Customer surveys as voice of the customer

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Using online surveys to talk to your eCommerce customers can be a rewarding as well as painful experience. Painful in the sense that customers will tell you your weaknesses or where your site falls short of their expectations. Yet isn’t that a reward as well?

There are an abundance of online survey tool options available today. The tools make it easy to create, deploy, and analyze results. Yet the value for eCommerce product owners is opening the door to hear the voice of the customer. This concept is so import that customer surveys are a product owner responsibility on the eCommerce organization mind map.

Getting results real-time brings more attention
Traditional print and mail surveys make it difficult to get survey results. It’s usually a multi-step process that involves exporting results, importing data into a database or spreadsheet, and then creating reports. With an online customer survey system, results are available real-time by authenticating to an administrative console where answers for each question are automatically tallied and graphed. I always say “people get easy, people like easy, people use easy.” That holds true for business processes as it does for eCommerce site use. When the tools are easy to use they’ll get more use and attention.

Customer surveys are a great tool for primary research
But let’s not forget what we are really after with customer surveys; to find the voice of the customer. Remember, surveys are a way to find data that doesn’t already exist. It’s a way to here first-hand from customers how they feel, what they see, or what they might do. Did you catch that? It’s a way to stay relevant to customers by hearing what’s important to them.

Change the questions at regular intervals
Traditional paper surveys have limitations based on the number of surveys distributed, the logistics of delivery, and the timing of the analysis. Online customer surveys change these limitations because questions can be changed without worrying about unused print inventory or the time to collect answers. This advantage is important because it allows product managers to change questions at regular intervals. I like to think of this as keeping a conversation going rather than repeating yourself over-and-over again.

Use the answers to justify work and test hypothesis
Product owners get a double benefit from the answers they receive from online customer surveys. When answers turn into patterns and patterns turn into a majority, the product manager can use this evidence to justify changes on the eCommerce site. Additionally, the answers serve as a basis to test theories within the business about certain topics. Would a customer buy this new product? How does the customer like the new payment options? What products would the customer like to see in the future?

On more thing. Reading open responses on customer surveys requires thick skin. Remember, some customers are responding to the survey because they’ve had a bad experience with the site, service, or products offered to them. This can create strong emotions with people. Read through their emotions to find the core issue. That’s the real voice of the customer.

Starbucks gets the big idea

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Have you seen Starbucks has gone outside their corporate walls for idea generation and thought. They’ve given their customers a chance to submit ideas to help improve the Starbucks brand and business. This isn’t anything new you say? You’ve had the ability to do this for years right?  You could submit ideas and leave comments through suggestion cards and customer surveys. Hold on, let’s take a closer look at what Starbucks has done with this site.

The My Starbucks idea site is really a community. Customers or interested persons leave their ideas where they are visible to everyone. Each idea is then voted on by the community and discussed. If Starbucks implements an idea from the suggestions they will post it on their blog named Ideas In Action.

What so ingenious about this and how is better than traditional surveys and comments cards?

Idea submission

To submit an idea you must be a registered user. Not to worry, the registration form only has 3 fields ( Username, email address, and password). So you won’t spend time writing out your name, complete address, and those dreadful demographic questions.

The process then allows you to pick a screen name for use with any posts you might make. To submit an idea you only need to fill in three boxes: the idea name, a description of the idea, and the category (from a selection box).  How simple is that? Don’t forget you can submit multiple ideas and keep coming back to the site.

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Viewing ideas

Both registered and unregistered users can view idea submissions. Ideas are grouped by category, points, date for easy viewing. This creates a sense of community and understanding. It’s not something you’ll find with traditional customer response mechanisms where your survey is a one-off input.

Voting on and discussing ideas

Registered, users can then give each idea a thumbs up or thumbs down which will help determine the point score for the idea. The total points for an idea are shown by its name. In this way, Starbucks can get an idea of just how popular an idea is with its customers. Think about that. You can make your voice heard through voting for others comments even if you don’t submit any of your own ideas.

Registered users can also create discussions for each idea. This allows people to both further clarify the thought or to have a healthy debate on the merits of each idea and if they should be considered further. Again, it creates a sense of community and feeling that customers can contribute to shaping the future of the company. You can’t get this by dropping a white card into a wooden box or by filling out an online survey and never knowing if anyone reads it.

It comes with the territory

Perhaps the most impressive thing I saw on the site, was that the moderator allowed negative posts to stay on line. Starbucks reserves the right to moderate the site from profanity or inappropriate comments (as they should). But they do not delete posts which customers use to vent frustrations or to give criticism. This lets you know that this site is not just a marketing feel-good board. It’s a place where comments are welcome and viewed. Posters beware though. Since this is a community site, you may find that others don’t agree with your assessment.

My hats off to you Starbucks. You’ve got the big idea!

Acting on customer survey responses and input

Question: Are “you spoke, we listened” campaigns effective?

Recently I was reviewing a set of customer survey responses from a web site I manage and grouping the comments into like categories. One of the take-aways was an action list of things to fix. As I was documenting the items that needed resolution I thought about communications related to “you spoke, we listened”.  Most often you see these type of announcements as a one-off publication through email, blog, forum post, web link, or mailing. The intention is to show the changes made to the product/service based on the input of the customer.

Other advantages to this type of communication include:

  • It makes your brand, company, product line seem more real.
  • It strengthens relationships with customers.
  • It shows customers that their voice matters.
  • It tells why you made changes to your product/service.
  • It tells the customer what the changes to the product/service are.
  • It allows marketers and program managers to use surveys and customer forums for more than a report card. They can drive meaningful change with the input.

I have not previously used this type of communication alongside product releases. My initial thought was that it would be better served as a permanent page on a customer facing web site. It would serve as a rolling list of enhancements to a product/service over time so that customers could see a continued progression.

What are your thoughts and/or experiences?

  • Have you used this type of communication with your customers?
  • Does it make you, as a customer, more likely to use a product/service if you see this type of information posted?
  • Does it create a better sense of trust between the customer and brand?
  • Is the idea of a page listing all of the customer driven enhancements relevant if you have an open forum area where customers can interact with each other and see what is being resolved?