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Information is power. This is particularly true online, where having information about your customers' preferences allows you to market to them far more successfully.
Sometimes, you will have to go to your consumers and actively request their help answering your questions, meaning you'll need to run a survey. Unfortunately, these can be a real turnoff for consumers.
As a web entrepreneur, I've had to put a great deal of thought into gleaning my customers' opinions. Here are a few hints and tips I have picked up. As always, I'll be delighted if you choose to add to the list through the comments section below.
Don't distract from the customer's visit
You may want information from your customers to help you drive your business, but you certainly don't want your survey to make your website less effective while you run it.
It needs to be as unobtrusive as possible. I prefer surveys that flash up when you enter the site and request the chance to poll you when you leave.
That means the visitor is not distracted by your questions and only answers them once they've navigated away from your pages.
Don't take the mick
People can be very protective of their time online. There are umpteen thousands of surveys they could complete if they wanted to and by answering yours they are doing you a favour.
So respect their time. Keep your survey short and to the point – avoid the temptation to repeat questions by rephrasing them.
Also, don’t bombard regular visitors to your pages with too-frequent surveys – you'll simply annoy them.
Offer an incentive
Incentives will clearly boost the number of people taking part in your survey and they don't have to be expensive. If you're a large firm, you might decide to offer participants the chance to win a costly prize like a car or holiday.
However, if you're a small or local company with fewer resources, you can still offer a valuable incentive – maybe even make it charitable. Perhaps you'll donate a certain sum or service to a local charity if a set number of people respond to the survey.
Have a clear purpose in mind
In order to avoid repeating yourself or wasting the precious time you have to survey your consumers, make sure you have a really clear purpose in mind.
Do you want to know what they think of your site? Do you want to ask their opinion of a range of new adverts? Do you want to know if they are happy with your latest product redesign?
Tell them why you're conducting the research and then make sure every question fits in with that purpose. That won't just keep them happier and more likely to finish the survey, it will also help you focus your questions and make your research more useful.
Don't demand details
It is incredibly frustrating to give up your time and energy answering a survey only to reach the end and be told you need to submit your name and email address as well.
By all means politely request their information but don't demand it. If you do plan to ask for it, make that section optional and reassure them that their previous answers will not be discounted just because they don't want to share their email address.
Incentives help here as the individual has a reason to leave their contact details. If you do intend to contact them, make sure you offer them the chance to opt out.
It really is just common courtesy.
Do discover demographics
The more you know about the respondents, the easier it will be to analyse their answers.
Perhaps women in their forties love your new product but men in their twenties hate it. If you don't know age and gender then it might look like your consumer base is generally undecided about your latest offering, you'll miss out on valuable insights.