Marketing with a Customer Survey

If it's presented in a thoughtful, personal way, a "How are we doing?" survey can be a very effective marketing device. February 1, 2011

I am slow on business right now and thought that a customer survey and follow up letter would help past clients keep me in mind. Also, with the survey I could find out what they liked and what they didn't like about my services. Has anyone done this? What kind of questions and comments were in your survey and letter?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor G:
Personal opinion only. No marketing study to back me up.

1. My mind flashed back 50 some years ago to notes passed around in second grade asking someone if they liked you, and if so to check here and return. Seems a little lame, like you are asking for a pat on the back.

2. EBay and such have ruined the honest "how was my service?" questionnaire by making anything less than a perfect report constitute a failure.

3. I would find such a survey to be junk mail, and be annoyed at having to throw it away.

How about a letter thanking them for being a past customer and announcing, with a few pictures, something recent that you are proud of, and saying that you have available booking time to work on special projects as well as your normal services. Or use the time to contact, in person, a number of contractors (or whoever your customers are) who have not used your services. Ask to present your credentials in the form of a projects completed/view of our shop book. If not in person, then by brochure.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I guess the survey is a little juvenile, but I was just trying to find out what I needed to improve on. It has always been easier for me to write that down than tell someone in person. But as for the contact, in person is better than through a letter. I will agree with that. Do you have any other suggestions?

From contributor P:
Sending something to your former customers is a great idea. In my opinion, this is the most effective advertising you can do. If you have your name on the letter, it will pull. The survey is also a great idea, but you should do them in person at the end of the job. This is a great segue into getting some referrals.

The thing about surveys is to gather what resonates with the customer. Your customer uses emotional reasoning. Watch TV advertising - it is all about emotions. This is why you should do it in person. You are looking for what gets a rise out of them, good or bad. Use leading questions.

What is your favorite part about using your new kitchen?
What do you dislike about having remodeling done?
What do you most like about our service? (surveys show cleanliness)
What do your friends like about your new kitchen?
What made you feel you could trust us to do work on your house?

From contributor B:
I use them, and find them extremely helpful. I ask my customers to be very honest with me, since the point of the survey is to find out how we've done. What contributor P mentioned is probably a good idea as well. I use the survey feature from Constant Contact. I used to send out a small monetary reward, but to be honest, I didn't find that to be beneficial. Now I've started calling them and personally thanking them for giving us their feedback, to let them know they were heard, and it will make a difference for us. I think that is a much better way to thank them. Sort of couples the written survey idea with contributor P's idea.

Although I've never had anyone seriously disappointed, I have had customers mention something they thought could be improved, and it hasn't always been what I thought. Furthermore, if you find the area mentioned is always the same (for me for a long time it was always something related to getting the project done on time), then you know where to focus.

For example, this was a response from a customer a few years back: "Timeliness is still the most important issue I think that needs to be addressed. The quality is there, the presentation is on its way, just work on schedule."

Well, we've been trying to do just that. Take a look at a recent response from a designer customer: "The timing was totally impressive! I was used to late cabinet companies..."

It's the first thing she mentioned. She also went on to say that my quote was higher than she expected, but the quality (specifically naming the finish) and timing were better than she was used to. That's helpful to know.

From contributor L:
This is going to sound like the cheesiest thing you have ever heard, but it worked for me. If you go to an office store or Target, you can find wedding invitation sets. Make your survey with those - they work great. The envelopes are really nice, some have sticker closers. It makes people want to open them. They include a RSVP envelope and page for your survey. They are like $50 for a pack of 25. A little expensive, but for some reason people respond and don't just trash them.

From contributor G:
Contributor L, you know, in spite of what I said about discarding surveys as junk mail (I feel they are sent to make me feel good that my opinion is being considered, and not being really valued), if someone went to the trouble to send me a hand addressed formal letter and reply set on decent paper, such as you suggest, I would be sufficiently impressed that I would answer it, so long as I felt that it was not computer generated and asked genuine open ended questions. That idea I actually like.

From contributor A:
You are on the right track with a survey; however, I think you may be doing it for the wrong reasons. My first thought is, whatís your overall strategy? Iím not even venturing into the dark abyss of data interpretation and what to do with it (yet). It sounds like you donít want to lose a relationship (out of sight, out of mind) and you want to stay in touch. If thatís correct, I believe youíre on the right track. This is called relationship management and as such, you need a strategy.

Believe it or not, this is still classified under the moniker of "sales" Ė not direct, but still selling. What youíre trying to do is what many deep pocketed retailers already do; create top of mind positioning. When you think of cheese, you might immediately think "Kraft" or if someone says "soft drink," you might immediately blurt out "Coke." Sure these companies have some advantages over us with their endless financial resources for billboards, magazine ads, television ads, in store displays, etc. Well, you donít have to worry about resources like that because we arenít looking for millions of customers.

What we are looking for is a simple approach to connect with our customers and not be intrusive. Some experts have called this "permission marketing" and others have coined it "nurture marketing/selling" Ė those titles aside, I call it "indirect, direct selling." You need to target a specific person and indirectly market to them in the form of providing value.

A very basic outline of what you might create could look like this: Identify your top 25 most important customers that you want to touch on a consistent basis. I recommend this be a list of people you know well and already have a relationship with, definitely not a cold call type of list. Although you can do that type of list, it would require a slightly different approach.

Create a form to monitor your action steps and results. Lay out a full year-long plan.
Month 1, Letter with enclosure (seeds)
Month 2, Letter with client survey (report card - be brief)!
Month 3, Letter with helpful enclosure (i.e. 115 ways to organize your business life)
Month 4, White paper on technology and the impact on business
Month 5, Employee survey

Month 6, Ask for a referral
Month 7, Article Ė Impact of Change
Month 8, Database update

Begin with a letter, maybe two or three short paragraphs. Here is one such letter we wrote.

Dear X,

ďWhen you need a friend, itís too late to make oneĒ - Mark Twain

That Mark Twain quote really hits home. We at (your company name) hope to prove that we're a good friend. Unfortunately, itís often hard for us to prove our friendship to a valuable customer like you until you experience a problem Ė and we certainly donít wish that on anybody!

I hope that every time you call our office, somebody makes you feel glad you chose (your company mane) as your partner.

I saw this little packet of forget-me-not seeds the other day, and they reminded me of the importance of always growing your support and loyalty. We certainly remember you and we donít want you to forget that we're here to support your business. Thanks for helping me grow ours.

- Hand signed in blue ink

Of course the packet of seeds was included in the envelope and the envelope was hand addressed; donít use some impersonal label; you need to create the feeling of personal. You wouldnít use a laser printer to sign your family Christmas cards, so donít do it here. These are just a few top level points of what a successful campaign might look like Ė you can create and do virtually anything to add value to your client's life, you just need to think!

I would also caution you against sending anything with your name pasted all over it like most marketers would tell you. Sending a 20 cent pen isnít what this approach is about. When we have a brochure or something printed, we do put our name and logo on the back or a relatively inconspicuous place. We want to do everything possible not to deliver something that gives a cheap, slimy feeling to our customers.

Remember, you arenít asking for anything Ė only giving value because you care. Someday, you may want to make a withdrawal from this account youíve created; make sure you fill it properly and abundantly.

From the original questioner:
Contributor A, that was great. You have given me a whole new way to look at customer relations. Thanks for sharing your knowledge on this.

From contributor P:
Contributor A, that was a good post.

The point about positioning is very salient, as the idea in the book "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind" was about communicating a lot of information quickly. Albeit this is commonly used by mass marketers, I think it can easily have the same effect in a focused campaign to your existing customers and potential new ones. It works for me. The key to using it besides repetition is being able to resonate with the customers instantly; this is done through emotional reasoning and positioning. You ascertain this information with surveys done in person, not by mail. This is the difference between finding the gold mine or more worthless dirt.

If you come up with a strategy before doing this, you are getting the cart before the horse. With existing customers I can see where the friend thing might work, but I don't see how that would work with someone you don't know.

Unless your identity is slimy, I wouldn't worry about looking slimy. Point is the last thing I would want to be is inconspicuous; conspicuous does not necessarily mean anything negative.

The surveys are the guidepost as to what people think is slimy and, more importantly, desirable. What you think has nothing to do with it; what they think has everything to do with it.

Years ago I was looking at joining a contractor franchise group called Dial One. They did extensive surveys; one of the main points that their surveys pointed out was that the customer judged the quality of a contractor by his cleanliness. I don't know about you, but the last way I would judge the quality of a cabinet job was by how well he cleaned up. But what I think has nothing to do with it.

In Guerrilla Marketing, they said out of 32 main points about advertising the single most important was positioning. Although they didnít call it that, the book Blue Ocean Strategy was about companies that had done a great job of positioning. The examples they gave were Southwest Airlines versus other airlines, Cirque du Soleil versus Barnum & Bailey or Ringling Brothers, Yellow Tail wine versus typical wineries. The position in the mind of the customer dictates your strategy from advertising to what machinery you need, soup to nuts. It is worth spending some time on.