Guide to online surveys

In the past few years the social shift in technology and online usage has been quite remarkable. I have certainly been (and continue to be) in awe of how technology, multimedia connectivity and ‘web power’ has impacted our day-to-day lives. What started as primarily a social environment has now made the inevitable transition to a powerful commercial tool, which continues to grow and develop at an astounding pace.

Social media is very much the ‘buzz’ phrase and one can no longer go to a conference or event without a guru talking about its impact and how it is changing the world. They are of course right, but what effect is it having on customer experience measurement and online research?

Social media is fundamentally a means for social engagement via the internet. In the past five years social media websites have become ubiquitous by giving users a way to interact with each other ‘on the go’. Individuals have grown accustomed to accessing various avenues of social media on a regular basis; it has become part of their daily routine. The primary reasons for ‘joining up’ to these social media sites are to share thoughts with the world (or indeed a closed group), network, provide a personal update and, indeed, keep-up-to-date. This free flowing and constant exchange of ideas has led to a mass of data and therefore potential insight floating around the web.

In commercial terms this presents business at large with a significant opportunity. Brands are keen to be seen as part of this continued evolution and are committing significant time, energy and resource to the cause. They recognise the opportunity to develop stronger relationships with consumers and gain feedback that they can use for performance improvement. In this context these newer forms of surveying present many opportunities – often in a more cost-effective way than traditional customer research methods.

Insight gained from these online and multimedia methodologies can be driven by events and can be collected from the customer more conveniently than previous survey tools. Brands are recognising that, for example, standing a researcher outside their store to conduct ‘exit’ interviews, is not only failing to deliver a true representation of performance (as stores will naturally raise their game), but is also costly and not necessarily convenient for the consumer. Engaging in other ways allows the brand to gain more insight/data at a lower cost whilst learning more about its customer base – what is there not to like?

There was however always going to be a ‘but’, and here it is. As we move forward we need to be mindful that all this online and multimedia activity may actually deter customers from engaging.

Maintaining response rates

To this point I often see surveys that are poorly constructed (lacking the tone and content to engage the customer) and questionnaires that have have been designed without the requisite research input. Others are broadcast without context (a scatter gun approach that is not linked to an event or interaction), and may not be customer focused (a single channel approach that does not offer customer convenience). When surveys are designed and deployed correctly, these shortcomings can be avoided helping to maximise the experience, value and response rate.

When choosing the correct partner for deploying surveys, research expertise should come as standard. In terms of best practice recommendations, ‘channel of choice’, for me, remains one of the single biggest wins for brands seeking to positively engage customers to elicit feedback. Whether we openly recognise it or not, we all have our preferred channels. Some people love to text, others insist on talking to a human being. Either way, to offer a single channel is immediately disenfranchising a proportion of the customer base – to use an old analogy – square peg, round hole. The technology and capability now exists to say to the customer ‘Hey we really want to know what you think, so what’s the most convenient way for you to tell us?” – as a consumer that demonstrates true customer centricity. We have seen notable uplifts in the customer’s propensity to engage when the choice is offered.

Maintaining an effective customer relationship management (CRM) system has long been recognised as a key to knowing, and getting the most from, your customer base. One of the hardest things to do, however, is to maintain the accuracy of the information held. The best in class brands are using their research programmes to link directly into their CRM system to help achieve success in this area. Online interaction presents a great opportunity for customers to keep you up-to-date in their own time and at their own pace. Clearly not everybody will, but we have seen a good proportion elect to do so. Additionally the online, and to a degree, multimedia environments allow you to direct customers at suitable junctures throughout the survey. The opportunity exists to direct to special offers, websites or, in some cases, customer rooms/virtual communities. A well maintained CRM system also enables segmentation (audiences), message personalisation (based on purchase history) and lifecycle/event management (birthday offers, upgrades, new sales) – communications that help to strengthen customer relationships.

And finally, don’t just focus on the customer! True performance improvement is reached by ensuring all stakeholders, who hold the key to a brand’s success are engaged, have a clear understanding of the business priorities/direction and have the tools to achieve success. At Grass Roots, we recommend that the techniques that are used to engage customers also be embraced to seek employee feedback. Encourage your people to use social media, embrace the fact that they have an online presence and harness the power of this to mutual benefit.

When engaging with your audiences, however, it is important to demonstrate your ‘listening skills’. Customers are more likely to become advocates of your brand if they see that you have taken steps to improve the functionality of online shopping portal or enhance the in-store shopping experience, for example, based on their feedback. Likewise, employee engagement levels will be helped if personal development training is offered and communication improved as a result of employee opinions.

When considering online surveys it could be argued that a diminishing response rate has been seen in some areas. Conversely you could argue that as the technology becomes more accessible, the user base (and therefore potential respondents) grows and usage is more prevalent, and therefore, naturally the proportion of respondents will be comparatively lower. Whatever your view – it cannot be denied that in our culture online and multimedia surveying is rapidly changing and so impacting the way we interact with one another – and it is here to stay.