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This, and what questions should we ask? are the two most fundamental questions you need to answer to put together great customer service surveys. People ask us it all the time.

The question’s very simple, and sometimes the answer is too. But sometimes, for some businesses, especially if you have a lot of repeat customers or a heavy support load, the answer can get complicated.

But don’t worry. There is an answer which suits you, and we can help you find it.

Like everything else in setting up a customer feedback project, this all depends on the golden ruleput yourself in the customer’s shoes. Like laughter (or a private jet), the golden rule makes everything easier.

So, if we’re following the golden rule, and putting our customers first, when’s the right time to request feedback? Let’s look at the options:

  • Periodic customer feedback For example, annual or quarterly surveys.
  • Real-time customer feedback For example, automated surveys every time a customer buys from you, or after every project you complete.
  • Passive customer feedback For example, email footers and web forms.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach which will work for every business. Everyone is different. So let’s think about what our customers want:

  1. Customers don’t want to change supplier if they can avoid it – this is a headache they don’t need
  2. Customers do want it to be easy to get in touch with you
  3. Customers don’t want their inboxes full of mail
  4. Customers do want you to be able to fix their problems at the time they happen, not simply receive an apology months later

The first question

So let’s see how any business, including yours, can give customers what they want:

The first question we ask someone when we’re helping them design a feedback schedule is “how frequently do you do something for your customers”?

By ‘do something’, we mean interactions like ‘customer places an order’, ‘you complete a project’, ‘a customer calls your helpdesk and gets a problem resolved’ or ‘you complete a new sale’. Any touchpoint between the customer and your business.

If the answer is ‘infrequently’, the answer is simple – send a short survey to the customer at every touchpoint. It’s best if you automate this, so for instance, when a call ends in your call-centre software, a survey is sent; or when a project is completed in your job management system, a survey is sent. This is real time customer feedback.

If your interactions are more complex, you have a few options:

If your customers are ordering from you multiple times a week

Or you often deal with tricky issues which require multiple calls to a helpdesk to resolve, real-time surveying may be a bad idea.

In this situation, you’ll get better results from periodic and passive customer feedback – for example web forms, or footer links in your email. But if you take this approach , it’s crucially important that your customer can find these forms when they need them.

A customer who’s giving you feedback is effectively giving you free money. They are giving you the chance to retain their business, or to convert them from a customer into a brand advocate who will recommend you to their friends and colleagues. If a customer is kind enough to take time out and give you feedback, you need to make 100% sure that they find a feedback form before they lose interest.

One approach that we see great success with is a mix between real-time and periodic feedback – rate-limited real-time feedback. Or, ‘send a customer a feedback form every time you have an interaction with them unless you’ve sent them one in the past 3 months.’

This is a pretty good compromise approach. Periodic surveys are rarely a good idea (we’ll get on to annual surveys, specifically, in just a second); but real-time surveys can be overwhelming. This way, customers who deal with you regularly are given a chance to feed back, but aren’t ‘spammed’ with forms so you don’t loose their goodwill.

Why you should never, ever use Annual Surveys for Customer Feedback

Lots of companies try to measure and improve customer satisfaction with an annual survey, only to end up in one of two bad places:

  • No increase in customer satisfaction
  • No increase in customer satisfaction and a slight increase in attrition

What goes wrong?

This isn’t rocket science. If you ask all of your customers once a year whether they’re satisfied, some of them will have had problems 11 months ago. If you’ve left it this long to ask, do you think they’re going to trust you genuinely care?

Most people aren’t going to take you seriously, won’t tell you about the problems they had all those months ago, and won’t give you a chance to put things right; they’ll just pay closer attention to your competitors in future.

But there’s a problem at the other end of the spectrum as well. If you can get the communications right, people might just trust you enough to give you feedback. And if they do? Suddenly, your already-busy customer support team have a heap of customer feedback to comb through, so naturally only the ‘most important’ issues get dealt with, the rest get filed under ‘good to know’.

Unfortunately, to your customers, their particular feedback is the ‘most important’ thing. Anyone who raised a problem they wanted you to solve but ended up in the ‘good to know’ pile isn’t going to thank you for being kind enough to ask anyway. They’re going to pay closer attention to your competitors

If you can’t reasonably collect feedback in real-time, don’t run an annual survey. At the very worst, look at quarterly, or every 4 months. Rate-limited real time feedback (see above) can work well, too – alongside email footers and web forms.

Most importantly, just follow the golden rules:

  • Rule 0 Always put yourself in your customers’ shoes
  • Rule 1 Make it easy for customers to give feedback
  • Rule 2 Act promptly on all feedback
  • Rule 3 Show the feedback to everyone

It takes a bit more investment than simply blasting out an annual survey, but the rewards always far outweigh the costs.

Scheduling real time feedback

If you’re running real-time feedback, there’s one massive factor you need to consider – you’re not automatically sending surveys, you’re automatically scheduling surveys.

If you’re running an e-commerce business, it’s no good sending a survey when a customer completes an order. You need to schedule one for when they’ve received their goods. If you’re checking that customers are happy with your sales process, it’s no good sending a survey when you close the deal, you need to schedule one for when they’re using your service or product.

Still stuck?

If you’ve read all this and you’re still not sure when to send out your surveys, get in touch! We like nothing more than chatting to people who are passionate about their customers, so we’d love to hear the problems you’re dealing with and suggest solutions based on our experience.

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