High Priority

What's the Best Time for Customer Surveys?

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  April 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

Having worked in a number of different research capacities prior to joining TMC (News - Alert), I often find myself thinking about survey research and, more specifically, how such research is conducted.

There is no question customer surveys are a fantastic means of collecting information and evaluating service levels and overall customer satisfaction – and we all know customer satisfaction drives business success. Consider the retail space. Customer surveys are a fantastic mechanism for improving facilities, enhancing service levels, and determining overall satisfaction levels. The question, though, is how to best implement them in order to solicit the highest response levels. 

Many retail chains – such as Kohl’s and Home Depot, among others – have implemented online surveys and include information on how to complete such surveys at the bottom of purchase receipts – along with an entry into a prize drawing upon completion. Restaurants also have long-since used feedback cards that diners can fill out and either leave with their servers or drop into a box on their way out. And many call centers have implemented IVR-based surveys at the end of calls to their customer service centers.

The question is, are these the most effective ways to solicit customer feedback?

My experience suggests call centers have the right idea – catch people at the point of contact, when they have the best recollection of their experiences and are still in interaction mode, so to speak. When customers are still on the phone, taking a few moments to answer a few short questions is a reasonably painless experience.

On the other hand, the retailers that ask customers to log into their online systems to fill out surveys have an opportunity to gather greater detail, simply because they are likely to have the attention of respondents longer. But, the major drawback is they are dependent upon customers agreeing to (or remembering to) follow through. There is also the likelihood they may not have the same recollection of their experiences. Customers may have shopped elsewhere in the mean time and can easily confuse experiences or, if a latter experience stands out more, they may simply choose not to register a response at all.

As for the more traditional paper and pencil method that is still being used in many dining establishments, it’s time to enter the technology era. Not only do people have to write comments by hand, but someone has to then manually enter the information into a data entry system. No thanks.

For those businesses that employ the post-experience online survey, technology is available to set up a short survey at the point of sale, either using the same touchscreen endpoints used for payments or by adding separate survey endpoints. They idea is much the same as the end-of-call phone surveys: choose a few key questions that address the most critical elements of the operation and catch customers while they are still in your facility and most likely to be willing to provide feedback. In fact, even a single question can be used to address key pain points: WalMart has conducted single-question surveys on their credit card readers, which customers were asked to answer prior to swiping their cards.

For the restaurant industry, why not spend a few dollars on tablets, install a survey application that can be connected to a back-end CRM system, and deliver the tablet-based surveys to customers with their checks and ask if they would mind filling out a short satisfaction survey. Hotels can employ the same strategy with their video check-out systems. Again, it catches customers at the point of sale, increasing the likelihood of response – and genuine feedback. The idea of leveraging the latest technology to collect feedback alone is likely to increase response rates, as many customers will be intrigued enough to pick up the tablet and answer a few questions.

Consumer electronics stores should consider at least trying out similar strategies, leveraging products they sell, creating a twofold benefit – in addition to collecting feedback, they are putting products in the hands of customers, effectively making a sales pitch without the customer’s knowledge. A customer who has stopped at Best Buy (News - Alert) for a new DVD, but is asked to complete a short survey on an iPad might very easily be the next iPad purchaser.

My personal experience is such: I have often completed IVR surveys at the end of customer service calls, simply because they are convenient. I have also left dozens of retail stores with a plan to log in and complete online surveys – but I have yet to actually do it. Why? It’s the old adage: Out of sight, out of mind.

There is no debating the value of customer feedback but, the key to their success lies – just as with any product – in their placement. Present customers with a simple mechanism, a few key questions that are designed to measure the most important elements of your operation (nobody wants to complete a lengthy survey and questions can be changed as needs evolve), and hit them with the opportunity when they are most likely to accommodate your request – at the point of interaction.

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi