Reach out and survey someone

May 01, 2013

I love surveys.  I’m a sucker for anyone asking me to rate a hotel stay, airline flight or Amazon purchase. But most people find surveys annoying and many small business owners are afraid to conduct a survey.  Yet, a well-executed survey can be an incredibly valuable and affordable tool for collecting information you need to make smarter decisions.

Your company’s success usually depends on keeping customers happy. And, it’s well-known that unhappy consumers are more likely to stop doing business with you rather than call to complain. So, instead of telling you how unhappy they are, they start complaining to anyone who will listen. This scary negative feedback must be avoided, so it pays to be proactive.

Big companies spend millions of dollars on market research and surveys. But, savvy small companies also invest time and effort into collecting customer feedback. Operating your business in a vacuum is a terrible idea, so read on for a few affordable survey strategies.

First, figure out who has the critical information you need. If it is your current customer base, you already have their contact information so it’s easier to conduct a survey. If you want to gauge interest in a product or service, consider surveying potential customers who fit your target market profile.

Once you’ve decided who to poll, determine what kind of information you need to improve your operations and expand sales. Do you want feedback about customer service? Do you want to confirm delivery dates? (Netflix is constantly asking members to let them know when DVDs arrive because it encourages respondents to return to the site and order more movies.) Do you want your customers to rate product quality or selection?  A good survey is very specific.

Here are some affordable tactics for collecting information:

Telephone surveys: I’m a big fan of telephone surveys.  Rather than add your survey to the pile of unread email, consider calling a sampling of customers or clients. You or someone who works for you can cold-call, but it’s better to schedule a call. You can schedule the call via email or telephone.

Limit your survey to fewer than 10 questions.  Focus on the most important issues and be respectful of people’s time. Always offer an incentive to participate, such as a discount on the person’s next order or a gift card. (Even a $5 Starbucks card is appreciated.)

Printed surveys: A perforated, ‘bounce-back’ postcard is a very cost-effective way to easily collect information. One half of the card explains the purpose of the survey. The other half features the questions on one side and your company address and pre-paid postage on the other. Make sure your questions are clear and concise.  Again, offer recipients who respond an incentive.

Email surveys:  Check out an online platform like Survey Monkey. It’s free to create a simple survey. You’ll basically just fill in a form to outline what kind of information you need and from whom. If you need a mailing list, they charge as little as $1 per response.  It must be effective, since the company claims to have 15 million customers.

Check out this case history about how Survey Monkey helped a goat’s milk caramel candy company target customers and refine its marketing program.

No matter what form your survey takes, be sure you keep it as short as possible. Surveys that go on and on are often abandoned before they are completed.

Jane Applegate
Jane Applegate is the author of four books on small business success, including 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business, published by Bloomberg/Wiley in all formats. Her multimedia production company produces a variety of corporate-sponsored events. Visit for video profiles, interviews and advice from national experts.