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Customer Satisfaction Surveys: Nuts and Bolts

Learn how to Create Professional Customer Satisfaction Online Surveys

Here are general recommendations:

  1. Keep it simple. Your customers want to respond to your survey, but you should make it as easy as possible for them. How you invite them to participate, the way you ask questions and what design template you use will affect participation rates. In many regards, the simpler the better. Also, write your questions clearly so that people who are not native speakers of your language can understand the questions.

  2. Keep it short. Choose the length of your survey based on the type of product or service you sell, how much they spent for your product or how often they use the product or contact your company. Generally speaking, about 20 to 30 questions are appropriate for an image-based survey and no more than ten are appropriate for a transactional survey (more on what these two types of surveys are in the next section). Any survey over 40 questions will have a high abandonment rate.

  3. Keep your implied promises. If your goal is to identify what your organization can change to improve satisfaction levels, you need to be willing to respond to survey results. Your customers will view the survey as a mechanism by which they can affect change. If they don't see any improvements, they will become disillusioned and will view the company negatively. This means you need to concentrate on measuring concrete factors over which you have control, such as response time, delivery policies, support professionalism, and order accuracy. Avoid generalized questions such as "Do you think XYZ is a good company?" One respondent may think "good" refers to skill, while the next may think it means morally good. In both cases, you can't learn enough from this type of question to make any concrete changes.

What type of satisfaction do you want to measure?

There are two types of satisfaction surveys, transactional and image-based. Both are easy to implement using eSurveysPro, but both require planning to be effective.

Transactional satisfaction. Each time a customer interacts with your company is a transaction - whether it is a sales call, a support e-mail, opening your invoice or using your product. Many companies use ongoing transactional satisfaction measurements to monitor customer service, support or sales groups over time.

Image-based satisfaction. Every customer has an overall impression of your company. These opinions are based on the sum of their transactions, their beliefs about your competitors, what value they place in your product or service, and impressions that their friends or colleagues may have shared. Regular image-based analysis is vital to understanding the company's strategic position with their customers and in their marketplace.

Although it is feasible to measure both types of satisfaction in one survey, it's not recommended. Respondents find it confusing, because it forces them to think in two very different ways at the same time. It is better to conduct separate surveys, with a few of the same questions, and then compare results from ongoing transactional surveys with results you gather from quarterly image-based studies.

Identify Your Customers: Who to Measure

To get valid results, you need to identify who to measure and when. Here again, there are significant differences between transactional and image-based surveys.

Transactional surveys can be conducted after each interaction with a particular department, or can be randomized - depending on the frequency and volume of customer transactions. For example, if your call center handles 1,000 calls a day, and each customer tends to call once a week, having every caller respond to your transactional survey will become burdensome to them, and the number of responses will not improve statistical accuracy. Instead, choose every tenth caller. Each customer will average one request every 10 calls, responding will not take too much of their time (remember, no more than 10 questions!) and the data set will be just as valuable.

For image-based surveys, the "customer" may not be the purchaser of your product or service. Channel partners, distributors, consultants, advertisers, past / prospective buyers, and competitors' customers can be extremely valuable sources of information about your company. You may also want to include front-line employees in your customer satisfaction analysis - they have extremely valuable opinions about how things should be done! Put significant thought into who you want to survey so that you get a true understanding of where your company fits in the market.

Since image-based surveys are longer, you may want to select a random sample of your customer base, eliminating that sample from your next quarterly survey. Ideally, the composition of your panel will be similar to that of your customer base. If you are surveying multiple customer types, select the same percentage from each group (say 10%), then pool the randomly selected lists, rather than pooling the lists, then choosing your random sample. This assures that each type of customer has an equal opportunity to respond, minimizing skewed results.

Critical Performance Attributes: What to Measure

Next, you need to identify what you need to measure. Referred to by some experts as "Performance Attributes" and others as "Customer Requirements" they both refer to a single concept: key elements that shape satisfaction.

According to the AMA Handbook for Customer Satisfaction, the following performance attributes are appropriate for most companies to measure:

Attributes related to the product

  • Value-price relationship
  • Product quality
  • Product benefits
  • Product features
  • Product design
  • Product reliability and consistency
  • Range of products or services offered by your company

Attributes related to service

  • Guarantee or warranty
  • Delivery
  • Complaint handling
  • Resolution of problems

Attributes related to purchase (or transactions)

  • Courtesy
  • Communication
  • Ease or convenience of acquisition (either buying the product or using the service)
  • Company reputation
  • Company competence

Some of these performance attributes are appropriate to transactional satisfaction research and others to image-based surveys. Still others can be used for both types of surveys, depending on the way the questions are worded. It is recommended, however, that you should focus on one or two of these areas and understand each completely, rather than attempting to include all of them in every survey.

Bob Hayes, in his book, Measuring Customer Satisfaction, categorizes four major elements of service satisfaction: Responsiveness, Speed of Transaction, Availability of Service, and Professionalism. These are excellent points to measure in transactional satisfaction surveys.

There are a variety of ways you can identify which specific attributes you should measure and how you should word the questions. Some experts recommend pre-testing your topics and how you word the questions with a representative panel of customers and/or asking front-line employees. However you proceed, be certain to base your survey on attributes that are of significant importance to your customers.

The Questions: How to ask

Most satisfaction surveys revolve around gap analysis, where you measure how important particular performance attributes are to respondents, and then measure how well your company meets these requirements. A great way to capture this information is by using two sequential matrix questions with the same number of scale points, one asking about importance of the defined performance attributes, one asking about whether these apply to the customer's recent experience (for transactional surveys) or overall experience (image-based satisfaction).

Here's an example:

Please rate how important the following items are to you when interacting with the support department of a company like XYZ.

   4       3       2    Not at all
Easy to contact a support person
Support person is knowledgeable
Support person provides answers quickly
Support person is courteous

Based on your recent call to XYZ Company, how strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

   4       3       2    Strongly
It was easy to contact a support person
Support person was knowledgeable
Support person provided answers quickly
Support person was courteous

Analysis Hint: There are a number of ways you can analyze these factors statistically, but eSurveysPro's cross-tabulation tool allows you to see problems clearly by performance attribute. Select the question about importance for the given attribute. Next, cross-tabulate it with the performance question for that attribute. In the resulting table, look for high percentages in the top row, right cells. This is where the table compares "Very Important" with "Strongly Disagree."

If you are conducting image-based satisfaction research, you will probably want to get more detail about each performance attribute with single select, multiple select or open-ended questions. For instance:

How do you usually contact our support department? (Check all that apply)

 Instant Message
 In Person

Filter your survey results by each response to see if there is a satisfaction trend based on how people contact your support group. Then you can decide how to fix any problem the data shows.

As you can see from the examples above, each question focuses on one performance attribute. Combining performance attributes in the same question can make analysis difficult. For instance, if you ask "Did the support person answer the phone quickly and politely?" The only way for a respondent to answer yes is if both attributes mentioned (speed and politeness) are true. A "No" to this question would not tell you which performance attribute was missed - and you wouldn't know how to solve the problem (more people answering the phones, or better training for those who do).

Satisfaction alone is not a predictor of future purchases. Another area that you may measure with either an image-based survey or transactional survey is loyalty. According to Fred Reichheld, in his book Loyalty Rules!, You can measure loyalty by asking your customers how your company does in the following areas:

  1. Play to Win/Win: Customers can rely on the company to deliver outstanding quality, service, and value.
  2. Be Picky: The company attracts and retains outstanding people to work there.
  3. Keep it Simple: The company makes it simple to do business with them.
  4. Reward the Right Results: Customer loyalty is appropriately valued and rewarded.
  5. Listen Hard, Talk Straight: The company communicates openly and honestly.
  6. Preach What You Practice: Customers can trust company personnel to behave with fairness and integrity
  7. Overall: Customers believe that the company deserves their loyalty.

If you measure one or more of the above loyalty points in a transactional survey, understand that the responses may be colored by that customer's most recent interaction with the company. If it was negative, the loyalty measures may be lower - but not always. By giving each respondent an opportunity to explain their answer, you can find issues that may not have been identified through other survey questions.

The last part of any satisfaction survey should be your demographic questions. There are certain questions that are appropriate for business to business, others for business to consumer. By including demographics, you can identify if there are specific industries, customer types or regions that report higher or lower satisfaction levels. If you have customer history information, you may want to pass some of these points to the survey file using hidden fields. Since knowing who has responded a particular way may skew interpretation, it is strongly recommended not to pass identifying data. The following points, however, are often valuable to include in analysis of both image-based and transactional satisfaction surveys:

  • Company size
  • Industry sector
  • Purchase date(s) or dollar volume
  • Number of calls to support
  • Support rep identifier (especially valuable if you want to track the effectiveness of each representative)
  • Date of call
  • Date of completion


Customer satisfaction surveys are important tools for measuring the success of a company. They often predict or explain sales trends, and can give you clear information on what changes will improve the bottom line. Throughout satisfaction survey process, include managers and front-line employees so that they understand the project's value.

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