What You Should Ask Your Customers Today – and How to Make That Information Matter

August 29, 2017

If there's any single piece of marketing advice you should take to heart, it is this: Listen to your customers! Talking to your customers is the only way to know whether your marketing and customer retention strategies are working. Customers can give you the insights you need to adjust dangerous customer service patterns, understand prospective customers' motivation to buy, and more.

The challenge with surveying your customers, however, is that you need to ask the right questions. Confusing phrasing or a focus on the wrong things can lead to incomplete responses--or worse, inaccurate ones. The right questions will keep you focused and give you the information you need to make a pivot when necessary.

Keep it short

If your customers are filling out a survey (especially if you're not offering anything in return), do your best to respect their time. You'll get a much higher completion rate, which means more actionable data. Every question needs to have a strong purpose—do you really need to know their name? Is it vital to find out how they first found you? Nobody wants to stare down a long list and feel like a favor is turning into a chore.

If you're not planning to offer respondents anything, you should reconsider. They are doing you a favor so show your appreciation with something for their effort. It shouldn't be big, or you might taint the results. Whether it's a gift card for a cup of coffee or a unique gift from a local business—offering something small to say thanks will buy you a lot of goodwill.

In looking at your potential list of questions, be sure you know exactly why each question is there, and what you're going to do with that data. If it's not going to be actionable, take it out of your survey

Ask open-ended questions

While shorter is better, it's also important to make sure that you're not just asking multiple choice or yes/no questions. While this data makes for easy visualizations and analysis, it's often the responses to open-ended questions that will most surprise you.

Make sure that you're asking a single clear question--not a bunch of things at once. Try easing your respondent into a topic with a series of short questions, then asking something more open-ended, like "what makes you feel this way?"

Consider other avenues of feedback

While surveys are a useful, relatively low-overhead way to get actionable feedback, you should also consider other ways of interacting with your customers. Direct outreach is one of the simplest; give them a call, and see what they say. This method works best if you can leverage user activity logs, customer service requests, or some other way of targeting specific people you are interested in hearing from.

Going to social media can also be a good, low-cost option. Your followers are already engaged with you and your brand, and reaching out for feedback is an opportunity to get them even more involved. It's also important to consider that social media is increasingly becoming the first place people go when they have a negative experience. If you can turn that conversation into one about how you can improve, you can transform a critic into a fan by proving you're willing to listen.

Depending on what you offer, it also can be very productive to conduct your own form of a usability test. You can learn so much from sitting down and watching a customer use your product. You may see something you didn't expect, and then you have the opportunity to ask them to explain why they did what they did, why they got confused, or what they feel is lacking.

What to do with feedback

We're all predisposed to like the information that reinforces what we already believe. When you're getting feedback, however, it's the information that contradicts what you think you know that will lead to the most actionable insights. Don't dismiss something odd or surprising just because only one person mentioned it. It's when customers tell you what you don't already know that you know you've found gold.

While getting feedback from your customers can seem tough to achieve, if you keep it short and give the customer a chance to share their thoughts, you can get the insights you need to take your product to the next level.

This post originally appeared on Inc.

Listening to your customers will get you the insights needed to take your product to the next level.

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