Business Professor: Online surveys helps you gather feedback

Dear Professor Bruce:As a small business owner, I know it’s important to find out what my customers think, but I don’t always have the time or resources to ask them. I used to use good old-fashioned face-to-face communication, but that is not always possible as my business grows. Can you give me some suggestions on how to know what my customers need?

Answer:Online surveys are cost effective, fast, easy, and rewarding mechanisms for gathering customer feedback. They are easy for customers to use, so they help you get beyond those who are generally more vocal about whether your business is doing very well or poorly. As your business grows, this is particularly important because your time with customers will become more focused on those who are most or least happy with you. Online surveys get you inside the mind of the mostly silent majority.

Mary Crogan, senior business and marketing manager for online surveys from Constant Contact, describes online surveys as a GPS system for your business. They help guide you along the most direct and efficient path to your goals.

As you grow, you can expect competition to heat up. Surveys help you identify problems before they lead to customer attrition. Use the feedback and intelligence you get from regular, systematic surveys to make smart choices and watch your business grow with confidence.

Surveys can also be particularly rewarding when you are considering a new product rollout or planning big changes to your offerings. You may have big expectations for success based on feedback from the vocal minority, but fail to anticipate how the changes will impact everyone else and you could experience problems.

Crogan offers these tips to small businesses when using online surveys to gather feedback:

1. Define your objectives. Know what you want to accomplish.

2. Think intuitively. What do you need to know to make your business stronger, smarter, and more effective?

3. Design surveys for easily measured results (avoid too many open-ended questions).

4. Only ask what you need to know, not what you want to know. You can always ask more questions at a later date.

5. Use the results. Don’t sit on them. Make good use of them in making your business product or service better or stronger.

6. Show your respondents that their feedback mattered. Keep the feedback loop going, whether it’s once a month, or once a quarter.

Bruce Freeman, the Small Business Professor, is president of ProLine Communications, a marketing and public relations firm in Livingston, N.J., and author of “Birthing the Elephant” (Ten Speed Press). E-mail questions to Bruce@SmallBusinessProf.com.

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