Marketing and Sales

Surveying Your Customers


In our learning guide on customer feedback in practice, we reviewed several considerations and methods for carrying out market analysis around your target customers. In this guide, we circle back to the topic of automated surveys to provide a more detailed overview that should help you think strategically about how to plan and executive your survey campaigns.

The ‘automated’ surveys we are discussing here are the type that get sent to an audience through email or over the phone, allowing you to gather data and feedback from a much larger pool than you might have time to contact individually. While that may sound like a given, it is worth revisiting the concept when deciding on what type of feedback approach to use for a given purpose. Surveys give you a larger sample size than other feedback methods, and this can be crucial when you want more solid evidence for decision making.


Survey Planning

One fundamental limitation is that as surveys get longer or ask for more in-depth answers, response rates tend to drop. This means that for each survey you will need to think critically about things like: What is the purpose of this survey? What specifically do you want to learn? Imagine receiving various answers — how will these answers affect your decision making? What are the simplest ways to get the information we need?

How many responses do you want or need in order to feel comfortable, and do you need to compromise on some questions in order to get there? This can be hard to judge at first. Survey Monkey, a popular surveying solution, gives you an estimate of what percent of people will answer based on the number and type of questions you have.

Should you segment your survey audience? Consider whether there is a specific type of customer you want to limit the survey to (example: new customers, customers who have made a purchase in the last 6 months, or who have bought specific types of products). Also consider whether to save part of your email list for a later survey predicated on insights from the first survey to avoid over-surveying.


What to ask in your surveys

Surveys can ask anything you need to know, which might seem daunting. Here we explore a few of the most useful and common survey types, which should help you narrow in on what to ask.

Net Promoter Score

Net Promoter Score (NPS) revolves around a simple 1 to 10 rating system and is probably the most common type of survey in use today. It is recognized for its simplicity, effectiveness, and ease of interpretation.

The core concept of the NPS score calculation is as follows: responses are segmented into three groups based on how they rated you—Promoters (9-10), Neutrals (7-8), and Detractors (6 and below). Your company’s overall score is determined by subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters (example: 40% are promoters, 10% are detractors; your score would be 30). The score itself can be measured against your previous scores or against industry benchmarks.

Even more useful may be the individual responses. Identifying detractors is priceless because you get a chance to not only find out what went wrong, but potentially keep them as customers. Besides the overall rating, an NPS survey usually has at least one other question for feedback, usually along the lines of “what do we do well” for promoters, and “what do we not do well” for detractors. These feedback responses will help solidify your value proposition and alert you to weaknesses.

An NPS style survey is a great choice for ongoing, periodic use. As a scheduled periodic survey, it allows companies to develop a meaningful baseline for their own performance over time, and then measure changes from that. Since it tends to be short (usually one to three questions), it is less burdensome and more likely to get responses at regular intervals. This benefit should not be taken lightly. When it comes to finding a performance metric on which to base decisions, having enough data points (responses) is of the utmost importance. That doesn’t mean other types of surveys don’t have their place, but does make the case for the simplicity of the NPS style working well for ongoing measurement.

Since NPS is used so widely, industry benchmarks are available. Accessing benchmarks would help you understand whether a seemingly low score is actually high for your industry, or whether a seemingly high score is actually low.


Key Purchasing Criteria

Another important tool to have in your survey belt is key purchasing criteria (KPC). These types of questions aim to uncover what customers care about most when looking to purchasing the types of things you provide, and how well your offerings hit those key criteria. KPC exploration can be done through a fully KPC-devoted survey, or through just a few questions woven into an existing survey. Understanding your target customers, or segments of those customers, will be invaluable for your marketing efforts. Can your organization confidently list out what factors are important to a customer’s purchase, and also rank those factors on their relative importance? If not, a KPC survey could be a game-changer.

Even if you or part of your team “gets” your customer, other team members may need to see the hard data straight from the customer before coming around. In this way, customer feedback can (and should) help align organizations on what matters. It is especially important for the marketing team to have this kind of customer knowledge upon which solid decisions about everything from branding to packaging can be made.

For more information on key purchasing criteria.


Other types of questions

While NPS and KPC surveys may seem minimalistic, they are surprisingly effective and can encompass much of the groundwork for understanding customers and even competitors. That said, there are other questions that can be extremely useful for addressing specific blind spots in a company’s awareness that customers might not naturally provide feedback on. As each additional survey question tends to lower the response rate, you will need to consider what knowledge is most lacking or pressing, and whether your current lineup of questions might already address those issues. You might consider combining the NPS question set with additional objectives, such as:

  • Crowdsourcing new ideas on how to improve your product or service offerings (this can come through NPS responses, but can also be asked more directly)
    • “What changes would most improve our new product?”, “What do you wish we would add or change?”
    • “What do you like most about competing products currently available from other companies?”
  • Finding out if a specific aspect of the product, service, or buying process is working smoothly—this often comes through NPS detractor responses (or by following up with them), but there may be cases where direct probing may be necessary because customers might not notice something that is important to your business. Example: “Did our sales staff follow up with you about additional services?”
  • Feedback on a specific new product or design change soon after launch
  • Customer demographics questions
  • Identifying/measuring unique market segments (example: “do you buy our product more for yourself or as a gift?” or “who in your business/family makes the purchasing decision?”)
  • Crowdsourcing decisions (i.e. voting on a set of potential new offerings or changes)


Survey Logistics

Various free and inexpensive platforms exist that make email surveys quite easy. Some popular options are:

  • Survey Monkey – Most popular platform – 100 free responses per survey
  • Survey Gizmo
  • PollDaddy

Some other options include conducting surveys through social media, and adding survey widgets to your website. One service that helps with website widgets is KISSinsights. For businesses that have a lot of online customer interaction and want to capitalize on this (or just make it less burdensome), platforms like Intercom can help with managing and categorizing customers, feedback, and leads. It may go without saying that Salesforce or another CRM may need to factor in at that level.

One less-often considered survey method is phone surveys. Phone survey services provide either automated questions or live phone operators, with the latter obviously being more expensive. While phone surveys will generally be more expensive than online surveys, they may have advantages such as increased response rate and capacity for longer surveys that might get passed over online.


How often should you send out surveys?

While specific surveys can be sent out as needed to address specific questions (while making sure to avoid over-surveying the same people), it is best practice to also establish a periodic survey; likely a simple and generic one to keep an eye on the pulse, and to clearly establish a baseline for future improvements. This periodic survey can even be as simple as a single question to gather your NPS score.

In choosing a survey interval, you should keep two factors in mind:

  1. Don’t over-survey your customers
  2. Don’t survey more than you can process

What constitutes too many surveys for a customer may vary, but you can consider for yourself at what point you would get a bit fed up. It is hard to imagine a person getting annoyed at a single survey per year. Depending on how many contacts you have, you can send a survey quarterly or bi-annually and still avoid surveying any one person more than once in a year. Most importantly, pick an interval that your team can really utilize. You will need to have enough time to read and catalogue, respond to individuals, and create action plans based on the feedback. You will probably want to avoid things coinciding with busy planning periods, while also having fresh feedback to inform those planning periods.

Also, while you want to avoid over-surveying, it is normal to resend a survey up to 3 times to those who have not completed it, making sure you’re not resending to people who already responded. Think of this as giving people additional opportunities to complete the survey, rather than trying to force them to respond.



While surveys can allow us to view things through a macro lens of sorts, we should remember that each survey occurs at the micro level. Although you are not there interacting with each customer, each of them is interacting with your business through the survey. By remembering to value the customer’s time, asking the right questions, and committing to resolving problems (and acting on important feedback), surveys can further the connection between your business and your customers.

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