A restaurant manager who’s just learned from a quick online survey that 80% of her customers are satisfied and really like her food should be pretty happy, right?

Granted, those figures are good news. Low satisfaction numbers would have been a red flag for urgent action. But the survey doesn’t tell the whole story. Of those satisfied customers, how many are “super fans” who make repeat visits and recommend the restaurant? The customers seem pleased with the food, but are there issues with service that keep them from returning more often? In their eyes, is the food overpriced or underpriced when they compare with similar restaurants around town? And is 80% satisfaction an improvement over last year, or a decline?

A customer satisfaction survey can help you retain customers. Always more cost-effective than courting new ones. It can reveal both problems to solve and strengths to maintain. But it takes time to choose and craft the right survey questions to yield the most valuable information for your business.

Choose Questions Based on Your Goals

Online surveys are a great tool because they’re easy to analyze and easy to repeat so you can track how you’re doing over time.

Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to include every single question that’s on your mind in your survey. Asking too many questions decreases your chances that the customers will finish the survey. It doesn’t exactly build goodwill with them, either. On the other hand, asking only a couple of questions doesn’t give you enough specific data to be actionable, according to the Inquisium blog about surveying. That blog recommends using 10-15 questions for your survey.

What questions to include depends on your goals. If, for example, you want to learn how loyal customers to your restaurant are, don’t just ask how much they like your food. That’s hardly the only factor than wins over or turns off customers. To maintain or earn their loyalty, you also need information on how customers feel about your service, location and pricing. How they think you stack up against other dining options is also important. We’ll look at some of the most common questions in the rest of this article.

Focus on Customer Loyalty

According to survey firm Survey Anyplace, one of the key areas you should look at is customer loyalty. Perhaps the best-known way of measuring loyalty is the Net Promoter Score.

Net Promoter Score is based on the question “On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend this business to a friend?” Anyone who answers 6 or below is a detractor. Sevens and 8s are classified as “passive.” Those who answer the question with a 9 or 10 are promoters. To get your Net Promoter Score, subtract your percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters.

While the net promoter score gives you a good general indication of how you’re doing, it’s even more valuable when you also ask some follow-up questions that give you the additional information you need to make needed changes.

Those could include:

  • Open-ended questions. Ask customers to explain the factors behind their response. What it would take for them to answer 9 or 10 if they didn’t (recommended by the customer support software firm Helpscout)?
  • Questions about future behavior. For example how likely the respondent is to renew his membership at your gym or dine at your restaurant within the next month (recommended by Survey Anyplace).

The Net Promoter Score is the key metric to focus on if you’re looking to grow. And there’s one more benefit of discovering your score: Because Net Promoter Scores are so commonly used, you can compare your own score to the benchmarks for your industry, according to Survey Anyplace.

Track Overall Satisfaction

In addition to the Net Promoter Score, overall satisfaction is one of the most widely recommended questions to use in online surveys. According to Forbes, this number is motivational because it’s something that front-line managers can directly impact.

But, again, a question about overall satisfaction becomes more useful when you combine it with follow-ups on areas like quality, reliability and customer fulfillment. Make sure to include open-ended questions where customers can tell you more about why they answered as they did. These questions help you turn your data into actions that affect the bottom line.

Your overall satisfaction rating is also useful to track over time. Sometimes the most valuable metric to know is how you’re doing compared with your own past performance.

Dig Deeper for More Details

The Net Promoter Score and the overall satisfaction rating give you a big-picture look at how you’re doing. Attributional questions help you drill down to get the specific information you need to make improvements and retain customers.

You can ask your customers to rate their satisfaction on specific attributes that are key to satisfaction. For example, a gym’s survey might include attributes like cleanliness, equipment, classes and service. Keep this list as short as you can so respondents don’t lose interest. And use the same language your customer would – not industry terms – in describing attributes. In this section, you also ask how important each attribute is to the customer. That will give you even more valuable data you can use in making the right decisions for your business.

It helps to have some context for interpreting how your customers rate you. So you may want to include some questions in your survey about how customers think you’re doing compared with your competition. It is also interesting to compare with customers’ expectations for a business like yours, according to the market research guide GreenBook.

According to Helpscout, the Corporate Executive Board recommends asking customers questions related to how easy it is to do business with you. That’s because the board’s research shows that reducing customer effort is a powerful way to win loyalty. Design your survey so that respondents can give additional information on experiences that weren’t easy for them (for example, signing up for membership in your gym or booking you restaurant’s event room).


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