How to Conduct a Customer Survey

Published by Susan Lubega,
“The Systems Builder”

All profit driven organizations seek to meet customer needs and expectations in order to stay in business.
However, half the time focus is lost…..
Since it is the actual needs and expectations that you seek to know and understand before you can
provide them it would seem that the best way to do this is to simply ASK instead of guess.
Conducting a customer survey is one of the ways in which dialogue can be opened between the customer
and the organization. It serves as a comparison between the internal perception of the organization and
that of the customers’. In order to do a customer survey you need to:
a. Find out internally to what level, staff think they have met customer requirements
Usually informal discussions or conclusions drawn from specific events are the basis against which
internal views on how the organization is meeting customer requirements are formed. Without additional
verification these become facts against which strategies and even major plans are drawn.
It is only when the strategy / plan fails that it is realized that actually what were taken to be facts were
assumptions that had been made at the time.
It is always important, therefore, to start off a customer survey, by finding out what the internal views
are on the level to which the organization has been able to meet customer satisfaction.
This can be achieved by:
a. Finding out what staff think the customer requirements are;
b. Determining the parameters that can be used to measure the level to which customer
requirements have been met. These parameters may qualitative or quantitative in nature.
c. Using these parameters to assess the level to which staff thinks they have met these
Below is a table showing examples of organizations, customer requirements and parameters for
measuring these.
Organisation Customer Requirements /
Parameter for measuring
Parking space Amount of time taken to find parking
Knowledgeable staff
Time taken to address enquiries /
Speedy and accurate service Time taken queuing up
Number of mistakes made on
Hotel / Guest House Secure parking Number of vandalisation incidents
Warm, friendly and courteous staff
Level to which guests found the staff
Water at the right temperature for
a bath
Frequency of availability of water at
the temperature wanted.
Manufacturer Sales staff with good product
knowledge and ability to take
Amount of time taken to get
response to an enquiry;
Number of options provided.
Deliver on time Number of on-time deliveries
Provide desired quantities Number of times that the
organization has been able to provide
complete orders
Retail Shop Ease of finding products Time spent in the shop looking for
Parking space
Time spent looking for parking space
Courteous sales staff Approachability and help provided by
sales staff.
b. Decide what measurable parameters can be used by the customers to provide feedback on
the level to which their requirements have been met.
Before going out to the customers you need to zero in on the particular aspects you require the
customers to provide feedback on and how these can be assessed.
A selection can be made from the overall experience of the customer with the organization to the quality
of particular services for example telephone support provided, response to enquiries, after sales visits, etc
After identifying these, the next step is to come up with a way in which customers can assess them
preferably on a weighted scale.
A scale of 1 – 5 may be selected in which 5 is excellent; 4 very good; 3 good; 2 fair; 1 poor. Other scales
can be devised depending on the type of information required.
c. Select the techniques to be used to gather the necessary information.
Questionnaires are usually good, however, basing on my experience on how I usually fill them in, I can
say that they can provide useful information if administered by somebody NOT hailing from the
organization conducting the survey.
This presents the client with the opportunity to elaborate on any arising issues. Needless to say, they
have to be kept simple and short.
Focus group discussions, on the other hand, if well managed tend to provide in depth knowledge with the
added advantage of impressing on the customer their importance to the organization.
They can serve to verify the views expressed in the questionnaires and also to correct in-house
misconceptions of customer requirements.
In essence a combination of all these methods would be ideal with one method making up for the short
falls of the other.
d. Design the tools
Having selected the methods to be used, the next step is to design the tools. The tools referred to
include questionnaires and setting the questions to be asked in a focus group discussion. In the
questionnaires, multiple choice questions may be used to obtain:
– Ratings of satisfaction with service;
– Factors considered to be important by the customer;
– Other information geared at profiling the customer to be used at a later stage for a more detailed
e. Pre-test the tools.
It is always prudent to pre-test the tools before mounting a full scale survey. To pre-test the tools a small
sample of customers would be taken and the tools would be administered on them. They would then
provide feedback on:
– Components of the service that are important to the customer;
– Ambiguous questions;
– Ease of comprehending the language used;
– Sensitivity of the tools.
Amendments to the tools would then be made accordingly.
f. Define the benchmarks against which to assess customer satisfaction.
Benchmarks need to be established against which all data gathered can be assessed. Examples may
– Percentage of customers giving top rating of satisfaction ie: those giving a rating of 5 – excellent;
– A customer satisfaction index which combines all results through a weighting system; eg: if the
customer is asked to rate each service element from 1 to 5 where 5 is the highest, then simply averaging
all the customer scores for each element or expressing it against a base of 100. An average score of 4 on
a scale of 1 – 5 would provide an index of 80.
g. Decide who should undertake the survey and analysis
Companies may opt to conduct the survey in-house or contract a consultant. Both approaches have
advantages and disadvantages. These are summarized below:
Advantages Disadvantages
In – house programme May raise awareness among employees of customer service requirements;
– Cheaper Staff would not contact customers likely to give negative comments;
-Training of the staff to be involved is essential;
– May be difficult to find personnel to do this as an on-going activity.
External programme
– Since organisation’s staff is not involved likely to yield objective data. – Expensive
h. Determine the representative sample size
Ensure that a significant representative sample is taken from all the customer groups. The number
selected should provide at least a 20% response from each customer group.
i. Analyse the results
The analysis of data should be done using the parameters established in f.
j. Compile a report
A report detailing the findings and the interpretation of the results should be prepared and circulated to
the concerned parties for action.
k. Summarise the lessons learnt and communicate them to your customers.
It would be good to provide a summary of the lessons learnt from the survey and communicate them to
the customers together with the arising actions to be taken by the organization. This serves as proof to
the customer of the organisation’s commitment to meeting their requirements.
l. Thank both staff and your customers for their participation.
Last but not least, it is very courteous and important to thank both the staff and customers for their
involvement in the exercise.
2006 ©

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