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Listening to customers and understanding their needs is one of the surest paths to a successful business.

“History shows that when companies listen to their customers, collaborate with them and innovate together, they thrive. And when they don’t, they fail,” says Andrew Reid, Founder, President, and CPO of Vision Critical.

Whether you just launched your brand or are reviving a struggling business, a focus on market demand as well as customer feedback will increase your chances of survival in a competitive business landscape.

There are many ways of gathering customer feedback, such as social media, of course, CRM solutions, call and customer services centers, and traditional or digital surveys. There are also a variety of companies, such as Vision Critical, that offer customer intelligence platforms, which are secure, online communities of thousands of customers sharing their opinions with a company.

For small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs, an investment in a CRM solution or customer intelligence platform may be way out of budget. Yet the use of surveys is a tried and true — and a viable and economical — way to interact with customers and gain their insights.

There are many different types of surveys out there, from traditional mailers to various digital platforms. You can gear survey questions toward the results you’re seeking for market analysis, tracking performance, customer follow-up, customer demographics, and beyond.

Online variations of the traditional survey method make the process easier and get you results quicker. And quicker information means faster action. Gathering feedback is only the beginning. You also need to analyze the feedback and act on it to reap the benefits. Technology helps you get your hands on the data, sooner.

1. INTERNET SURVEYS

Online surveys are one of the easiest ways to get feedback from customers. In today’s tech-savvy world, the options are many. Tools such as SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo, and PollDaddy are only the beginning. SurveyMonkey is perhaps the most well known and easy-to-use platform. And once they joined forces with Boomerang, their survey tools and analytics offering expanded even more.

SurveyGizmo and PollDaddy are similar platforms that also let you create surveys and polls. Constant Contact, a popular email software, offers an online survey tool. If your company already has an account with them, this may be the least expensive and simplest option.

You can effortlessly embed these surveys and polls onto your website — whether directly or as a pop-up — or in emails you send to clients and customers. With email surveys, you can create email lists and customer email invitations. These tools let you track your responses and send messages to people who haven’t responded to your survey.

Social media is also a great place to use surveys. If the survey is on your website, use Twitter to tweet a link to your survey. Facebook lets you post surveys on your wall or even your customers’ walls.

These online platforms make it painless to build surveys based on your company’s distinct needs. They are also designed to let you monitor and analyze responses in real time.

Except for Constant Contact, most online survey tools are free at the basic level. If you want more customization or scope, there are paid options — and many are still reasonably priced.

2. MOBILE SURVEYS

Mobile surveys have become common with the rise of smartphones. You can design surveys targeted at mobile users and place them in browsers, applications, or SMS messaging.

If your business already has a strategy around mobile devices, it shouldn’t be hard to incorporate surveys into your mobile mix. If your company is new to mobile, there are many software providers out there with mobile survey solutions. Those solutions are pricier than most online survey tools. And as more consumer use of smartphones and tablets over computers continues to grow, this is an option you can use to leap ahead of your competitors.

Many of these solution providers do offer free trials, so it might be wise to try out one or two. Some top-rated companies that offer free trials include Survey Analytics, SurveyMe, Snap Surveys, and Datafield. Surveys from PopSurvey are easy and fun to create. They have a reliable mobile offering.

3. POS SURVEYS

Point-of-sale (POS) surveys are another option for getting customer feedback and gauging customer satisfaction while the experience with your business is still fresh in their mind. By definition, a POS survey is offered to a paying customer, in-store, as soon as a transaction takes place, through an electronic or checkout machine, or via email.

“Most shopping experiences fade from a customer’s memories quickly, unless the experience was either extremely good or extremely bad,” writes Andy Walton on Houston Chronicle’s blog.

The biggest advantage of POS surveys is how rapid the results are. You get the customer response right after they’ve interacted with your business. As a result, their responses will be that much more accurate. And there’s less risk that respondents will answer a survey just because they had a bad experience.

“Surveying at the point of sale helps provide a more consistent viewpoint and a better cross-section of respondents,” writes Walton.

There are many different ways to use technology to administer POS surveys depending on your business. Walton writes that a smartphone accessory store might install location-based technology to send the survey directly to a customer’s smartphone while a grocery store using self-checkout terminals could easily add the survey on to the end of its existing checkout procedure.

You can also put secured tablets at your checkout counter or have sales associates carry them to offer POS surveys to clients and customers at the conclusion of their business with you. If you ask customers for their email address, you can automatically email a link to the survey, or send out a mobile push notification if you have their mobile numbers.

Customer Thermometer has a one-tap satisfaction table survey service that is great for hotels, event feedback, office buildings, etc. Customers just tap on a single on-screen icon as they leave or pay and you instantly have feedback on their experience.

WHICH SURVEY TOOL IS RIGHT FOR YOUR BUSINESS?

The presence of so many options for surveying your customers can be overwhelming. The fact that online survey tools are so similar makes choosing the one for your business even more difficult. Capterra has a survey software directory that compiles the most popular tools available and lists them by the number of customers, number of users, and social presence. Business software and services review site, G2 Crowd also has a comparison site for survey software. if you’re wondering which platform is best for your business, these sites are good places to start.

With these technology tools to help you gain valuable customer insight, there’s no barrier to being more customer-centric, and every reason to build a strategy into your operations to get customer feedback regularly. Whether you solicit feedback once a year or a month, or after every transaction — the long-term success of your business depends on it.

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