How to Use Online Surveys

Do them right, and online surveys can be very revealing.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the January 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

By now, you've probably used some sort of online survey tool to quiz site visitors. These tools--offered by companies such as QuestionPro, SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang--allow you to find out what your customers like and what they don't. And with costs generally ranging from free to about $20 a month, web surveys are a cost-effective tool.

"Gathering feedback from customers has [a] great impact on any organization's business model," says Esteban Kolsky, a research director at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. "Feedback, when used correctly, can increase cross-sell and upsell transactions by 15 percent to 20 percent."

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs make the mistake of implementing web surveys without a concrete strategy--which can actually reduce customer satisfaction and provide a less-than-ideal experience for customers. Getting effective and usable results, according to Kolsky, means you should:

1. Understand what you want. Says Kolsky, "It is essential to know before crafting the survey what information is being sought."

2. Deliver surveys at the point of service. "Effective surveys are usually delivered at the conclusion of a service interaction via the same channel as the service provided," he says.

3. Keep it short and simple. "Customers are more likely to complete a survey when the time to completion is explicitly displayed at the beginning of the process, the purpose of the survey is clearly stated and the use of information is defined," says Kolsky. He also recommends no more than four to six questions per survey, one common topic, short and succinct wording, and a multiple-choice format.

4. Ensure consistent gathering. "Handpicking the 'right' respondents to achieve higher scores is a common problem when gathering responses," says Kolsky. Don't discard participant data just because a customer appears upset or biased--you'll rob your business of critical insight and end up with skewed results.

5. Examine the answers. As Kolsky says, "A well-designed survey will reveal trends, patterns and outright new information"--all of which will be valuable components to improving the customer experience.


Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer in New York City.

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