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Learn from Surveys

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By Elizabeth Nash
Published: November 14, 2016
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How can you know what customers are really thinking? How do you know what they want more or less of in your business? Surveys can give you the answers you’re looking for, straight from the customer.

Use surveys to determine what areas of business to expand. Find out what customers think of your demonstrations. Discover problem areas within your customer service that are costing you. Surveys can do all this and more.

There are many online tools for building surveys, each with different features and price points. A few of the most popular ones include Polldaddy, Survey Monkey, Typeform, Google Forms, Survey Planet and Obsurvey.

Many of these sites allow you to upload images with your questions, choose from different themes, preview your survey before sending it out, and export responses. Some offer pre-written questions to help with phrasing and a multitude of answer formats.

As you’re crafting questions, keep the following points in mind.

When meeting someone new, you typically ask opened-ended questions instead of simple “yes” or “no” ones to learn more about them. You’ll want to bring this strategy to surveys. Multiple-choice questions should include many possible answers as well as an “other” option or comment field. Include open-ended questions that allow participants to expand on their thoughts.

Questions regarding a person’s race, nationality, income, gender and age can make a participant uncomfortable and should be used sparingly, if at all. When including a question like this, always allow a person to select “Prefer not to answer” as one of the choices.

You can give surveys to more people than just your customers. Consider sending them to your dealers and the other shops you collaborate with to learn how to improve business-to-business relations.

Be sure to include an introduction and instructions at the start of your survey. Explain who you are, why the participant has received the survey, and how to send in their answers. This last instruction might be as simple as, “Be sure to hit ‘Done’ at the bottom of the survey when finished.”

When analyzing responses, remember this philosophy: The reason you put surveys together is so that you can learn how to improve your business. This learning process involves feedback ranging from positive comments to constructive suggestions and harsh criticism. It’s important to listen to all answers, even negative ones, especially if numerous participants have the same criticism.
If several customers feel the need to bring an issue up within a survey, then it needs your attention. While positive feedback is great at letting you know what customers enjoy about your store, surveys are a learning experience, and you should expect some constructive criticism at the very least if your store is anything other than objectively perfect (and even then, some people with usually find something to complain about).
Surveys can give you honest feedback as long as you ask the right questions. Here are tips on crafting the best questions.

Avoid confusing questions
 BAD Q: Do you do most of your holiday shopping during the opening of Q4?
 Good Q: What month of the year do you do most of your holiday shopping?

Confusion is the number-one thing you want to avoid when creating a survey. A confused participant will either exit your survey or select an answer at random. The first outcome gives you fewer responses, which is bad, and the second gives you incorrect data, which is far worse.

To avoid both of the scenarios, use simple vocabulary and straightforward questions to ensure that your participants know exactly what they are being asked and can answer appropriately.
If your survey is for customers, do not use industry jargon or exacting business terminology. If your survey is for people in the industry, you have more leeway in using industry terminology—but still aim to keep it as simple as possible.
When you want to ask about a subject that your participants may not know about, make sure to explain it to them first. For example, say you want to gauge interest in your drone flying classes dubbed “Fly Fridays.” In the survey, you would first want to explain what “Fly Fridays” are before asking what the interest level is in them.

Don’t make responders worked too hard to answer questions, especially when it comes to multiple-choice answers. If you want to know how much money parents spend on their children at birthdays, be sure to ask for their “best guess”, “estimate” or “approximate” answer. Including these words within a question should increase the survey’s response rate, as people spend less time nitpicking over frustrating calculations.

Stick to one subject at a time
 BAD Q: What do you think of our over-the-phone and in-person customer service?
 Good Q: What do you think of our over-the-phone customer service?
 Good Q: What do you think of our in-person customer service?

This rule relates back to avoiding confusion. In the poorly worded example above, it’s possible that a participant could have different opinions of your in-person customer service and the phone service. They would then either average out their feelings of satisfaction or answer with the more positive or negative thought. Both possibilities give you less-than-useful data. Therefore it’s important to ask about only one subject at a time and add more questions as need be.

You may end up with two or more questions that look very similar on the page, such as the two “good” examples above. To avoid anyone misreading your two nearly identical questions, underline or bold the keywords that are different.

You should also be aware of how you order your questions. As a general rule, it’s best to ask questions with a “funnel” approach, where you ask more broadly worded questions up front and then get more detailed as you go. For example, you might want to know how useful people found a certain section of your newsletter. Before asking about that specific part, however, ask how satisfied they were with the entire newsletter.
Not only does the funnel method help keep confusion to a minimum, it also helps a responder get in the right mind-set for answering questions about a specific part of your business.

Keep bias at bay
Our holiday parties are always such a hit. Do you like them?
 Good Q: What do you think of our store’s holiday parties?

Surveys are a powerful tool for improving your store, but to take advantage of them fully you’ll have to accept legitimate criticism. In the example above, the inclusion of a comment about how popular your parties are within the question may result in participants answering more favorably than they otherwise would have. A participant could feel like an outlier among your other customers if they admitted that they didn’t care for, or felt neutral to, the parties, and thus answer more positively than they feel. It’s best to keep those positive and negative statements out of your questions so as not to sway responders’ answers. Remember, inaccurate data is worse than no data.

Sometimes you may find it difficult to keep bias out altogether. For example, say the question is, “How helpful do you find our sales associates?” Although the wording may seem harmless, the inclusion of the favorable word “helpful” might sway responders towards a more positive answer. However, in this instance finding a more suitable word is difficult. The solution is to simply stay away from biased questions for the remainder of the survey.

Be specific
 BAD Q: How useful are our demos?
 Good Q: How useful do you find our in-store drone demos?

Asking vague questions will get you vague answers—something that will not aid you when trying to make positive changes within your store.

While using the funnel method means asking some broad questions, you still want to make sure your questions are not vague. When creating a survey, you should have specific areas you want to improve about your store. In the example above, using the vague “How useful are our demos?” will not give you any insight as to which demos people enjoy, while the more specific (but still fairly broad) “How useful do you find our in-store drone demos?” will give you specific data exclusively on your drone demos, which is more useful when looking at where you can make improvements.

Participants may like the content of your demos but not how crowded they are. Perhaps they want more drone flying demos and fewer maintenance demos. Maybe they didn’t even know you had in-store demos. The answers to these questions would be valuable to you as you move forward creating, advertising, scheduling and teaching at your demos. That’s why it’s important to be specific in focus.
For example, if you created an entire survey about in-store demonstrations, you could ask specific questions such as: What demonstration topic most interests you? What is your favorite part of our scale- model painting demos? What is your least favorite part of the R/C truck demos? How likely are you to attend a drone-repair demo? What is the number-one thing you hope to learn at a product demo? In your opinion, how long should product demos last? Repeat this as necessary for the various types of demonstrations in your store.

By keeping your questions focused, devoid of technical jargon, specific in what they ask and free of bias, you can create surveys that allow participants to answer honestly. Invaluable feedback like this can tell you exactly how to improve your store.

Elizabeth Nash is associate editor of Model Retailer.
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