I recently read an article in which the author argues that customer surveys are "worse than worthless." Using provocative, inflammatory language to deride the practice, this marketing professional lumps all customer surveys into the same waste pile and proceeds to throw lit matches on the concept, point by point.
It's a straw man argument, however, because the bulk of the article stresses the value of communicating frequently and openly with clients. As the author surely understands, a well-conceived, well-executed client survey -- even in this age of Twitter and LinkedIn -- is still one worthwhile option in the marketer's repertoire of client communication tools.
I offered my take on the subject in a blog post from April: http://aecinsight.blogspot.com/2009_04_01_archive.html
Sure, some client surveys are worthless. Mindless and stale multiple-choice response cards that fail to ask probing questions, for one. Or surveys of any kind that don't provide the survey subject the opportunity to offer constructive criticism.
But don’t believe those who say that all client surveys are worthless simply because there are new ways to communicate with clients. Typically, these critics are attempting to push their own agenda as consultants or seeking to get a rise from the audience. But if you do use client surveys as a marketing and/or performance improvement tool, remember these points:
Be as personal as possible. This means to do it by phone or even in person, if practical. Most AEC firms or branch offices have manageable enough client (and prospective client) lists that they can hit a significant portion of their potential client universe using the personal touch.
Maximize the opportunity. Use the survey as a way to contact the target clients and prospects as many times as possible by adding introduction letters, thank you letters, and results summaries to the process. Also, don’t forget to publicize any results that reflect well on the firm and could be of media interest.
Make it as painless as possible for the subject, without giving the process short shrift. Be extremely accommodating in scheduling the interview for the subject's convenience. Limit the amount of time you require from the subject to about 10 minutes (though some will voluntarily give you more). Minimize or exclude onerous quantitative survey questions (e.g., “on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being best, please rate our firm in the following 32 areas").
Do something with the results. Too often, firms spend the time to conduct a client survey, then do little or nothing with the results. (I will address this issue in a follow-up article soon.)