Understanding Customer Characteristics for a Survey

“Research needs to be part of an interlocking process that systematically informs targeting and positioning; getting this right the first time is more than a priority – it’s a necessity”. – Katherine Binns

We know that the best way to know what customers want, expect, believe, and think about a company, is by asking them directly. The best way to do so seems to be customer surveys. However, before putting together a survey, it is vital for a company to understand customer characteristics such that it can customize the surveys and the message it wants to convey, for maximum effect. It is essential that a survey remain focused on a particular set of customers such that it appears relevant from their perspective and they are inclined to respond with the most helpful and appropriate responses. An attempt to get across to all your customers through a single survey, will not gain the kind and number of responses that would be useful to your company – simply because the survey questions may not be relevant and or appealing to all customer characteristics and segments.

A company may have a large number of products, for which they could have varying target audiences. The reason for creating a line of products with varying appeal, price points, and utility is so that is can cover a larger part of the market there is for the products. This means that the company has done its research and segmented the market based on customer characteristics and need. In the same way, when sending out surveys, it would be prudent to remember that since not all customers are using the same product, the survey questions too would have relevance only when customized for one particular set of customers.

When planning a survey, there are a number of considerations that a company must account for, customer characteristics included. It is imperative to know the aim a company seeks to achieve, the customer base it would want to send the survey out to, consider whether former customers should be included, would the responses help to strengthen your company’s position against that of competitors, and what the survey feedback would be used for.

The objective of your feedback survey coupled with the channels, through which it would be sent out, would also be largely determined by your customer characteristics. A company must therefore know who their customers are, the reasons they are in business with your company, and why they continue to choose your company over the many other competitors. By segmenting your large customer base, it would be possible to know those customer characteristics that will help determine which ‘kinds’ of customers buy from you, why they do and how often. A company would also be able to understand what would make these stop buying and switch to a competitor. Adopting the customer segmentation tactic as part of the overall business strategy would make everyone in the organization understand it and know why it is necessary for success in the market. Any tactic that becomes part of the overall business imperative then becomes a directive for business decisions, marketing, product development, and most importantly customer service excellence.

While developing segments based on customer characteristics, it is important to enlist the help of employees that deal directly with customers regularly and for different purposes. The insights from these employees would prove indispensable to develop pertinent and customized surveys. They would also help to update continually, customer profiles based on their buying behaviour and or any change in their ‘situations’, ensuring that these profiles remain dynamic and accurate, for use at any time. This information would form the basis of the feedback surveys that your company would prepare – different ones based on different customer characteristics. Existing and former customers would be able to comment, for example, on the company’s service, products, pricing, and other aspects since they would have already bought from the company. For a target audience, questions would revolve around, what they would buy and the kinds of products they need to make life easier. In addition, these surveys would be shorter, focusing on some core and pointed questions. Understanding customer characteristics is therefore extremely crucial when preparing a survey – the answers would be diametrically different and unless the surveys for each group are separate, getting relevant and useful answers could prove to be a challenge.

When preparing a survey based on customer characteristics, it is vital to know the experience and knowledge levels of the audience. Customers would have different jobs, roles, and responsibilities and operate in varied industries. In addition, they could either be new to an industry, while others could be market leaders and ‘authority figures’ – their perspectives are bound to differ, but would still provide some vital insights. When a company keeps customer characteristics in mind, the audience would be more interested and engaged while answering the survey, since the questions would be extremely relevant to them. This ensures a larger number of responses and reduced drop-off rates. Ensure that when asking questions about your company, the target audience is completely aware of aspects like values, culture, products, services, and operating processes. The questions would be highly relevant and familiar to them and would pertain to the experiences they may have had with the company. Customers are more inclined to quickly complete surveys that are ‘easy and quick’ to answer – making the turnaround time for responses a lot quicker and ensuring that your company does not waste more time and effort in following up for responses.

Understanding customer characteristics would also enable a company to mark the surveys to the ‘decision makers’ in the customer company. These people have the maximum authority to decide whether or not the association with a company would continue, with what frequency, and for how much value. These ‘drivers’ of decisions would be best equipped to provide feedback and insights, that would let the company know exactly what customers like them require and what more the company needs to do in order to retain them.

We know well enough now that customers are not equal or alike. Their purchasing decisions, motivators, needs, expectations, and business requirements would vary. However, companies with large customer bases cannot afford to address each customer individually and therefore understanding customer characteristics is essential. Placing them in small groups with somewhat similar ‘traits’ would make it easier to manage and administer service and prepare relevant surveys. It is after all customers that know best what they want and need and rather than wasting precious resources on guesswork, a company would rather focus on getting the information directly from customers.

We have often said that customers are huge reservoirs and oceans of information and data. Using this data to advantage is the onus of companies. While creating surveys for certain customer characteristics, it is also important for a company to, in some way, convey to the customers that responding would benefit them too. Companies must ensure that customers know their insights and feedback are quintessential to receiving service and offerings that would be most relevant and useful to them. Hence, a customer survey is not just beneficial to a company, but responding to them makes it advantageous too customers as well. As mentioned – it is all about striking a balance between understanding customer characteristics and displaying your company’s ability to provide the best to them based on those traits.

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