Sunday, September 28, 2008

How to improve customer loyalty

How To Improve Customer Loyalty During A Turbulent Economy
By Derek Gehl

Visit the Internet Marketing Center to get more great tips!

I'm not gonna sugar coat it... it's looking pretty darn ugly out there!

I'll spare you a rehash of all the gory details -- I'm sure you're WELL aware of them already -- but suffice to say that the stock market and economy took a pretty sound thrashing this week.

And MANY people are worried.

I'm seeing it in the emails I've been getting from nervous customers... and in the urgent phone calls I'm receiving... and in the comments on my blog...

There are a whole lot of people out there who are concerned about what the present economic climate will mean to their Internet businesses.

Well, I'm no economist, so I'm not about to make a prediction about the markets or the stability of the economy...

... but I am an Internet marketer, and what I can say -- with confidence -- is that a downturn in the current economy does NOT have to be a major roadblock for YOUR Internet business!

One key to surviving (even thriving) during this period of uncertainty is to know your customers!

It's more critical than EVER for you to understand EXACTLY who they are... where they're coming from... their interests, goals, and desires. This will allow you to create laser-focused marketing copy that speaks DIRECTLY to them and solves their specific problems, as well as offer products that you know for sure will make a difference in their lives.

You'll be rewarded with continued customer loyalty and ongoing sales!

So if you don't already know all you can about your customers and visitors, NOW is definitely the time to find out...

... and the easiest and fastest way to do that is with a survey.

Here are the SIX STEPS you need to follow to create an effective and informative survey that will help you connect with your customers -- and continue to profit -- during the current financial turmoil:

Step #1: Plan Your Survey

As with everything else you do with your business, you'll have the greatest success with your survey if you do some advance planning.

Without a solid idea of what exactly it is you hope to learn from your results, you can easily end up creating a survey consisting of fairly random questions that ultimately don't lead you anywhere.

So make sure you take the time to sit down and do some brainstorming and list-making.

Decide what your goals with the survey are. Are you trying to learn more about specific products you offer? Looking for ways you could give everyone a more positive customer care experience? Trying to gather demographic information so you can segment your list better and send out tailored offers?

Be clear about what you're hoping to accomplish with the survey, and you'll be in great shape when it comes time to write the actual survey questions.

Step #2: Choose Your Weapon

One thing I like about surveys is that they're super simple for pretty much ANY business owner to administer, no matter how small your budget, or limited your technical knowledge.

That's because there are lots of web-based services out there that will host your survey for you... for FREE!

You just design the survey using their simple point-and-click interface, enter the text for your questions, and then email a link to the survey to your customers and subscribers.

When your customers show up, the automated survey is online and ready to take!

And best of all, many of these free services offer a reasonable number of reporting features, too, making it easy to interpret your results.

Of course, most of these services offer paid upgrades as well, which allow you to create more complex surveys and get more sophisticated reports, but for a typical small survey, the freebies work just fine.

Here are a couple that I've used and like:

Survey Pro
Step #3: Design And Write Your Survey

Designing your survey takes a bit of skill, but with a small amount of planning (there's that word again!), you'll have no problem putting an effective one together. Just be sure that you're putting the questions in a logical order, and not exhausting your customers by asking for too much detail.

Here are a few tips to help you design a better survey:
Start with the good stuff -- To ease your customers into the survey, start off with some simple questions they can answer without a lot of thought.

This can be something as simple as basic demographic information (age, location, etc.), which also happens to be useful information.

But don't load up the front end with all of the easy questions. Save a few for the end of the survey. That way, it won't get increasingly difficult throughout, which can cause some people to bail before they complete it.

Avoid asking too many questions -- 5-10 minutes is about the maximum length you can reasonably expect somebody to spend answering a survey, so be sure to limit your questions.

At the same time, be sure to let your respondents know up front how much time will be required to complete it... and be honest! People will begin to drop out if it starts to take longer than you say.

Give your survey an introduction and ending -- It's a good idea to include an introduction to the survey, to clearly explain what people are required to do.

At the same time, it's a nice touch to end the survey with a "thank-you" page, just to let people know you appreciate the time they spent taking the survey.

Respect people's privacy -- You may want to collect personal information like age, income, and occupation. If you do so, make sure to reassure your customers beforehand that you have a strict privacy policy, and remind them that their answers are all confidential.
When it comes time to write the actual questions, make sure you write in a relaxed, conversational voice, and avoid things like abbreviations, acronyms, and double negatives. You want to be sure that EVERY person who takes your survey clearly understands all of the questions.

Here are a few tips to help you write compelling and effective survey questions:
Avoid asking leading questions -- Be sure that your questions don't sway your customers toward answering them in a particular way, or giving an answer that's not actually true.

For example, don't say: "How quickly did we resolve your problem? " This assumes that the problem was indeed resolved.

The question you should ask is, "Was your problem resolved?"

Avoid questions that rate more than one thing -- Avoid asking questions that require people to rate more than one thing at a time.

For instance, don't say: "How fast and accurate did you find our customer service representative?"

While the service may have been fast, it may not have been accurate (or vice versa) so this question is impossible to answer accurately.

Focus on asking "close-ended" questions -- In a survey, a close-ended question is one that can be answered with a simple yes/no or other specific piece of information, or a selection from multiple choices.

This makes the survey faster and easier for your customers, and the results more simple for you to manage.

So instead of a question like "What did you think of your customer service experience?" try something like "Did you enjoy your customer service experience?"

Be consistent with your questions -- If you ask your customers to rate certain things on a numbered scale, make sure to use the same scale each time.

So if they need to rate something on a scale of 1 to 5 in one question, avoid using a scale of 1 to 10 elsewhere.

Watch out for long questions -- If your questions are too long, your customers will soon get tired of answering them, and abandon the survey. Look for questions that can be broken into two or more parts.

Don't test your customers' memories -- Try not to ask your customers to recall a lot of information that happened far in the past. They'll soon get bogged down trying to recall specific details, and if they're in a hurry to complete the survey, will often abandon it.
Step #4: Test Your Survey

You all know by now that I'm a HUGE advocate of testing EVERYTHING before you email it, make it live on your site, or expose it to your customers in any way.

So take the time to carefully review the survey to make sure it has a logical flow, and that it all makes sense.

If you can, it's a good idea to ask a few people (customers, if possible, or co-workers, friends, or family) to take the survey ahead of time, and actually WATCH them while they do it.

Do they hesitate while answering a question? Backtrack? Skip over a question? It could be a sign that your questions aren't clear enough, and you'll need to work on making them more simple.

Once you're done, ask about the experience. Was there anything you didn't understand? Were you confused at any point?

You want to make sure the survey is easy to understand and follow BEFORE you make it available. Once it's actually live -- and your customers have started answering it -- you DON'T want to have to start tinkering with the questions. That will skew your results.

Step #5: Administer The Survey

Okay, the moment of truth is upon you: It's time to invite your customers to take the survey.

The easiest way to do this is to email them, and ask them for a few minutes of their time. And make sure you tell them what's in it for them if they take the survey.

If your goal is to improve a certain product, for instance, tell them that by taking the survey, they'll actually be helping you to help them, because you'll use their comments to fine-tune the assistance you can offer them.

And don't be shy about offering your customers a "bribe" for taking the survey. You're asking them to do a big favor for you, so it's not unreasonable to reward them for their time.

Consider sending everyone who responds a gift (like a free eBook that they'll find valuable, a coupon for discounted products, or enter them in a draw to win some a prize.)

Finally, make sure you build some urgency into the email. If you don't ask people to take the time right away to answer the survey, they'll often put it aside to answer when they have more time... but then never return to complete it.

Step #6: Interpret Your Results

As you review the results of your survey, remember that, more than anything, you're looking for trends. Did the majority of respondents answer specific questions the same way? Are they often expressing the same frustrations, etc?

At the same time, look for any surprising answers. Your survey is likely going to tell you things about your audience that you had no idea were true.

By finding out EXACTLY who your audience is, what they like (and dislike), and what their goals and experiences are, you'll be able to tailor your salescopy, your email marketing efforts, your website, and even your products, to perfectly suit them.

The results should be improved customer loyalty, and ongoing success with your business, even during these turbulent economic times!

To your success,

Derek Gehl

Visit the Internet Marketing Center to get more great tips!