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Using Customer Surveys to Get New Customers

Customer Satisfaction Survey – How to Design a Survey

By Jeffrey Dobkin

Customer surveys are useful for gathering all kinds of marketing data, and when they’re completed they make great bird cage liners.

Oh, did you want your customer survey to provide you with useful data? Forget it… that’s not what they’re good for. Unless you mail a bajillion of them survey results are unreliable. What? Hell yes! Bajillion is a number – ask my 6 year old daughter.

Most customer satisfaction surveys don’t work because the surveys aren’t designed well. Survey Information requested is too much, too personal, or just plain unnecessary. The satisfaction survey winds up being 8 pages long and only 1 person in 10,000 fills it out correctly and sends it in. Problem is: you never know which one.

Solution: use the “Hidden-objective” survey technique. You may never have heard of this style of survey because… I just made it up. Well, I created it several years ago for a client who used it and then went on to become a billionaire, I think because I designed he survey so well, before leaving me in the dust to continue to drive my 10 year old mini van, but that’s another story I won’t go into now. This is the first time I’m writing about it, though.

Whether it’s an web survey, employee survey or just a marketing survey for your own customers, in the hidden-objective survey we may – or may not – base the success of our survey around the answers. Actually, answering survey questions may not be our objective. Our objective may be to use this format of a survey tool to inform customers, or advertise a new product. Now that I’ve cleared that up, let’s get back to watching TV. Oh, sorry, sometimes my ADD gets way ahead of me.

OK, let’s move on and pretend I’m working, as my wife is watching and I can’t go to “those” websites any more, or at least not right now. Let’s see… oh yea… customer satisfaction surveys.

Another one of my favorite survey research techniques is the “Key-Question” survey. This is where we hide one or two impotent questions, sorry, Fraudian slip. Oops. Another Freudian slip. So — most survey questions are fluffy and don’t matter, but one or two are the specific hidden key-questions of the whole shebang that make the customer survey relevant. Confused? Let me explain while my wife is hanging around pretending to not watch what I’m doing.

The Hidden-Objective Satisfaction Survey

Our hidden objective may be “to inform readers about a new product or offering,” or “bring an advertising message to prospects and clientele.” In other words, it’s a slick piece of advertising, designed to look like a satisfaction survey. Ever consider that? No, most people don’t. That’s why I get the big bucks. Or I may any day now.

My own hidden-objective as a direct marketer is usually to generate a phone call or have people raise their hands and ask us to call them. “Furgetabout survey shmurvey,” my NJ clients say, “If the phone don’t ring… you get axed.” I grew up on the streets and this has real meaning. We send something in the mail, the phone bedder ring. He really meant “axed.”

Suppose, for example, you’d like to introduce a new product to the insurance industry, your new LTCI that now includes coverage for massage therapy. Yes, grand papa would love that therapy, at say, a local massage parlor. Hey – it’s close by and it says “Massage” right there on the door.

So in the nice cover letter you send with the customer satisfaction survey – and you know me, everything is sent with a nice cover letter – you ask the reader for a quiet moment to take your quick 5-question market research survey. No one minds a “quick 5-question survey.”

To increase participation you could enclose a crisp dollar bill for taking the survey, but it would be much better if you sent that money to me. To increase response tell the reader you’ll let them know what the survey results are. Viola – instant permission to call, fulfilling our objective.

“Did you know the Jeff Dobkin agency offers long term care including paid coverage for massage for your loved ones?”

[ ] Yes [ ] No [ ] Please call

“Do you think your grand father would like a nice soothing all over body massage?”

[ ] Yes [ ] No [ ] TMI* (*Too Much Information)

OK, I my have been a little over the top here, but we’re all adults here aren’t we? Ha. You didn’t think that last question was part of the survey but it was. Fill out the rest of the questions and I’ll send you a dollar. And the results. Just send it in with a $10 processing fee…

Here you can see we don’t really want an answer to these questions – that would be too much information (TMI) about grand papa. We just want to inform clients of this new product and service that we offer, and we do it in the form of a customer satisfaction survey. Market research surveys get high readership. Clever, huh?

The “Actionable Key-Question” Survey

We continue our survey questionnaire, and turn it into an actionable key-question survey:

“Have you planned for good care of your grandfather in his later years?”

[ ] Yes [ ] No [ ] Don’t know

“Are you worried about your grand parents care as they get older?”

[ ] Yes [ ] No [ ] Please call

Key Question Customer Survey Tip: You can see we are now asking a key question that if clients answer in a certain way we can take action.

The rest of the survey questions? Who cares? It may not matter, because if this question is checked “yes” or “please call” it worked! We fulfilled our hidden objective – remember that from a few paragraphs ago – by generating a lead: a customer asked us to call. We call them – which makes this survey 100% successful.

But since I have one question left, I’ll ask:

“How long has it been since you have had your insurance policies reviewed?”

[ ] One year [ ] three years [ ] don’t remember

This seemingly innocent question is really a Super Actionable Key-Question – and kind’a gives us a “reason to call” if ANY of the boxes are checked. Doesn’t it? If this was my survey I’d toss in a few more innocuous throw-away survey questions just to make it look more legit.

So, if you’re designing a customer satisfaction survey, even an online survey, first decide on the objective; then design the survey to fulfill the objective.

If the objective is to call or be called, insert just one or maybe two relevant “key questions” that you can act on. Make the rest of the survey questions easy. OK, I gotta go… I have some stuff to do on the Internet – my wife just left to go food shopping for the week at the 7-11 and she’ll be back in 20 minutes…

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Jeff Dobkin Illustrated

Jeff Dobkin Illustrated

Jeff Dobkin is a direct marketing copywriter, marketing strategy guy, a funny speaker whose presentations are intense with successful, useful direct marketing methods. His articles – some fun and funny, some so technical and academic he doesn’t even like them – have appeared in more than 250 magazines.  He has written 5 books on marketing and two humor. 610-642-1000 rings on his desk. Visit and… hey, wait – you’re already here. OK, next stop – please go to our store and buy something, anything. Thanks.