You need a systematic, planned and regular way to ensure a flow of unbiased and useful feedback from your customers. This will help you to detect problems quickly before customers go elsewhere, and will provide pointers towards changes in market demand, the competitive environment and opportunities to introduce new products and services.

The most common way to get feedback from your customers is by using a survey. The most popular forms of customer feedback surveys are:

Personal (face-to-face) interview, which accounts for about 55% of all survey activity. This is popular with consumer markets.

Telephone, 32%. Frequently used for surveying business customers rather than consumers.

Test, discussion and focus groups, 7%. This is where a group of customers sit down together to answer a range of open-ended questions, usually moderated.

Post, 6%. Popular for industrial markets.

Internet-based questionnaires. These have the merit of being quick to produce and can be accompanied by self-analysis software, letting you know, for example, that a certain percentage of a particular type of customer is satisfied or dissatisfied with a particular aspect of your relationship.

Telephone, internet and postal surveys are clearly less expensive than getting together a focus group. Telephone interviewing requires a very positive attitude, courtesy, an ability not to talk too quickly and listening while sticking to a rigid questionnaire.

Low response rates on postal surveys (less than 10% is not uncommon) can be improved by:

An accompanying letter explaining the purpose of the questionnaire and why respondents should reply

Offering small rewards for completed questionnaires

Sending reminders

Providing a free reply paid envelope

There are six simple rules to ensure whichever route you choose you get the maximum amount of useful customer feedback:

Keep the number of questions to a minimum. More than a dozen will call for a dedicated respondent with a powerful reason to provide your answers

Keep the questions simple and preferably multiple choice, ie. yes, no, don't know, don't care

Avoid ambiguity by using precise rather than vague words and look for facts rather than opinions, ie. prefer, “do you take the paper every day”, to “do you take the paper regularly”

Test out your questions on a small representative sample to iron out bugs before going live.

Have an identifying question to show a cross section of respondents. This could cover demographics by asking about age, sex, education, income and job title, for example.