Terrible?”  Spell it out.
  • Confidentiality. Don’t leave your respondent guessing about whether you’ll respect confidentiality; say so directly.
  • Thank You. The two most important words in business.  Be sure to say them.

Writing Good Survey Questions:

Good survey questions are the difference between “news you can use” and a lot of empty data. Spend time on your survey questions; think through how you word them, and keep your survey as brief as possible.  To write a solid, actionable survey, assess each of your survey questions by asking:

  • What will I do with the information I get from this question?
  • Is the question written in a way that suggests one answer is better than another?
  • Can I get this information without bothering my subscriber for it?
  • Are the right/best options offered in a list?  Do I allow for an “other” answer?

What is the Difference Between Effective and Ineffective Survey Questions?

Bad Question: Why is it Bad? Better Question: Why is it Better?
“On a scale of 1-5, how much do you enjoy reading My Wine Weekly?” Your subscribers like you well enough to subscribe, so asking whether they enjoy reading your publication validates something you can pretty safely assume.  “Force-rank these five features of My Wine Weekly, in order of importance to you.” Here you learn what your subscribers enjoy most, so you can make the most effort to keep it, expand on it and promote it.
“How much time do you spend reading My Wine Weekly?” If your publication is online, you can get this information from your “average site visit” data – why ask? “How much time do you spend reading [each of these competitor publications?” You can’t get information about competitors – and possible affiliate partners – in an easier way.
“Do you subscribe to My Wine Weekly?” Another question you don’t need to ask; send separate surveys to customers and prospects. “How likely are you to recommend My Wine Weekly to a friend?” The Net Promoter Score is a simple, solid piece of data to gather on an ongoing basis.


Choosing a Survey Platform

Job #1 in administering a survey is choosing a tool.  You could run a survey on your own (via email and google docs) or use one of they many free or paid survey tools on the market. If you are new to surveys, we suggest you try a free tool first, learn and then grow from there depending on your needs. 

Here are some free and paid survey platform options for your consideration:

To give you an idea of what to look for in a survey platform, here are some of the free and paid features of one of the leading survey tools on the market, SurveyMonkey. SurveyMonkey uses a freemium model, with a free option and the ability to pay for upgraded versions of its platform. Even very large companies use the Basic (Free) option on Survey Monkey, and it works just fine. They key is to map what you need and get the tool that best matches that list.

Basic (Free) Survey Monkey


Survey Monkey $26 Monthly Option
10 # of Questions (10 questions is more than enough for many surveys.) Unlimited
100 # of Responses (A valuable upgrade if you are surveying prospects or have substantially more than 100 customers). 1,000
3 # of Collectors (This means “ways to deliver your survey” such as via an email, with a link on your site, etc.  Three is enough for most of us.) Unlimited
1 # of Analysis Rules You Can Apply At Once (E.g., With Basic you can see how many women gave you a high rating; with crosstabs, you can see how many women over 50 versus under 50 gave you one.  Assuming you gathered that data. If you’ve gathered a lot of demographic data, and you get a large number of responses,having crosstab capability is valuable). Can do Crosstabs
 Use Your Logo? (Good but not essential.) Y
 N Skip Logic (i.e., let respondents skip several questions depending on their answers) Y
N Export Data? (E.g., to Excel or Powerpoint. Re: Excel – again, this is a big benefit if you have – or are collecting – a lot of demographic information, like age and income, about your survey base. If not, you can’t do a lot with the data anyway. Re: Powerpoint – exporting charts is easier and looks better when you’re creating reports, but you can always capture a print screen and paste data into a PPT.) Y
N 24/7 Email Support (Somewhat of a benefit if you’re new to using Survey Monkey) Y

Whatever platform you choose to execute your survey program on, make sure you focus on the fundamentals – good questions!

The Open-Ended Question: How Much Value Does It Provide, Really?

Open ended questions are great for quotable quotes, but they can be a double-edged sword. They will not provide statistical data for trend analysis and reporting. Did you know that open-ended questions are about three times LESS likely to be answered than any other survey question?

That said, open-ended questions WILL provide qualitative information that can support data and provide insight you otherwise couldn’t get. Open-ended questions mitigate the bias even the best of us build into our surveys, they prove to the respondent that we want their opinion, and they provide details that can be the difference between actionable and pointless survey results.

So, what are the rules around open-ended questions?  Here are three good ones:

  • The best way to ask an open-ended question is to add an “Other” box onto a series of options.
  • Open-ended questions need to be extremely well-written, due to the high amount of variation your respondents can build into their answers.  Be specific in what you’re asking, since the answer could be anything.
  • Never use more than 3 open-ended questions in a survey distributed online.  Instead, opt for qualitative, interview-type customer surveys.

So when do you use an open-ended question?

Source: Rew Research

A special kind of survey you need to understand: The Net Promoter Score

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a system developed by Fred Reichheld to understand customer loyalty.

NPS uses one basic question to measure customer loyalty, “How likely is it that you would recommend our organization to a friend or colleague?”  The question essentially tracks how customers represent a company to their colleagues, friends, families and others.  Reichheld believes this third-party view of a company by their customers dramatically influences and predicts its growth potential.

NPS is an alternative to traditional customer satisfaction research and used globally by start-ups and Fortune 50 companies alike. It is something your business should consider to track satisfaction of key products or your business as a whole.

NPS uses a 0-10 point scale that survey responders use when asking the : “How likely is it that you would recommend our organization to a friend or colleague?” question.  The number a customer chooses indicates that they are “Detractors,” “Passives,” or “Promoters.”

Score breakdowns:

  • 0 – 6: Detractors
  • 7 – 8: Passives
  • 9-10: Promoters

While there are pros and cons to the NPS, studies by the Harvard Business Review found that companies as unique as car-rental and banking grow revenues when they improve their Net Promoter Scores.

The big benefits of an NPS survey is that it’s very straightforward and allows you to benchmark your company’s results against other subscription businesses. We highly recommend that you include it in your ongoing market research.

Surveys can drive business, campaign and product growth if executed well. What works for one business may not work for you, so we recommend to test. We also recommend to continuously survey, without continual testing, you will not see changes in your customers, in your product or in your market and will not be able to react to them.

What tools and survey tips to you use in your organization?

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