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Five simple steps to finding out what your customers really think

There are countless tools available to help you better understand your customers' needs: SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang and SurveyGizmo, to name a few. Information on your customers is what should be driving your business decisions. Online survey tools are easy to use and relatively inexpensive. Often they can be created and administered by internal staff.

Surveys give your customers a forum to offer feedback. Listening to your customers creates relationship and trust which, in turn, builds loyalty. Surveys are also a great way to gauge customer reaction to new products or services.

Typically, those who respond to surveys are on one end of the customer satisfaction spectrum or the other, like an inverse bell curve. Only those who are exceedingly pleased or greatly displeased tend to take the time to participate. That's okay. They want to be heard and you want to hear from them. You already have a connection with your existing customers. Fostering that communication channel builds credibility and may gain you referrals.

While you don't need an expert to do an online survey, you need to do it right. Here's how:

1. Consider what you need to know vs. what would be nice to know. The ease in delivering surveys means people are surveyed all the time. Keep yours simple and brief.
2. Link attitudes and preferences to behavior. These are people who have already chosen your products or services. Find out why or what you can do to make them even happier.
3. Allow for anonymity. Some people will respond more openly if they know their identity is secret. Allowing your customers to opt-in for further questioning or to follow your research puts them in the driver's seat.
4. Sample your survey on your most loyal base, your "friendlies." Ask for sincere feedback about the wording of your survey. Now is the time to be certain your questions are clear and non-offensive.
5. Decide when and how often to survey. Do you want feedback immediately following a purchase? After your customer has required help? At certain intervals in the product's life cycle? Be mindful of over-surveying; annual communications may suffice. You can also place a survey on your website for those looking to provide feedback.

When is it time to call in an expert?
• If you have a critical, identified business decision to make, you may need more information than an online survey alone can offer.
• If you want to segment your customers and better understand the attitudes and behaviors of each segment, you need an expert.
• If what you need researched is deep and subjective, it's time for a professional.

Online surveys are great for quick, quantitative feedback but an in-depth understanding of the marketplace is a whole different ball game. These easy access Survey software tools don't support in-depth research and analysis. However, they can help you make the connections between what your customers are saying and what you need to be thinking and doing to remain competitive.

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Stu Perlmeter

Stu Perlmeter is principal of First Resource Inc., a Denver-based market intelligence firm whose researchers are specialists in primary, secondary, qualitative and quantitative market research. Prior to First Resource, Perlmeter was a senior marketing and sales manager in several industries, including multi-media development, health information systems and publishing. He can be reached at (303) 750-1950 or stu@1st-resource.com.



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