Customer Surveys, Step by Step

A systematic surveying process will help you better understand customer perceptions of your contact center’s performance. The five basic steps in performing customer surveys are: project planning; instrument development; survey administration; data analysis; and reporting and action. Let’s take a closer look at each step.

Project planning
Every call center survey should start with a statement of purpose that outlines the motivation for the survey, the target audience, the needed results, and what actions will be taken with the results. The statement of purpose should be simple, but detailed enough to serve as a “beacon” to keep the project focused and moving forward.

What’s next? You have to identify the required resources. Outline any facilities that will be needed, along with any special equipment or tools to perform the study. Personnel will also be defined at this point by assembling a cross-functional project team. Members of this team should include a project manager who will oversee the project and perhaps do most of the work, along with those that will be involved in questionnaire design, implementation, and analysis.

You’ll want to enlist a project sponsor or champion who is a member of senior management to ensure resources will be allocated to the project as needed. This project team may also include select customers, as well as supporting departments and outside partners or vendors that may assist in the project.

Every survey project should begin with planning a budget for the project. The budget should include such items as staff salaries, computer hardware/software, postal or telephone fees for survey implementation, training, incentives for participants, and perhaps survey software tools.

Define a project schedule that outlines how long each phase of the project will take and what milestones are dependent upon other tasks being completed first. The phases to be outlined in the schedule include project planning, questionnaire design and development, questionnaire review, survey administration, data analysis, and reporting. The final stage in the planning process is content development. This step is sometimes referred to as “the survey before the survey” and is used to ensure all critical issues and concerns are indeed being covered in the actual questionnaire.

This initial survey can take the form of one-on-one interviews with individuals, or can be accomplished in a focus group setting. It is important to include individuals or companies in this pre-survey process who will willingly bring out issues and concerns. These initial surveys should be done until no new issues surface, so that all potential customer concerns are addressed in the survey instrument.

Instrument development
In developing the actual survey instrument or questionnaire, start with an idea of what information is needed in the final report and work backwards. Designing the questionnaire will be an iterative process and ample time should be allowed to get it right. Three categories of questions are typically included in a survey, including ones that address service delivery attributes, demographic variables, and customer attitudes toward the call center and the organization.

When writing the actual questions, it is important to consider phrasing to avoid loaded or leading questions, and to avoid jargon and ambiguous wording. Questionnaire design is critical so that customers will not just take the time to complete the survey, but will be able to complete it correctly.

Each survey instrument should include an introduction that explains who should complete the survey, how much time it should take, how to respond to questions, what to do when finished, and what the deadline is for participation. Critical terminology should be defined at the beginning and sequencing instructions should be given, whether given verbally in a telephone interview, or displayed legibly in a written survey.

Another crucial design element is the type of data to be used. Some questions may be unstructured and require a textual response, while other questions may be structured in a multiple-choice format, or in a rating scale of some sort.

Survey administration
There are various ways to administer a customer satisfaction survey. Traditional paper-based mail surveys have declined in popularity in recent years due to their low response rates and availability of faster means of communications. A high percentage of call centers use telephone surveys, conducted either by in-house staff or by a third-party specialist. Electronic surveys via e-mail and the Web are also growing in number. The variety of administration methods that can be used, along with their relative advantages and disadvantages is provided in matrix form below:

Another key decision in the survey administration process will be the sampling procedure. The organization should consider its customer population and determine whether a census is needed or whether a representative sample will be used. If you go with a sample, employ correct sampling procedures to arrive at a precise and accurate conclusion. The sample size will depend upon the number of responses needed as well as the expected response rate from the participants. The number of needed responses will depend upon the desired accuracy and precision of the survey, with the amount of accuracy needed being dependent upon the amount of variation in the sample.

Once you have the sample size and determined sampling procedure, a pre-survey notification should go out, either via traditional letter or by e-mail. This notification should explain why the survey is being done, how the survey will benefit the participant, how results will be communicated, and what, if any, incentives are provided for participation. Upon conclusion of this notification, the actual survey is distributed.

Data analysis
Once the survey has been distributed and responses gathered, the next step in the survey process is to analyze the results. Analysis will vary depending upon whether the questions were purely statistical in nature, or where unstructured textual responses will be received.

The data will typically be analyzed to determine averages or other means of central tendency. The data will also be analyzed to determine how the responses are distributed. It is important to not only look at the average responses or scores, but also to look at the dispersion of results from low to high. Use statistical analysis to arrive at meaningful conclusions from all the data gathered in the survey process.

Reporting and action
The purpose of doing a customer survey is to determine how effectively customer needs are being met. Once the data has been analyzed, the next step is to report the survey results to relevant parties, and also to act upon results of the study to improve the service process and strengthen relationships with customers. Actions might include follow-up research or root cause analysis, immediate service actions, or continuous process improvement initiatives.

More information
Want to learn more about the process of doing customer surveys? We highly recommend Customer Surveying by Dr. Fred Van Bennekom and the Survey Research Handbook by Pamela Alrech and Robert Settle. Both provide excellent, step-by-step instructions on how to develop, implement, and fine-tune customer surveys for your business improvement process.

Penny Reynolds is a founding partner of The Call Center School, a Tennessee-based consulting and education company. For more information, e-mail Penny at

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