By Joshua Lucas

Issue # 5

Wednesday, April 1, 1998


For the past two weeks, we have been following Bill and his journey to build a successful web site. Even though he hasn’t put one piece of text online, in order for his site to be both practical and effective, Bill has been busy researching his competition and learning more about his customers. But it's not enough to "know" his customers, he needs to anticipate their expectations and desires when designing the web site. Bill needs more information. He needs to do some surveys.

Used correctly, the survey is a very powerful tool for any business to use. It can give direct insight into what customers are thinking and feeling. Unfortunately, the survey can be detrimental if it isn’t well thought out. In order to better understand the use of surveys, let’s ask some questions about your plans.

The first question is, What more do you need to know about your customers? You’ve been listening to your customers more closely but now you need to know more about their habits and thoughts. This is a perfect opportunity for a survey because you can hone in on topics that you might otherwise not be able to bring up in an one-to-one situation with a customer.

For example, here are some "true and false" questions you might ask, that wouldn't work well in a conversation;

  • If I had a question about a product, I feel comfortable asking for help. (T/F)
  • I am looking for a product not necessarily for help (T/F)
  • I know what I'm doing with tools so I need a quick turnaround and get back to work. (T/F)

    Be careful not to get too "greedy" with your surveys. There is no need to try to ask every question you want to know the answer to in the first survey. Spread them out so that you can have a continual stream of information coming in from your customers. But be careful. You can easily overwhelm your customers if they are asked to answer a new survey every time they come into the business.

    Another question which needs to be asked is, In what format will the surveys be? Will they be online or will you pass them out in your store?

  • "Lucas, Joshua Lucas". . .writes for a living. By day he writes software, and by night he weaves words. Josh has coded in Java, C, C++, and Perl for some of the hippest and most recognizable companies in the US, including The Gap, Starbucks, Nike, and Nordstroms. Josh's rich experience, coupled with his diligent daily research, places him as close to the "cutting edge" as you can get without falling off. He and his wife recently moved from Los Angeles, CA to Boston, MA.

    Try and create a simple 5 to 10 line survey and pass it out to some customers. Get their initial feedback on both the information and on surveys in general.
    And don't forget to keep sending me topics you'd like to learn more about!

    For many, the first surveys will be passed out in the store since you are working on the creation of a website. These early surveys can be the perfect time to find out what customers are thinking about the online world. Don’t be afraid to ask what your customers would want in a web site or what would make them keep coming back to a web site. Try not to put only computer-related questions in your survey; you'll alienate those who don’t have a computer and don’t know what you are talking about.

    Once you have a web site, do surveys both online and in your store. This can give great feedback on your web site and also even more information on customers who may have come to your store after visiting your site. And that is the point after all, isn’t it?

    The last question you need to consider is What do your customers get out of the survey? One decision you will need to make is whether the surveys will be anonymous or if you will specifically ask for a name and address. This can be a very big deal to some customers. If you plan on just using an anonymous survey, maybe offer your customers a discount for filling the information out. Even a 5% discount after filling out the form will go a long way in getting information to you.

    If, on the other hand, you ask for specific information, be prepared to answer why you need it, what you will do with the answers to the survey. Many people are (rightly) worried about their names and addresses being sold to direct marketers. Market-saavy customers won’t fill anything out unless they are told where the information will go, and even then an incentive is almost a given. Prepare your answers and your rewards know so you won’t lose people’s trust or business.

    By answering these few questions, you are well on your way to getting the information you need from customers to create a powerful online presence.

    NEXT WEEK: Survey Says!

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