How to survey your clients



Don’t make assumptions. Instead, ask customers what they think you’re doing right and wrong. By Chris Sheedy

When a customer walks through the door of your practice, they are loaded with expectations. It’s vital for the continued success of your business to find out whether you have met, exceeded or failed those expectations. In other words, what did you do well and how could you improve? But how do you seek such feedback and make sure it is as honest and useful as possible?

The solution is likely as simple as a wifi-connected iPad, kept on a stand by the reception desk. As staff are processing payments or organising prescriptions, they guide each client to the survey, assuring them that it is anonymous and that it will only take a minute.

The iPad shows a survey that has been pre-programmed into SurveyMonkey (or similar service), which collates and compares all data for you. This means there is no extra work for staff to do apart from politely pointing clients (and only the right clients—more on that later) to the survey in the first place.

The result is a constantly updated, real-time survey that tells you exactly how your business is faring on any given day. It is one of the simplest but most powerful tools a practice can have because it keeps a running check on what is going well and what is not. Best of all, it is real data coming directly from the people who make or break your business—your customers.

“If I was running a vet practice, the first thing I’d want is a general rating as to how satisfied clients are with my service,” says Hunter Leonard, founder and CEO of Blue Frog Marketing, a multi-award-winning strategic marketing consultancy. “That would just be a very simple question— ‘How are we doing? Rate us out of 10’.

“Unless you understand how your customers feel about you, you can never continually improve your practice.”—Hunter Leonard, CEO, Blue Frog Marketing

“The next thing I would do is pick the key elements of the customer experience such as booking an appointment, arriving and having the pet weighed, waiting in the waiting room, seeing the vet, prescription of products afterwards and paying, etc. I would think of all of the important moments when my customers experience my business and ask the customer to rate each one. That way, you can identify specific areas of your business that need attention. If people are less satisfied with the way they are greeted at reception, then you know you’ve got training needs with your staff.”

Whoever you choose to survey, it is best if they are simply visiting for a check-up or a simple procedure for their pet, Leonard says. That way you keep your survey sample standardised, and you don’t include people who are particularly stressed.

Julie Parker, co-founder of Julie Parker Practice Success, agrees. Parker adds that a particularly valuable person to survey is the new customer. Unlike regular customers, new clients have no idea how your business works, what sort of welcome they will receive from the staff at the front desk or how well their pet will be treated. But they likely have very high hopes, and you need to know how you fared against those hopes.

The best time to survey any customer is when they’re on the premises, as that is when the practice itself is at the top of the person’s mind, Parker says. But if you can’t catch them on the way out, make sure it happens as soon as possible after that.

“Email can be very powerful,” she says. “With physical mail you have to rely on them posting it back to you, and that is too much effort to ask somebody to go to. So email a survey within a few hours of the person’s visit. Consider also sending a text to tell them that you have sent the email, and that it will only take a few minutes to fill out.”

A system such as SurveyMonkey, which is free up to a point, works well by email. But for particularly important surveys, you might consider paying a professional survey business to look after it for you, Parker says.

The best time to survey any customer is when they’re on the premises, as that is when the practice itself is at the top of the person’s mind.

“There is an entire psychology behind how to set up a great survey and how it is displayed on the screen,” she says. “Getting a professional company involved helps to get the surveys designed, completed and assessed.”

Don’t forget to keep your finger on the pulse of your ‘net promoter score’ too, Leonard says. Simply ask the question ‘How likely are you to recommend this business to friends or family?’, and request a rating out of 10.

“You can run programs around referral marketing if you have a high net promoter score,” he says. “But if it’s low then you know you need to do more work on making customers delighted, as opposed to just being satisfied.”

What happens when you’ve collected the data and you see various trends? At this stage, Parker says, too many businesses simply file the information away rather than using it to make real and meaningful change. But actually the survey should have been designed and written with a particular action in mind, whether it be constant improvement of the business, figuring out why customers are leaving or finding out why you’re attracting so many new clients.

“Take action on the information and thank your clients for offering their honest insights,” Parker says. “Tell your clients what you’ll be doing with their information, including how you and your staff will be discussing, at regular meetings, how to turn the negatives back into positives. You have to recognise the information as brilliant and valuable wisdom that otherwise would have cost you a lot of money to collect.”

Leonard says the most important single piece of knowledge for any business owner is that they must maintain a ‘closeness’ with their customers. Regular surveys are a good way to do this.

“Unless you understand how your customers feel about you, you can never continually improve your practice,” he says. “You can’t do it by internalising, between you and your team, what you think is going well and what’s not. It is all about the customer and what they feel. There’s too much competition these days to ignore the thoughts and feelings of the customer.”


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