Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM President & CEO Rhino PR
A step-by-step guide to getting valuable feedback and insight directly from your clients
You work closely with your clients, and take pride in the relationships that you develop with them. You probably feel pretty confident that you know what they think of you and the work you do for them. But what if there’s something you don’t know? Perhaps they weren’t happy about the way something went, but aren’t comfortable mentioning it to you. Or maybe they aren’t aware of the different services your company provides because their projects have been limited to a specific scope? A client survey can provide this kind of valuable feedback.
Why Do a Client Survey?
For Chuck Raymond, CPSM, Marketing Manager at Geosyntec Consultants, the reasons for doing a client survey were compelling: “We wanted to find out what our clients have coming up in the future. What we could be doing better, and how we compare to the competition? The results are going to be a key part of our strategic planning: are there new markets we should be pursuing? Are there services or capabilities we should add? Doing a client survey will help us stay ahead of the curve.”
Regular client surveys are an integral piece of good customer relationship management. They offer insight and feedback that may not be available any other way. They provide your company with the opportunity to continually improve your services and relationships, and are a great way to show your customers that you truly care about their satisfaction – even if it means hearing occasional criticism.
So put on your thick skin, and let’s talk about how to write and execute an effective client survey – it will be worth it, we promise.
How to Conduct a Client Survey: The Step-By-Step Process
Identify What You Want to Learn
Before you start writing questions, it’s important to clearly understand what you want to gain from doing a client survey. A few questions to help determine your “why” may be:
- What is the purpose of this survey?
- What do you hope to learn?
- How will you use the data you are collecting?
- What decisions do you hope to impact with the results of this survey?
Decide Who You Want to Survey
You may want to include only current clients in your survey, although it’s worth considering past clients and other industry experts as well. Each group will have different perspectives, so choose your target audience based on your goals.
Determine How Many People You Should Survey
Start out by considering how large the potential population is – do you have eight current clients, or 58? Set a goal for the number of completed surveys, and define a larger number of targets to invite to participate in the survey. A good goal number is 25-40 responses for a mid-sized company. Start with twice as many targets as your goal, and be prepared to add more to this list if needed. Then create a master list of targets along with their contact information and any other useful information.
Write Your Survey Questions
The survey questions should address the questions you considered in number one above, and should be clear and specific. Avoid technical words or industry jargon that could confuse respondents. Keep the entire survey brief – most people are willing to spend no more than 10-15 minutes on a survey.
Survey questions often combine open-ended and closed-ended questions. Open-ended questions ask respondents to provide comments in their own words, and help to gather more insight into a specific topic. Closed-ended questions are ideal for data analysis, as they give respondents a fixed set of options to choose from. Closed-ended questions may take the form of:
- Yes/No Options
- Multiple Choice
- Rating Scales
- Demographic Questions
Conduct the Survey
Begin by sending an email to all contacts in your target population to tell them that you will be conducting a client survey. Explain your reasons for doing so, what you hope to accomplish, and what you plan to do with the results. Offer all clients the option to decline to participate.
Client surveys can be conducted in two ways: by an outside consultant, or by using an online form. A consultant typically will do a client survey by phone, and can ask questions to make sure that the client’s intention is clearly communicated. However, some clients may be hesitant to mention negative feedback for fear of their comments “getting back to the company.” For this reason, confidentiality and trust is of the utmost importance when a consultant contacts survey targets. Alternately, an online survey has the perception of being more anonymous. Online surveys work well for collecting short, very specific information from closed-ended questions, however they are not as successful for gathering open-ended responses. The best method will be the one that fits your company’s goals for the survey.
After the survey is complete, consider sending a personal thank you note or gift to participants to show your appreciation for their time and valuable feedback.
What To Do With the Results
Be prepared — surveys always uncover good news and bad news. The ultimate key to success is how you will use the results. Once you have collected your goal number of completed surveys, the next step is to compile the results into a usable report. Closed-ended responses can be analyzed using graphs or charts to illustrate trends. Open-ended questions can be analyzed for consistencies across the responses, as well as key insights. Make a specific plan to address those areas of concern, and communicate your plans for improvement to your customers, so they can see that their feedback has made an impact and is valued.
Consider a Regular Survey Schedule
Depending on the goals for your client survey, you may want to follow up with another survey after you have made the improvements that were identified. Another approach is to conduct a survey with a client at the end of every project, or to conduct a company-wide client survey each year, or every two years. By collecting regular feedback from your clients about your performance and position in the marketplace, you can continue to improve and ensure that your customers are happy and continue to work with you for years to come.