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Getting Into Customers' Heads via Surveys

You can conduct several different kinds of customer surveys, including demographic surveys, which help you determine which age groups, genders, races, and socioeconomic groups tend to use your business; and satisfaction and exit surveys, which help you refine and customize your business so that you can retain loyal customers and attract new ones.

Companies spend millions of dollars each year conducting surveys by using a variety of methods you're probably waaay too familiar with. Whether a company mails out questionnaires to randomly selected households, hires professional survey-takers to accost people at local shopping malls, or uses telemarketers to call customers during dinnertime, most people have a basic attitude about surveys:

  • They hate them.
  • They hate businesses that use them.

Internet shoppers are even touchier about surveys than the average Joe. After all, two of the big reasons they shop on the Internet are to save time and to remain somewhat anonymous. That's hard to do that when somebody keeps asking personal questions.

Nonetheless, customer surveys provide enough benefits — such as demographic information or feedback on a new site design — that businesses keep conducting them. Fortunately, the Web makes it possible to conduct surveys a bit less ruthlessly and much more efficiently. Here are some ideas:

  • Don't hit your customers with more than a couple questions at a time. You may have 50 questions you want to ask — ranging from customers' annual household salaries to the number of dogs they have — but ask customers only two or three questions per visit to the site. Eventually, you'll have a full set of answers.
  • Work with outside surveying companies. These companies offer customers incentives to complete online surveys (prizes, product coupons, and so forth) and can help you get more demographic information more quickly than you could on your own.
  • Offer incentives for answering questions. Make sure that customers see the personal value of participating in a survey. Let them know you'll use the information to improve your product mix to cater to their interests, or that you'll be able to reduce the amount of advertising you send out by targeting it to their lifestyles.

Of course, money talks. You can take money off (discount) a purchase or drop shipping charges for anyone who answers your questions. Immediate aggrandizement offers are strong inducements.

Know thy customer: Demographic surveys

The customer base that you develop as a bricks-and-mortar organization is often quite different than your online customer base. To succeed at reaching new markets, you must determine who your Internet customers are and what attracts them to your business. Moreover, although you can open new markets through e-commerce, you may cannibalize your existing customer base. You need to understand who your customers are, what they want, and how your online business can meet their needs.

Demographic data also tells you whether you're dealing with individuals or businesses. You can also track the area of the country (or world) that customers live in, how much money they make, how many kids they have, and what kinds of hobbies they tend to have.

This information can be a gold mine to all aspects of business, online and offline. Of course, demographics are more important for the online end of the business because they enable you to understand who your customers are.

Don't assume that just because you have a good idea of your bricks-and-mortar demographics that you automatically know your online demographics. Some groups of people are more likely to shop online, for example, than others.

Know what attracts thy customers: Satisfaction surveys

A key to maintaining a successful business, of course, is understanding what attracts your customers. Is it that you simply have the best prices available? Or is it your superior customer service? What about the fantastic Web site design you created? Understanding what attracts customers to your online business enables you to keep the most popular items you sell in stock and thus retain loyal customers. You also can bring in new customers by understanding what's working on your site and expanding on those successes.

One way to find out what's working on your site is simply to ask your customers what they like about it! You can do this by conducting customer satisfaction surveys. You can conduct these surveys on your Web site immediately after a customer checks out, or conduct them via e-mail.

You should also consider hiring an outside firm to help you conduct satisfaction surveys. An outside firm helps ensure that your survey is conducted in the same, impartial way with each customer, and that the results are quickly compiled into useful information. These companies may conduct their surveys over the telephone, via e-mail, or on its own Web sites.

Determining why people don't buy: Exit surveys

What if you build it and nobody comes? Finding out why shoppers visit your site without purchasing anything can be tremendously difficult. You often have no contact information, so you can't reach those shoppers to do a follow-up survey, which is certainly the most obvious way to find out what the problem is. So what can you do?

One trick that's been gaining popularity is to program your Web pages to present an exit survey to shoppers who leave the Web site without completing a purchase, or even more importantly, shoppers who abandon a shopping cart full of items. The exit survey should:

  • Appear on customers' computers as a small pop-up window with a couple of short questions asking the customer why he or she chose not to purchase anything and whether he or she plans to return.
  • Offer to save customers' shopping carts so that when they return to the site, the carts will still contain the items they originally placed in them.
  • Contain a link to a more comprehensive questionnaire that tries to get more detail from customers regarding their decision not to purchase. You can also offer additional incentives to encourage them to buy.

Don't make the exit survey too long or intrusive. Remember, you've already lost the customers at this point — don't risk annoying them, or they may never return.

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