Being a second-generation family-owned business is something I’m incredibly proud of. Not only being able to carry on the legacy and entrepreneurial spirit, but to see how much we’ve grown and evolved over the years. My dad started MacKenzie in 1985 from the bonus room of our family home, and it goes without saying that feedback survey development, results analytics, and the customer insights industry as a whole looked a lot different back then.
It started with lengthy paper surveys, manual data entry, and massive spreadsheets with complex excel functions. Today, we’re empowered with digital tools and online platforms that have transformed the way we approach customer feedback. In a matter of minutes, anyone can create a free account, build a survey, and reach a global audience. We know in real-time how many people received the survey invitation and who has submitted their feedback. With a few clicks we can aggregate and segment overall survey results or view the responses of an individual level. Detailed analytics can be exported instantaneously, and findings can be applied on the fly. I’m in awe of such a big transformation in such a relatively short time.
Thanks to this technology, customer feedback and data analytics have become standard parts of how businesses operate. Being the customer insights enthusiast I am, I love to see it. However, the rapid growth of our industry has presented its own set of challenges.
As the logistics of gathering customer feedback has become easier, the strategic elements of survey development have become more important than ever – yet they are commonly overlooked. The ease of using online survey platforms can mask the potential risks of a DIY approach, and it can put end-to-end strategic planning on the backburner. This often leads to missed opportunities, unreliable data, and misguided conclusions.
So, it’s imperative for businesses to remember that online feedback survey platforms are a tool, not necessarily a full solution. They make the feedback process quicker and easier, but there is still front-end and back-end planning to do. One of those planning elements is vital to the overall success of any customer feedback project – survey development.
From goal setting and question scripting to visual layout and design, a lot goes into building an effective survey. Here are a few key areas to focus on when building your next customer feedback survey.
Know your objectives.
This may seem obvious, but clarifying and refining your objectives upfront is crucial to a successful feedback survey project. The fact that it seems obvious leads many brands to breeze through this part without getting to the level of detail needed. I think one of the main challenges here is making the distinction between objectives and reasons.
The reasons for gathering customer feedback are more about big-picture goals and they explain at a high level why conducting a survey is a good idea. The objectives are more focused, nuanced, and tactical. They are what guide survey topics, question scripting, and results implementation.
For example, a common reason for gathering customer feedback is to gain a better understanding of what customers want, need, and expect from the brand. Whereas an objective could be to identify decision drivers at a specific point along the customer’s journey. The reason addresses why a survey project is important, and the objective is a launching point for how and where to focus the ensuing efforts. Separating these two elements and clarifying the feedback project’s objectives can be the difference between capturing actionable insights and just making interesting observations.
Have an action plan.
At its core, the value of customer feedback is how it’s applied to key decision-making and brand development processes. It’s not enough to just ask questions and collect data that produce interesting observations. The findings need to guide meaningful action for the efforts to be worthwhile.
Before building a feedback survey, consider when, where, and how the insights will be applied toward real-world business initiatives. By narrowing the focus on specific points of application, you’re better positioned to gather actionable insights.
I often see brands skipping this step; waiting for their survey results to be gathered before putting thought into how the insights will be used. This is typically because there’s a mix-up between an action plan and decision-making. We absolutely should wait for the survey results before making decisions. But it’s the action plan that thinks ahead to how the resulting insights will be applied, thereby establishing which topics to cover and what questions to ask within the survey.
Keep it relevant.
The main point here is to ensure feedback surveys cover topics and ask questions that actually matter to the customers. Of course, the ultimate purpose of these insights is to support internal decision-making and achieve brand development goals. But those decisions should be customer-centric in their nature. They should be focused on delivering products, services, and experiences that exceed customer wants, needs, and expectations. So, if the topics and questions in a feedback survey aren’t relevant to the customer, then the project as a whole might be missing the mark.
As you’re defining the survey objective, consider if that objective is as important to your target audience as it is to your business. As you’re creating the action plan, do so with foresight and explore how each decision stands to benefit the customer. If one or both aren’t clear, then it’s a good idea to revisit the overall purpose of your feedback project.
It’s also important to remember that we’re asking customers to put time and effort into providing their feedback. Just as each of us are busy people with long to-do lists, so are the customers we’re surveying. Keeping topics and questions centered on things that truly matter from their perspective conveys respect, appreciation, and empathy.
Make it an experience.
At this point, you’ve done some heavy lifting in terms of planning, strategy, and tactics. So, now it’s time to approach things from a different angle. What is it like for a customer to engage with your feedback survey? From the invitation, to the survey itself, to any follow-up communication, how does this interaction compare to other interactions they’ve had with your brand?
This is an important aspect of feedback survey development because these are branded touchpoints just like any other along the customer’s journey. They aren’t stand-alone pieces that are compartmentalized and kept separate from other brand interactions. We’re reaching out to an audience, engaging with them, and delivering content that just so happens to be serving a purpose other than sales or marketing. So, doesn’t it make sense for us to treat these surveys like the other branded content we present to our audiences?
An easy first step is adding visual design elements such as brand-consistent imagery, colors, and your logo. This applies to both the survey itself and the feedback invitation email. It’s shocking how many surveys I personally receive that don’t even have these basic features. I open a plain text email and click over to a plain text survey. Not only does this seem to be a half-hearted effort on the brand’s part and convey half-hearted interest in my feedback, but it simply doesn’t meet the expectations set by all their other branded content.
Another area is the verbiage, tone, and phrasing used within the survey. People have an emotional connection with the brands they support, so why not tap into that emotion by establishing a more personal and conversational tone throughout the survey? When questions sound robotic, clinical, or impersonal, they’re likely to miss out on the emotional aspects of a customer’s feedback. A great way to approach this is reading your survey questions aloud as if you’re talking with a friend. Do they sound natural and authentic? Or do they sound awkward and mechanical? When surveys feel more like a conversation than like a standardized test, you’ll capture more meaningful feedback.
Maintain the feedback loop.
You have likely heard of “closing the feedback loop,” but I believe that is an outdated concept. We want to maintain and continue growing relationships with customers, so the dialogue and communication with them need to be maintained as well. Just because a particular feedback survey project ends doesn’t mean the conversation ends. So, rather than closing the feedback loop, keep it propped open for the next time you want to hear from them.
Here’s a quick exercise to highlight the value of this approach: Think back to the most recent feedback survey you submitted as a customer. More than likely it was taken online. You received an invitation email or went to a website and clicked a survey link. You answered a series of questions, reached the final page, and clicked submit. What happened next? Maybe a “Thank you for your submission” message popped up, or a note was delivered saying how much your feedback is valued. But, then what? Did anything end up happening with your feedback? Is it actively being used or is it buried in a file somewhere with thousands of other responses? In thinking about my own feedback experiences, I have no idea. I clicked submit and that was pretty much the end.
Rather than having the end of a feedback survey be the end of a communication line, there’s a valuable opportunity to follow up with further details about the project and how the customer’s involvement is making a difference. In addition to the “Thank You” message, send an email sharing details about the action plans and intentions for using that feedback. Going a step further, reach back out after the feedback project is complete and highlight a few key findings. Share some notable insights and outline specific takeaways from the feedback project.
This shows customers you heard what they had to say and that their voices are taken seriously. It also strengthens their engagement levels and extends their interactions with your brand beyond the survey itself. You’ll likely find that it boosts response rates for your next feedback project because they’ve seen how much you can and feel it’s worth their time completing your surveys.
I know feedback survey development isn’t the flashiest or most thrilling topic, but that’s why this process is so commonly overlooked. However, building an effective and engaging survey is the foundation of gathering actionable customer insights. It ensures the data collected is accurate, in-depth, and goal oriented. It also benefits brand building, customer experience, and relationship building initiatives.
As online survey platforms make the process faster and easier, it becomes even more important to slow down in considering the roles planning and strategy play in successful feedback projects.