Surveying Your Customers

Surveying your customers is likely one of the most important things you can embark upon in the development processing system. Customers can be brutally honest if the survey process is confidential and timely. However their feedback often provides clarity on priorities for improvements, bottleneck areas, and generally gives a snapshot about frustrations they have experienced. Yes….you also get positive feedback about what you are doing right, much more than you would expect. Remember though, customer feedback is “perception” of your services. It is up to you to relate that perception to your processing system components and separate angst from reality.

Experience has shown that surveying customers for satisfaction should be done in conjunction with other internal measurements collected to gauge timeliness, efficiency and workload volumes. Both satisfaction-based and internal measures should be developed from a clear understanding of what customer expectations for success are. I find it less informative to measure without tying back to some expectation that the customer finds important and you are striving to meet. You generally need to minimize the number of survey questions are asked, therefore it is crucial to pick the important questions. So, get those expectations drafted and get some customer concurrence. You can refer to other discussion topics on performance measurement programs and creating public/private partnerships for more information.

Ok, back to surveying. Surveying can be done several ways as you would expect. For example, you can send out mail surveys, interview customers walking into your development services center, use a suggestion box or survey cards, or use an online instrument. No matter how you get feedback, it is always a good thing. Key determinates for what kind of survey to use includes, 1) how quickly do you need a response, 2) is there adequate budget for printing & mailing, 3) do you want a more comprehensive response for the annual budget process or in conjunction with an assessment of the overall development system, and 4) how broad of customer types are you trying to reach (homeowners, contractors, consultants, business owners, developers, etc.)

At Horizon Centre, we prefer to use the online survey route with our clients. The online feedback has several pluses:

1. Drafting and finalizing the survey instrument(s) is much more flexible than paper surveys. You can quickly
make changes to language after doing some real testing. Decision-makers can actually see what the
customer will see.

2. The invitation process is performed through emailing customers. The time to prepare a mail out and the
postage cost are nil. Reminder notices can also be performed via email. Many communities are collecting
email addresses during permitting and through other outreach efforts.

3. The online survey process typically yields much faster results. Once emails invitations are sent, you
immediately start getting responses. Data is captured electronically making it easier to compile results.

4. Experience has shown with Horizon Centre clients that the overall response rate can be 25-30% or better in
some cases.

5. Once the time has been invested in creating the online instruments, additional customers can be surveyed at
intervals without significant time or expense.

Bottom line is that surveying is a good move no matter the scope or how you do it. The question that remains to be asked is….why are you surveying? Is it a one-time curiosity, a key component of an assessment process (combined with customer focus groups), is the survey process to gather benchmark data for a snapshot before improving the process, or is it expected to be a reoccurring effort? You need to answer that key question to determine the best way to survey. From a favorite TV show….Survey Says! Do you have a plan?

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Kimberly Hanscom

Is there some sort of formula one can use to determine the acceptable number of surveys to send to a client in a year? How do you ensure you don’t over or under -survey?