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What is a survey? All about why you should invest in quality customer surveys!

Jyotsna Hariharan

16 October 2019

7 min read

In 1973, the hair-color market in America was completely monopolized by Clairol. With the tagline “Does she, or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows,” Clairol spoke to women who wanted colored hair that looked “natural”, and wouldn’t raise eyebrows.

It was into this American market, that a then-unheard-of French makeup company named L’Oreal, was trying to break into. Their hair-dye product was better than Clairol’s, but also more expensive. The advertising agency, McCann Erickson was entrusted with the account and asked to increase L’Oreal’s market share among American women.

Even though America was changing in 1973, with the passing of Roe V Wade and Equal Rights marches across the country, McCann Erickson, like most other ad agencies, was run and staffed mostly by men. So it was no surprise when the usual campaigns with a beautiful woman who barely spoke, didn’t help L’Oreal in any way.

At least not until Ilon Specht, a 23-year-old copywriter at McCann was attached to the L’Oreal account and she asked what actual customers wanted – what she herself wanted. After speaking to female customers and after drawing on her own experience, Specht quickly realized that the Clairol motto was outdated. Women didn’t care if their husbands and mothers knew they were dying their hair. They cared about what hair dye was best for them. It didn’t matter if L’Oreal was more expensive than Clairol, because the customers’ priority had shifted from what everyone else wanted, to what they wanted.

That summer, Ilon Specht wrote a new L’Oreal campaign that advertised “The Most Expensive Hair Colour In The World”. The ad put a woman front and center, looking confidently ahead, uncaring about male approval, as she said “I use the most expensive hair color in the world. Preference, by L’Oreal. It’s not that I don’t care about money. It’s that I care about hair. Actually, I don’t mind spending more for L’Oreal. Because I’m worth it.”

Needless to say, L’Oreal largely outsold Clairol.  Today, L’Oréal is the largest cosmetics company in the world (selling approximately 50 products every second) and its slogan remains an internationally recognized catchphrase. And all because someone thought to ask the right questions to the right customers.

Customer surveys have come a long way from having to guess what people want. Everything moves faster now – be it information or products.  In 10 years, the internet has gained the same number of users that took the telephone 50 years to gain.

So whether or not you’re doing well, whether or not you have a stellar product, the one thing you can be sure of is that word will spread much faster than it would have a couple of years ago. The stakes are high, but the rewards are great, too. The way to capitalize on this is to stay several steps ahead of your customers and anticipate their needs at all times.

And this is where Surveys come in as a no-brainer. So what are surveys?

Very simply put, it’s when you need the responses or opinions of multiple people on a particular subject.

In personal life, we survey all the time, and barely think about it – when you’re trying to pick between two restaurants for a family dinner, when you ask your friends if your new haircut looks good, when you are trying to decide whether you should move to a new city. Depending on the choices that needs to be made, and the stakes of the decision, you carefully choose our focus group, and survey them in different ways. Based on the data that’s generated, you make decisions everyday about whether to eat Italian or get bangs or move to San Francisco.

In the business context, clearly this is a gold mine. Executed right, a survey can be a combination of:

  • A grade sheet from your customers that tell you what you’re doing right, and what you can do better.
  • A consumer census that gives you insight into the demographics of your customer base
  • A meet and greet where you understand your customers, their needs and thought processes better
  • A platform for your customers to connect with you and make themselves heard
  • A fun mystery box that gives you unconventional answers to your questions, helps you create fresh ideas and develop a brand image

And so much more.

As far as market research and business development is concerned, the customer survey is an invaluable tool, that pays forward in dividends. Companies have been understanding its worth which is why a large section has been actually investing in customer surveys. 

Five big-picture reasons to invest in quality customer surveys

  • Everything you do can be improved

When the first guy who invented the wheel, rolled it out (pun intended) for release, after the initial ooh-ing and aah-ing, you can bet that a few of his buddies told him it was too bumpy or that it could some customizations. Everything you do can be improved. Every product you put out could be doing more. You’ll never know till you ask.

Survey your customers’ satisfaction on separate products, separate features. You could use various methods like NPS, CSAT or  Likert Scale for this purpose. The survey will get you answers to the following questions:

  • Are your prices too high?
  • Too low?
  • Do they want more options?
  • Do they want more of something, and less of something else?
  • Did their purchase match their expectations?

Survey recent customers about what they thought of their latest purchase, survey prospective customers about what could convince them to become a customer, survey departing customers about what made them leave and if there’s anything you can do to bring them back.

Develop new products based on new needs, discontinue products that no longer fulfil customer needs. The process of evolution and improvement begins with soliciting honest and open feedback.

  • Going from brand preference to necessity

The Millennial population is projected to spend $1.4 trillion shopping each year by 2020. And according to an Ad Week survey (yet another great example of how survey information helps you understand your customers better!) 95% of millennials consider themselves loyal to particular brands.  And sure, brand loyalty is nice. Know what’s better? Being so good that your product becomes a necessity – an irreplaceable part of your customer’s life. This is what sets apart giants like  Coca Cola, Apple, or Starbucks from any other soda, gadget and coffee options. These brands are so in tune with their customers’ that the brand identity integrates seamlessly into their customers’ identity.

A die hard Apple fanboy will use an i-Everything till the day he dies and there’s nothing you can do or say, that will change his mind. They might even try to convert you if you – god forbid – use a PC or an Android.  That’s an organic brand advocate who’s motivated purely by his passion for your product.

If the routine of going to the nearest Starbucks before work and grabbing their personalized order of coffee, has been integrated into a busy customer’s life, nothing else will do for their caffeine fix. No matter what city they go to, they will seek out a Starbucks instead of any other coffee shop. That’s the difference between preference and necessity.  

And how these brands bridge that gap is by asking their customers targeted questions, listening closely, and constantly updating themselves to catch up with unmet expectations.

By asking simple questions and systematically gathering data, you can identify the gaps in your customers’ needs and evolve to fit in those gaps. A well crafted survey might be the push you need to get your product  from preference to necessity.

  • Customers like being heard!

The new generation of buyers and consumers have been raised on the internet. Be it a picture of our avocado toast, or a rant about a movie, we’re used to having an audience. Customers like being heard.  To have a dialogue with a company makes customers feel important and involved. Customers are more likely to have a personal stake in the brand if they feel like they have a say in it. Over 62% of consumers favor brands more when they have a positive engagement with them on social media.

In addition to regular day-to day interactions with companies,  Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR is becoming increasingly invaluable for brand image and customer relationships. In an Adweek survey, 83% of American consumers said they wanted companies to take stands on issues.

For instance, in 2015, Nielsen polled 30,000 consumers in 60 countries around the world. They wanted to know more about what influences how people feel about brands, and how those feelings impact buying behavior. They found that 66 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods In 2015, brands who showed a commitment to sustainability saw sales grow more than 4% globally. Those that had no such commitment grew less than 1%.

All of these are opportunities to understand your customers and help your company at the same time, and survey can be the key to crack it.

  • Improve your customer-facing units

Here are a couple of stats from an American Express study from last year:

  • 33% of Americans say they’ll consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service.
  • Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they’ll tell about a good experience.
  • More than half of Americans have scrapped a planned purchase or transaction because of bad service.
  • After one negative experience, 51% of customers will never do business with that company again.
  • 74% of people are likely to switch brands if they find the purchasing process too difficult.

Your customer service department is the first, and sometimes last impressions your customers form of your companies. In many ways, this is your first line of defense against losing customers. And what better way to assess, troubleshoot, and improve your customer service than carefully and consistently surveying what your customers felt about it?

  • Customer churn rate

If you’re still asking why you customer surveys deserve the investment of your time and energy, here’s the clincher: it is anywhere from 5 to 25 more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. Your Customer Churn Rate or Customer Attrition Rate is the rate at which existing customers leave your company during a given time.  According to Gartner, a staggering 80% of a company’s future revenue will come from just 20% of its existing customers. Meanwhile, Marketing Metrics claims that the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, and only 5-20% to a new prospect. With stakes and stats like these, your first line of defense is to survey your current customers and identify their needs and areas for improvement. Using the data from surveys and other contact with customers, you can even identify groups of customers who are more likely to leave than others. You could then provide incentives and offers to these customers to stay , as well as offers to your valuable loyal customers, to thank them for their patronage.

Now that you know the big-picture reasons why you should invest in quality survey softwares, why don’t you pick out the best from the best online survey tools out there? Unlike the L’Oreal of 1980’s, you needn’t even shell out on the most expensive tool out there for it to be best. Really!

Jyotsna Hariharan

Guest Blogger at SurveySparrow

A writer based in New York who works in content marketing, screenwriting and theater.

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