Finding the Best Way to Survey Your Customers

October 30, 2006

Do you know how loyal your customers are to your company? Do you know what your customers are really looking for in the performance of your company? My guess is that the real answer to both of those questions is no. While we think we know what our customers are looking for, and how we are performing in those areas, our thoughts are just a guess.

But wouldn't it really be a help to know more about our customers, what they want and how loyal they are to our company? Well, there is an obvious way to find out and that is to ask them. But I don't think many of us really make the effort to ask all of our customers their opinion about how we are doing.

We used to do a better job of at least attempting to survey our customers. At one time we had an actual written survey our service technicians were to give to the customers with a copy of the invoice. Unfortunately we didn't feel we were really getting the complete response we desired. It seemed that perhaps the technicians may have "forgotten" to give the survey to a customer he felt might not give a favorable response.


The New Horizons Foundation knew that understanding customer loyalty and how to achieve it would be very important to contractors. As a result, the Foundation contracted with consultant Dennis Sowards to perform research on this topic. The research included asking contractors what they feel is important to their customers and then also asking customers not only what is important to them, but also how well their contractors performed in those areas.

The survey provided very interesting results. Overall, the rankings in virtually all categories given to contractors by their customers were good, but not great. Contractors received an average 8.4 rating by their customers (9 and over is considered world-class satisfaction) so there is obviously room for improvement.

Architects and engineers gave the lowest satisfaction rating. This is probably a result of the increased amount of design-and-build work, plus the squeeze put on the design community to do more work for less money. Thus, any questions or issues brought up by a contractor overruns the amount the designer had in the project.


But these survey results are not specific to a particular contractor or a particular customer. The only way we can know how our customers perceive our performance is for us to each survey our own customers.

The New Horizons Foundation research also developed a survey for each contractor to utilize. That particular survey is designed more for commercial contractors and commercial customers. In our company, we took that survey and added some input from customer surveys we had picked up in various retail establishments and hotels. From this accumulation of surveys we have put together a survey that we hope will provide us the information we want to know about our customers and how they rate our performance.

Now that we have developed the survey, we are trying to determine the best way to present it to our customers and the best way to ensure that the customers respond to the survey. I would like to ask for your help. I would very much like to get your input on how you have found the best way to get your customers to provide you with valuable input to a survey. If you will e-mail me at the address at the end of my column, I'll send you a copy of the survey we have developed. But I would certainly like to get your input as to how you have found success administering surveys and how you have used the results. I hope to put the answers together and share them with you in a future column.

The one thing on which I feel we can all agree is that companies who provide world-class customer satisfaction utilize surveys to continuously improve their performance. If it works for those companies, we should be able to make it work for us. So no matter what the form or how you administer it, surveying your customers is absolutely necessary.

Publication date: 10/23/2006

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