We all know that surveys can be invaluable: They equip companies with metrics to evaluate and improve on performance, and streamline operations. The problem is, most customer survey programs out there tend to fall flat, producing very little useful data.

So how do you craft a customer survey that actually works?

The SmartVan spoke with David VanAmburg, managing director at American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), to find out how to leverage surveys to effectively examine performance, detect customer frustration, and gain insight into where your service needs improvement. Use these three survey tips to equip your company to build long-term, profitable customer relationships.

1. Keep it Brief

Steer clear of surveys that try to do too much. “I’ve seen surveys that reach 50, 60 or even 70 questions,” VanAmburg says. You don’t want to end up at the “survey fatigue,” the point where customers start zoning out, he says.

“When this happens, you’ll discover that the data from the front-end [of the survey] may be useful, but that starts to diminish as the survey drones on,” he says.

Limit phone surveys to 10 minutes, and online or written surveys to six to eight minutes. “But that doesn’t mean that the survey has to be only three or four questions. You can squeeze 20 to 25 questions into an 8-to-10 minute telephone survey, as long as the questions themselves are not incredibly wordy.”

2. Warm Them Up

Your most important question on the survey might be: “Overall, how satisfied were you with our service?” But don’t ask it upfront. Instead, warm up respondents with more specific questions that pertain to each facet of the service provided.

“If you ask customers how satisfied overall they are at the beginning of the survey, they’ll likely say, ‘Well, you know, it was good. And they’ll give you a pretty high rating. But if you start asking specific questions, about various aspects of the service, respondents start thinking, ‘Oh wait a minute! I didn’t think about that. I wasn’t all that happy about the price,’” VanAmburg says.

Start out with a few softballs: Did the tech arrive when he said he would? Did he do the work you requested? Is your problem fixed now? Was the price alright?

Then drop the bigger questions: Overall, how satisfied were you with this experience? Are you likely to do business with us again? Are you likely to recommend us to your family and friends?

3. Use a 10-Point Response Scale

To ensure you’re capturing the most accurate and useful data, VanAmburg suggests using a 10-point scale, where 10 is the highest level of satisfaction (or agreement or affirmation).

“The 10-point scale allows you to convert the data you’re capturing into more robust, meaningful scores than if you use your typical five-point scale. There’s just not enough shades of gray in that format,” he says. “So we prefer the 10-point scale, which we think gives us more insight.”

He also says that using the numerical scale makes telephone surveys run more efficiently. Instead of repeatedly listing verbal options, such as “completely satisfied” or “completely agree,” which might have to change and be explained with each question, the customer just picks a number from 1 to 10 and quickly moves on to the next question.

The Bottom Line

Poorly executed surveys not only waste customers’ time, but yours as well. Sesign a survey that’s practical for customers to complete — and produces accurate, insightful, actionable data you need to take your business to a higher level.

More: The Seven Deadly Sins of Service Calls.

Click here to download a free whitepaper, “Five Steps to Make Field Service Profitable.”

ABOUT Sean Lyden

Avatar photoSean is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, a content strategy and editorial consulting firm, and also serves as editor for Utility Fleet Professional magazine. A nationally recognized feature writer on sales, marketing, technology and transportation topics, Sean is also a contributing author to "The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Guide” and “The Great Big Book of Business Lists,” both books published by Entrepreneur Press.