From the February 2012 issue of our newsletter, Let's Grow. For a FREE subscription, CLICK HERE

Gaining Insights Into Customer Behavior


Want to know how your customers feel your company stacks up against the competition? Or what they think about your product mix, website, and customer service? Would it help you to know where else they shop, and where they turn for gardening advice? All you have to do is ask.

Surveys are one of the fastest and most economical ways to get actionable feedback from your customers. Designing them well can be deceptively tricky. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

1. Keep It Short. The shorter the survey, the higher your response will be. Ideally, it should take less than 5 minutes to complete. If you're asking simple multiple choice questions, the limit is about 20. For more complicated questions, keep them to between 8 and 12.

2. Stay On Topic. Each survey should center around one theme. Don't ask for feedback on completely different elements in a single survey, and don't ask questions that would lead participants to ask, "I wonder why they need to know THAT?"

3. Be Clear. Ambiguity is the kiss of death for any survey. People who can't understand a question right away are more likely to quit the survey altogether than to skip to the next question.

Another source of frustration is not knowing whether to "choose all answers that apply," or just one. Pretest your survey on a number of people to make sure that your questions, multiple-choice answers and instructions are all crystal clear.

4. Cover All the Bases. Have you ever tried to answer a multiple-choice question, only to find that your answer isn't among the choices? When that happens, survey takers will either abort the survey or give an inaccurate answer. Even if you think you've covered every possible option, it's wise to include choices for "Other" and "Does not apply."

5. Don't Ask Leading Questions. Avoid asking questions that imply you expect a certain answer. For instance, instead of asking "Would you agree that our customer service is above average?" ask respondents to rank your customer service on a scale from 1 to 10.

6. Use Open-Ended Questions Carefully. Open-ended questions can provide helpful insights, but use them judiciously. An excessive number of open-ended questions can be tedious to answer. Compiling them into actionable information may be difficult, if not impossible.

7. Choose the Right Type of Question. Multiple-choice and open-ended questions aren't the only survey options. Sometimes it's more useful to ask respondents to rate particular variables, or to rank a list of elements in order of preference. Think about which type of question will give you the most useful feedback.

8. Consider the Order. Make sure your questions flow logically from each other. Start the questionnaire with easy questions, and then intersperse more difficult ones. Use "skip logic" when appropriate (i.e., different questions follow depending on how respondents answer a particular question).

9. Limit Required Questions. If you're going to require an answer to a particular question, be sure you have a good reason for doing so. If respondents choose to abort the survey rather than answer, you'll lose their feedback on the entire survey, and frustrate them in the process.

10. Offer an Incentive. If you want to maximize your survey response, offer respondents something as a "thank you" for their time. It might be free or reduced-rate shipping, a discount on their next order, or the chance to enter a drawing for a prize. For best results, make sure your incentive relates closely to what you're selling, and feature it prominently in your survey invitation.

People love giving their opinion and knowing that their input is of value. Use a survey to tap into the collective wisdom of your customers, and you'll learn exactly what to do to keep them buying from you for a long time to come.

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For helpful how-to articles from past issues of Let’s Grow, our newsletter of marketing insights for the garden industry, click on the links below.