5 essential questions to evaluate your online customer survey

Lithium Alumni (Retired)
onlinesurveys.jpgWhat does it take to build a killer online customer survey? In developing materials for a new Lithium workshop for improving online customer feedback methods & results, I’ve had the opportunity to review scores of online surveys from companies across multiple industries, geographies and focus areas.  There are various approaches for how to solicit feedback, but for this post let's focus instead on the types of questions these surveys ask.  You'd be surprised how many surveys I've seen that are quite long,  20-30 questions.  Really? Are they all necessary?  Consider how you feel when confronted with a survey, when the experience is easy and you are willing to participate versus when there is no way you are going to take the time.
Here are 5 essential questions to evaluate your survey questions, focusing on key data points that matter to your business:
1) What is the purpose of this survey?
It's quite simple but the first thing to review; why are you asking these questions, do the answers tie directly to your business objectives?  Are you focused transactional feedback, relationship feedback, or a mix of the two?  Oftentimes we see a mix of the two; not necessarily a bad thing if the survey is kept brief, but if it balloons up to 10+ questions, you may want to consider which type of feedback makes sense in an ongoing basis (mostly transactional) vs a few times a year (relationship).
Advanced tip: if you are launching a new survey, try A/B testing to evaluate 2-3 options and see which one gives you better survey completion rates; test your assumptions!
2) What actions will we take with the question results?
Step back and take a look at each question with a fresh perspective.  Is the answer to the question you are asking merely "interesting" or is there an action you have taken?  If you've had the same survey for a while, set a reminder to evaluate the usefulness of each question on a regular basis.  Whittle down your question set to the bare minimum that provides maximum business benefits.
Advanced tip: try the "3 Whys" (my version of the "5 Whys") - challenge the person who wants that question included with "why are we asking this question?"  Follow up their answer with another "why <their answer>?" and yet another "why <their next answer>?" This forces them to not just give a canned response but to dig deeper into the real value that answer provides.
3) If we ask for open comments, are we regularly reporting back to customers on improvements made?
This is a biggie - if you ask for customer comments yet you don't collect, analyze and act on them, then stop asking.  Same goes for "submit your email here if you would like to be contacted."  You are on the hook to be consistent and active in response and results.  Don't waste their time by setting an expectation that you are listening and will act if you won't; be honest with yourself and respectful of their time.
Advanced tip: in the next survey, include an example of something that was changed from customers' feedback (but make sure to update it regularly!).
4) Can we get this information through other means?
If the customer is logged in, why ask for their email address or other profile information when you already have it?  Do you ask where they came from or how often they visit? This information is easy to capture with most web analytics tools.  Most modern survey tools can mash up data from your CRM or other platforms (like Lithium!) to provide a wealth of additional information without having to ask for it.  Check with your survey vendor to find out what they can do.
Advanced tip: if you do hook up more data behind the scenes, can you design/deliver a better survey, that recognizes all customers are not the same, where some questions may be appropriate only for specific customer segments?
5) Are there other customer feedback processes in my company?
Find out if other groups are collecting similar feedback information.  This may help to standardize on some key KPIs markers that benchmark Customer Experience across the brand, like CSAT (Customer Satisfaction), NPS (Net Promoter Score) or CES (Customer Effort Score).  You may also find that other groups are collecting useful data you don't need to ask.
Advanced tip: in an enterprise company, there may be multiple stakeholders who control certain sections of questions asked.  Don't forget to meet on a regular basis to review what is being done with the results, and be a strong advocate for the customer, simplifying the feedback whenever possible.
What do you think, are there other essential questions we should add?

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 Brian Kling is Director, Social Strategy Consulting, EMEA at Lithium Technologies.  Based in Zurich, Switzerland, he has extensive experience managing Social/Community programs & strategy for enterprise Customer Service & Support.  He specializes in developing strategy and designing services that enhance customer experience and optimize business operations.