We’ve talked recently about the critical importance of understanding your customers — their pain points, their frustrations, their needs.
But for a lot of small business owners, it amounts to sophisticated guesswork.
It doesn’t take long to realize that, as good as your gut may be about your customers, there are some aspects of your business that are too important to guess at.
That’s why I’m thrilled to have David Kinnaman joining us on the Building a Story Brand podcast this week.
He’s the owner of Barna Group, a market research firm that’s helped thousands of companies better understand their customers through survey data.
He’s going to give us some pointers when sending surveys to our customers, so we can listen better, pinpoint our opportunities for growth, and make better products and services.
Now is a GREAT time of year to send a survey. (In fact, you can take ours here!) Time it with the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017 and give your business a massive advantage this year.
Why Send Surveys?
Sending surveys helps you get clear about the people your business is serving.
When it’s done correctly, it gives you a nuanced, detailed understanding of your customer that goes beyond your experience or guesswork. Surveys can:
• Save you time and money by keeping you from launching something that doesn’t have the right market or messaging to begin with
• Pinpoint insights that can help you improve or reinvent a particular product
• Reveal the words your customers use to describe themselves and your product, so your marketing material speaks the same language
• Refine your understanding of your customers’ perspective — their values, fears, worldviews, struggles, and more
• Remove the blind spots and liabilities that come with guesswork and gut instincts
As David tells us, “The more successful you are, the more you think it’s because of what you’re doing, not who you’re doing it for. Good survey research should help you really get focused in on that customer.”
If you’re new to the world of surveys, David has ten tips to help you do this well.
1. Use Incentives with Longer Surveys
A common question from beginners is how long a typical survey should be. David tells us that, on average, their firm will ask 60-75 questions.
It’s a lot, but you’d be surprised how eager customers are to share their thoughts with you. Zendesk found, for example, that only 12% of consumers believe customer surveys are too long.
But still, David recommends offering a small incentive to reward your participants, like the chance to win an Amazon gift card.
2. It’s Okay To Keep Things Small
You don’t need a massive amount of respondents to get good data. Even if you hear from a few dozen customers, you’ll have more information than you would have had if you just guessed. Of course, the larger sampling size you can get, the more reliable your data will be. You can use a free sample size calculator to give you a good starting point.
3. Use the Net Promoter Score
One of the most important questions you can ask is the Net Promoter Score. This is a single question with a formula that helps you benchmark the loyalty of your existing customer base.
The question is simple, and you’ll probably recognize it:
It comes with a 1-10 scale and a formula that helps you measure your customer loyalty and even compare it to other companies. For example, Southwest Airlines’ Net Promoter Score is 62. Comcast’s is, uh, 10. It becomes really powerful when you measure it over time — more on that in a minute.
4. Use Open-Ended Questions to Capture Customer Language
As marketers, we’re always striving to forge meaningful relationships with our prospects and customers. And like every good relationship, it helps to speak the same language.
Surveys are a wonderful tool for your copywriting and marketing research because you can see the language your customers use to describe both themselves and your product. Then, you can turn around and use that exact language in your marketing materials.
We recently reviewed a StoryBrand survey and spotted one customer who described our StoryBrand Live Workshop as the front of a puzzle box — he had all the pieces, but they were confusing until our framework gave him a picture of how they all fit together. We loved the analogy so much that we’re working it into an email campaign.
The best way you can solicit those kinds of responses is to make sure your survey includes open-ended questions. For starters, David recommends the following:
• Tell us about your best experiences with our company.
• Tell us about your worst experiences with our company.
• How can we serve you better?
5. Assure People That Their Answers Are Confidential
A common mistake David sees small business owners make with surveys is using them to generate leads by asking for an email address in the survey.
You’ll get better answers if you let people answer anonymously. Don’t ask for an email address at the end and make sure you assure respondents of the confidentiality and anonymity of their answers before they begin the survey.
6. Keep Measuring and Create a Dashboard
Sending a survey is good. But the fun starts when you survey your audience regularly.
David recommends that you identify five important aspects of your business, then create survey questions that help you track those five things. Regularly survey your audience and ask those five questions every time in a way that is measurable.
For example, you might include the Net Promoter Score question we talked about earlier as a data point for customer loyalty. If you measure it every quarter, you’ll be able to see how you’re improving over time. Or, if you see a dip, you can investigate and address the issue before it creates a major impact on your business.
By sending surveys regularly, you’ve got a dashboard that tells you when the warning lights come on.
7. Become a Student of Data
So, you’ve sent your survey. Now what? Sure, it’s enlightening to read through the responses. But the real power comes when you start segmenting, splitting, and analyzing the data.
If you’re not sure how to do that, it’s worth investing your time to learn. In David’s words, “It’s one of the most important skillsets that good entrepreneurs will need in order to grow their business.”
9. Don’t Forget to Survey Your Staff
Recently we surveyed our staff here at StoryBrand. We learned everybody loved coming to work and had a lot of fun, but there were a few areas we needed to work on. Primarily, we discovered that we don’t talk about conflict very much. We brush it under the rug and keep doing smiley, happy things.
It was amazing, as a leader, to see that and now be aware of it. Since we did that survey three months ago, we’ve dramatically improved our ability to sit down and talk about hard things. It’s made our culture stronger.
Make sure you keep your staff survey 100% confidential so you get honest responses. We hired an outside survey company like David’s to ensure this, but you could also use free tools like SurveyMonkey and Wufoo.
10. Embrace the Truth
I was pretty shocked to learn that David sees big organizations actually sabotage or resist surveys simply because they don’t want to know the truth.
That’s because sometimes the truth is hard.
Your survey may reveal truths that are hard to swallow. It may reveal that you’re not the leader you thought you were. It may reveal that your customers aren’t as happy as you want them to be.
David says, “The very best leaders in today’s marketplace are those who commit themselves to that kind of survey process, to that kind of truth telling.”
Why? Because those are the leaders who understand that those tough truths are their path to a stronger, healthier organization.
These ten tips are going to give you a great start in surveying your customers and staff.
As you’re crafting your survey, you may feel a weird mix of excitement and nerves about what you’re going to learn. That’s okay. As David reminded me: “Marketing, at its best, is telling the very truest thing about your product or service. Research is your ally in figuring out what’s true.”
Commit to listening and discovering the truth about your customers in 2017, and I know you’ll have a stronger, more successful business to show for it.
Executive producer: Tim Schurrer
Additional production and editing: Chad Snavely