The power of customer surveys - SBCA Accountants

The power of customer surveys

The power of customer surveys

Market research … it sounds like something dreamt up by overpaid hipsters that results in people clutching clipboards trying to stop you when you’re in a hurry, or the phone ringing just as you sit down to dinner.

It doesn’t have to be so pointless, though. Done right, it can bring tangible benefits to your business.

Let’s start with the basics.

Market research is exactly that; it’s research that aims to find out more about the market you operate in. That might mean finding out about customers, products or services, competitors, or any other aspect of the marketplace. You can commission someone else to conduct it, or get stuck in yourself.

Why bother?

Because without solid information, you’re operating in the dark. And while you sometimes have to take a leap of faith in business, there’s no need to take risks when you don’t have to.

There are two main forms of market research; secondary and primary. Secondary research pulls information from research that other bodies have carried out and published the results of – national statistics, for example. Primary research engages with people direct; it’s bespoke, and it’s for the sole benefit of you and your business.

In this blog, we’re going to take a look at a valuable type of primary research – customer surveys.

Where do I start?

The first thing you need to give some thought to is what you want to achieve as a result of conducting a survey. This will help you to focus your questions on the things that matter, rather than putting together a huge, wide-ranging set of questions that pull in information it’s hard to use.

For example, do you want to:

  • Sell more of the same thing to existing customers?
  • Sell something new to existing customers?
  • Understand where your business fails to meet their expectations?
  • Learn what they need or want that you don’t currently offer?

When you design your survey, keep it brief and focused on your aims. You should also keep your questions simple.

Types of question to use

You can ask yes/no questions, for example:

Do you buy X product from us?


You can ask people to rate something on a scale, for example:

On a scale of 1–10, how willing would you be to recommend us to your friends, family and business associates? (10 = very willing, 1 = not willing)

If you are aiming to gather personal or sensitive data, such as income or property value, for example, use bands that people can choose from. For example:

  1. How much money, from all sources, comes into your household each year?
  • Less than £15,000
  • £15,000–£25,000
  • £25,000–45,000

Pre-test your questions, as there are always some that can be misunderstood or misinterpreted.

To increase your response rate, think about rewarding respondents with a discount voucher, a free gift, or perhaps by entering them in a draw for something more valuable (an iPad, for example).

How to conduct the survey

There’s a number of ways you can conduct your survey, including:

  1. By post. This takes longer, but has the advantage that it gives people more time to think about what they want to say (be sure to include a postage-paid reply envelope).
  2. A web-based questionnaire. If you’re doing a web-based survey, there are a number of popular systems available (Survey Monkey, for example: An online survey will be your least expensive option and will allow you to survey your customers more frequently (a good idea!).
  3. By telephone. If you are planning a telephone survey, hire someone that has business experience to carry it out, as much of the benefit comes from the answers to follow-on questions. Since you can expect to receive responses or comments that you had not anticipated, this is especially valuable.To achieve a high response rate, send the actual survey document in advance, with a covering letter asking for the recipient’s assistance.
  4. In person. There’s that clipboard again! You can question people in shopping centres, at relevant fairs or conventions, or else hold a focus group.A focus group is simply a group of actual or prospective customers who come together to talk about your product or service in a guided discussion. You can also use them to assess the potential of any new products or services you are thinking about offering.

    Bear in mind that, face-to-face in particular, customers might be reluctant to be totally honest with you and to give you their real, unbiased opinions. That being the case, you might want to use a neutral third party to handle this.

After it’s all been done

Once your survey has been completed, thank your respondents for taking part. This might be by email or letter. If there was a reward on offer for taking part, send that out, and if a price draw was used as an incentive, let them know the outcome.

Don’t forget to use the information!

it is important to do something with the information. This is for a number of reasons. From your point of view, it was a costly exercise and you want to get a return on your investment. From the point of view of participants, the survey will have created expectations – they expect to see change – and if they do, they’ll be more inclined to get involved next time.

Look to the bottom line

Conducting a customer survey isn’t something you do once and then forget about. The information you gather will help you to stop doing things that aren’t serving the business and its customers, and also exploit whatever opportunities you might have uncovered.

This helps shape business strategy and objectives, and – if it’s done right – has a positive impact on the bottom line.

If you want to know how customer surveys have helped me in my business, get in touch. I’ll be happy to share that information with you.