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Dear Reader: Thank you for viewing this article. You’ve been selected to participate in a survey about your experience ...

What?! Total turnoff, right? But those intrusive and generic survey requests are all too common. Ironically, it’s likely your experience was going just fine — until you were interrupted by another #&%@!$ survey request!

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What Not to Do

Surveys and other customer experience (CX) outreach efforts should be undertaken with an eye toward improving the customer experience. Surveys that annoy or alienate people are counterproductive, yet frustration with surveys is common and it’s attributable to a number of factors. You would likely be irritated by a survey that does any of the following things:

  1. Pops up immediately on a website and interrupts your experience before you’ve had a chance to do anything.
  2. Asks seemingly random or off-base questions that aren’t related to your needs or interests.
  3. Doesn’t seem to add value to your experience with the company — even after you tell them a lot about yourself, answering question after question ...
  4. All of the above.

As a customer, when I get obtrusive, lengthy, random surveys — whether via email, on a website or on the phone — I tend to ignore them. As a marketing professional, I often find that rather than capturing holistic customer sentiments, those surveys primarily elicit feedback from the extremes — people who have very positive or (more likely) very negative experiences are the ones who take the time to respond.

Taking CX surveys should be a microcosm of what a good customer experience is.

Related Article: Want to Hear the Voice of Customers? Listen to Your Employees

A New, Better Way

For marketers — and organizations at large — it’s time to rethink how and when to survey people. By designing and deploying surveys that are brief, seamless, contextual and helpful, you can create a win-win for your organization and its customers.

Let’s look at how you can design surveys with each of those attributes.

Be brief. Designing a short but effective survey requires being strategic about the question(s) you ask, so you can get illuminating information about customers or visitors in as few questions as possible. 

Your goal should be to ask what CX luminaries Don Peppers and Martha Rogers (authors of “Managing Customer Relationships: A Strategic Framework”) call golden questions — queries that are “designed to reveal important information about a customer, while requiring the least effort possible from the customer.” 

For us at Evergage, knowing someone’s industry influences the content we show and the campaigns we run. We use various methods for ascertaining a visitor’s industry, but if we don’t know it, we ask. “What is your industry?” is a golden question for us.

Be seamless. Surveys should not disrupt or interfere with the customer experience. Avoid using intrusive surveys that pop up as soon as visitors land on your site, and don’t bombard people with questions that have little relevance to what they came to the site to do.

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), a leading bank for entrepreneurs, does it right. New visitors to the BDC home page see, incorporated into the hero area near the top, a survey that directly relates to their experience. It asks visitors what their business goals are, with options such as “managing my cash flow,” “finding the right loan” and “getting new customers.”

Be contextual. The best time to survey someone is when you’ve earned the right to do so (that is, not immediately after they land on your site!) and when they’re actively engaged with and thinking about your company or solution. For example, I’ve seen savvy software-as-a-service providers, including a leading mobile application management platform, deploy single-question Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys right within their apps — targeting active users while they’re logged in and using the service.

Be helpful. This last point is the most important — and the most frequently unaddressed. You can (and should) use customer feedback to effect change — but not at the aggregate level, and not at some vague point in the future. Make surveys meaningful by adjusting each individual’s experience immediately based on that person’s response(s) in a choose-your-own-adventure type of way. In each of the examples below, the survey answers supplied by individuals trigger in-the-moment, individualized and helpful (while often subtle) changes to their experiences:

  • At Evergage, once someone tells us their industry, we immediately tailor the home page (and other areas of the site) to reflect industry-specific images, copy, calls to action, customer logos, case studies, etc.
  • At BDC, when site visitors answer the survey question about their business goals, they are immediately shown relevant resources that help them locate the information they need. For example, a visitor who chooses “Finding the right loan” will see content on how to get financing. Subsequent site visits will prioritize similar information on the home page.
  • The maker of the mobile app management platform I mentioned earlier presents different experiences based on how app users answer the NPS question. Those rating their likelihood to recommend a 9 or 10 then see information thanking them and inviting them to join the customer advocacy program. But those with ratings on the lower end of the scale see a message indicating that a customer success representative will be following up with them promptly.

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Surveys Enrich Your Understanding of Customers

There are lots of ways to learn more about your customers and prospects. You can tap into the data in your customer relationship management and email marketing systems, or use digital behavioral data to make inferences about customers’ interests and intent. Survey responses can supplement that data, often filling in holes by providing explicit information directly from visitors.

When you ask strategic questions and make those questions count, you can round out profile data for a more complete view of each person engaging with your company. By storing the survey data within each individual’s profile, you can improve the targeting and relevancy of future campaigns (in addition to using that data to power in-the-moment personalization, as I mentioned earlier).

Related Article: Why Your Voice of the Customer Data Isn't Actionable (and What to Do About It)

Turning Customer Feedback Into Action

Improving CX surveys requires creating better surveys and putting the responses to better use. Once customers are trained to see that their survey responses don’t fall into a black hole — and can actually help them — they will be more inclined to provide information and to participate in future surveys.

Should you move away from traditional, annoying surveys in favor of more strategic and customer-centric techniques? Survey says — YES!