Customer Response Surveys Could Reap Big Benefits

As the industry changes and evolves and you must continually battle blurred channels, changing technologies and decreased differentiation, one thing is constant: the experience you offer your customers can set you apart from your competition and keep your customers coming back.

Great customer experience begins with knowing how your customers view your stores, your product mix and your customer service. Taking steps to continue or improve your service and operations based on the information you gather is critical to your success over time.

There are a variety of ways to gather customer intelligence. Using several different methods provides you with a 360-degree-view of the service and experience you provide your customers and the standards you set for your operation. This view should be delivered from the corporate level down to the unit level helping your business drive same-store sales.

One way is to gather customer feedback using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) or Interactive Web Response (IWR) surveys. These are surveys where customers are given instructions for answering a series of questions and then prompted through the questions electronically, either by phone or on the Web.

The current trend is to promote these surveys on receipts, but invitations to participate also can be delivered in person, via e-mail or even postal mail.

The decision to use an Interactive Voice Response or Interactive Web Response survey depends on your customer base, your brand or your preference. Many leading businesses offer surveys via both methods to give customers a choice. There are benefits to each: Web surveys allow you to ask more open-ended questions and gather more detailed and anecdotal feedback. Phone surveys enable customers to take the survey immediately since they don’t need to have computer access.

Regardless of how you choose to conduct your customer response survey, it’s important to create a program that provides you with information you can use, all the while building better relationships with your customers. Here are best practices across industries to help you develop an effective customer feedback program.

Offer Incentives
Offering incentives for customers to participate in a survey is beneficial for several reasons: your customers are taking time out of their busy day to give you valuable feedback about your business, so giving them something in return is a nice gesture. Also, incentives help increase the number of customers who respond. Incentives range from a chance to win a gift card to cash sweepstakes to a percent or dollar amount off the next purchase.

Keep it Short
Think carefully about the questions you want customers to answer. It may be tempting to ask about a variety of topics but lengthy surveys will likely frustrate your customers and their attention span may not be long enough to complete the survey. Most IVR/IWR customer response surveys range from two minutes to eight minutes. Most surveys are flexible enough to enable you to change your questions as needed to gather a variety of data based on upcoming seasons, fuel price changes or new offers.

One constant, however, should be to ask the customer how likely they are to return and how likely they are to recommend your store to others.

Customize the Survey
Developing different surveys depending on your customer’s individual shopping experience will help you gather specific feedback for various areas of your store. Ask early on in the survey what they purchased that trip. If a customer only purchases gas, for example, continue the survey by asking only questions that might pertain to that experience. If they purchased fresh food, ask about that area of the store. You can also take this opportunity to promote other areas they might not have frequented, such as your new deli counter or drink station.

Take Action on Results
It may sound like a no-brainer, but make sure you are using the data you collect to improve your operations. Too often, valuable data is collected but then sits in a file somewhere. Determine with your team how the data will be aggregated, analyzed and used before you even start collecting it. It’s one thing to ask customers what they think. It’s quite another to incorporate this information into efforts to improve your overall service and offering.

Make Instructions Easy and Clear
Providing clear instructions for your customers will help speed the process along and avoid creating frustration. There is a balance between providing too many instructions and not being clear enough.

Provide Additional Opportunities to Respond
Providing an open-ended opportunity for customers to give their own comments or add something that wasn’t covered by your questions is a great way to gather anecdotal information. You may find this is the most valuable feedback you receive from these surveys. This also could provide insight into future survey questions. If you receive open-ended comments about the quality of your coffee, for example, you may want to consider diving more deeply into this topic in the next survey.

Offer Your Survey in Multiple Languages
It’s surprising that not all businesses offer these surveys in both Spanish and English. Many businesses do, which not only lets your Spanish-speaking customers know that you care about their business, but also indicates to your English-speaking customers that you care about customer service overall. Adding other languages may be appropriate. If you have locations in Canada, for example, consider offering surveys in French.

Engage Your Employees
If you’re going to go to the trouble to gather feedback from customers, make sure to let them know you’re conducting a survey. If you’re promoting the survey via your receipts, remember that many customers discard c-store receipts quickly. Challenge your employees to remind customers about the survey and offer incentives for those employees who generate the most completed surveys during their shift. Receipt surveys enable you to ask customers specifically what time of day and what store they shopped.

Brand Your Survey
Perception is everything. Make sure your Web-based surveys employ your logo and color scheme. Every customer touch point matters in creating an overall brand, and customer surveys are no exception. Link the survey to your corporate Web site to create continuity.

Keep Your Customers Engaged
You are in a situation where (hopefully) your customers are feeling good about your brand. You’ve offered them an incentive to provide feedback, you’ve gathered that feedback in a helpful way, and you have shown your appreciation by making it easy and streamlined. Now is a great opportunity to further engage your customers by inviting them to sign up for your loyalty program or to get in further contact with you with additional feedback. Creating a "community of customers" will open many doors in the future to collect further data.

Consider What Else Can You Learn About Your Customers
Not only is this a great opportunity to learn more about your customers’ perspectives and shopping tendencies, it’s a great way to learn about their shopping habits at other c-stores, retailers or restaurants. If you are considering adding a fast-food partner, this is a great way to find out which ones your customers frequent.

In today’s ever-changing market, it’s critical to understand your customers, who they are, what their preferences are and how they feel about doing business with you. If you have the opportunity to gather valuable feedback, then make sure you make the most of it by tapping into best practices, creating an extension of your brand and showing your customers that you really do care about what they think. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mike Mallett is the CEO of Corporate Research International, a leader in mystery shopping and consumer response surveys. He can be reached at 419-422-3196, or by visiting


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