Surveys are what we like to call “the worst-kept secret of effective marketing”.

Here’s why: everybody uses them… but almost no one does it well.

That’s a shame. When properly crafted, customer development surveys are the next best thing to mind reading. They help you really “get” your customers.

And when you can do that, you marketing stops being good – and becomes great.

Today, we’ll look at what makes a terrific customer development survey. Get your crystal ball out, we’re about to do some mind reading!

Customer Surveys

Rule #1. Make it about them

Do you know what the first, and biggest, barrier you’ll face when trying to survey customers? They can’t be bothered to fill out your survey…

…Unless you give them a good reason to do it.

You can achieve it in two different ways:

  • Tell them that the biggest reason you’re doing this survey is to make your product or service more valuable to them (very easy).
  • Promise them an additional incentive – something valuable, or even amusing. Private content, humorous “reward” for going through with the questionnaire, anything that would help them or entertain them (harder, but worth it).

(This is unrelated to surveys, but Groupon’s unsubscribe page is the perfect example of humorous content meant to entice customers to do what you want).

Rule #2. Keep it to 3-5 questions

Time and attention are two scarcest resources your customers have – don’t abuse them needlessly. A powerful survey needs only a few types of questions.

Ask your customers about…

  1. The biggest problem they are struggling with.
  2. Their #1 goal, or a dream scenario they have.
  3. The biggest fear or concern preventing them from taking action.
  4. Previous ways in which they tried to solve their problem.
  5. Their name and email for future follow-up.

No need to complicate things.

By the way, when you’re asking customers to complete a survey, don’t forget to address their objections about lack of time. Even a simple phrase like, “It will take less than 5 minutes,” will go a long way.

Rule #3. Make it as easy as possible to give great answers…

Always provide specific examples of how you want each question answered. This will prevent customers from quitting the survey, and increase the number of useful answers you’ll get.

For example, you don’t want to ask, “What is your biggest fear or concern about dieting?” and leave at that. Elaborate, like so:

“E.g. ‘I don’t want to have to give up pizza, and spend the rest of my life counting calories’ – please be specific”

Rule #4. …but don’t put words in their mouth

When you do a survey, you want reliable feedback. If you ask loaded questions like, “Why do you hate exercising?” you’re setting yourself up to get a mountain of useless answers that don’t reflect what your customers really think and feel.

Re-frame any leading questions to be more open-ended. For example, you could change the above question to, “What do you dislike most about working out?”

Rule #5. Take the time to follow up and chat

Surveys are great, but getting on the phone or face-to-face with your customers is one of the best things you can do – no matter how big or small your business is.

People are more likely to open up one-on-one, despite what research says about online honesty. You just need to know how to talk to them (maybe we’ll do a separate post on customer interviews).

When you get an especially emotional, detailed, or interesting submission, always take the time to follow up and engage in conversation. It doesn’t have to be long: even 15 minutes can be powerful, and insanely valuable. Plus, every chat like that is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with customers.

Listening to your customers is at the core of great marketing – and surveys are a terrific way to do this at scale. You can use them to mine for great copy, develop new products or services, or level up your customer service. They are your secret weapon, unassuming and hidden in plain sight. Use them wisely!

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