ustomer satisfaction, any remodeler will tell you, is the key to his success; the key to repeat business and referrals; and his absolute top priority. It comes as a bit of a surprise, then, that one-third of remodelers Qualified Remodeler surveyed said they did not regularly survey clients at the end of a job to determine their satisfaction.
Perhaps one reason some remodelers don’t conduct customer satisfaction surveys can be seen in the answers to some of the other questions asked of readers. Those answers reveal that of those who do survey their customers, 85 percent conduct those surveys using in-house staff, and, of those, 89 percent tabulate the results manually. For those whose number of jobs per year is relatively small, this may be an option, but for those who deal with hundreds or even thousands of clients, the task of manually distributing, collecting and tabulating surveys can be discouraging.
Besides conducting surveys with in-house resources, the options are to subscribe to a third-party service to collect customer satisfaction data and verify it or to avail oneself of the many online survey services or software programs available today. Many offer free versions of their basic packages and charge for more sophisticated features, allowing users to sample the programs and grow into them as the need arises.
Do It Yourself
Stephanie Gillin, co-owner of Grand Décor, Springfield, Pa., is one of those remodelers for whom the do-it-yourself option—with just a little outside help—works just fine. Gillin relates that she designed the survey herself and handed off the rough draft to the marketing company she works with to polish the questions so they were not ambiguous or misleading.
She says it would be a mistake not to conduct customer satisfaction surveys. “I think it would be more difficult to capture the true essence of what somebody feels about the job you did or the way you handled your business. I think you would miss an opportunity if you didn’t have a questionnaire,” she says.
Her reasons for surveying customers for the past three years are straightforward: “Obviously, we survey to help grow our business and to show areas where we could use improvement,” Gillin says.
She adds: “My favorite part is where people can write their own comments. We capture testimonials in a very well-thought-out manner because the questions that lead up to the area where you can leave comments direct the thinking of our clients. We get some pretty fantastic, unique testimonials from our clients. It’s a shining gold star that we’re pretty happy about.”
Gillin hasn’t considered engaging a third party to conduct her company’s customer satisfaction surveys. “If I spend the money for somebody else to do that, I’m spending marketing dollars in a place where I know I can handle that part of marketing. It’s just not where I would put my dollars,” she says.
When Grand Décor finishes a project, a thank-you note is sent to the client and the customer satisfaction survey is included. “I have a 100 percent response,” Gillen says, noting that sometimes putting a testimonial in writing is easier for a client than expressing praise face to face.
“Basically, [the survey] is a fairly low-cost, not terribly labor-intensive thing that returns benefits in terms of testimonials,” Gillin says.
She advises others to get some help writing the survey to help make the questions succinct. “I feel the fewer questions that you put into it, the better. Prioritize what you want to get out of the survey,” she continues. “If you feel in your gut that something might not be working in your business, make sure you put it in the survey as something a client can respond to so that way you can get an honest answer.”
Gillin also suggests an option for a client to reply anonymously. “We email ours, but clients can also just go on our Web site and fill it out. We would never know who filled it out if they didn’t put their name on it, but we would have the results in our database.”
She feels that anonymity is important if a client has something he wants to get off his or her chest; it’s a way to vent and a way for Grand Décor to find out whether something about the business is upsetting clients.
Gillin sees no downside to doing regular customer satisfaction surveys. “For us, it’s been nothing but positive,” she says.
Surveys To Go
For those who prefer to create customer satisfaction surveys with even less outside help than Grand Décor’s Gillen, there are a large number of competing online services or software programs that will guide them through each step of creating, distributing and analyzing data. If remodelers are unsure which questions to ask or how to word them, templates are available to ease that step.
“Customer satisfaction is the largest category we have [in templates],” says Chelsea Bucoy, senior product marketing manager for San Francisco-based Zoomerang. “That’s the largest need, and it’s so critical to a business, particularly to remodeling businesses, which depend on repeat customers.
“You really don’t need much background knowledge,” she continues. “There are a couple of key questions that any business owner would want to know of his or her customers, such as overall satisfaction, would you recommend us and would you come back to us for your next project.
“Our templates are there just to help phrase questions, but if you already have an idea of what you want to ask, then certainly it’s up to you,” she explains. “Even within the template, the user has flexibility. If it has 12 questions, you can choose five and add seven new ones. It’s completely flexible. It just gives you a baseline if you need it. If not, that’s OK, as well.”
Bucoy advises remodelers to understand and clearly define the purpose of their survey before attempting to create it. Usually, this becomes more of an issue, she says, when several people are involved in writing the survey. “Everyone wants to insert their own questions into the survey, so sometimes the true purpose of the survey gets a little muddy,” she cautions.
Keep the survey short and focused, Bucoy advises. “Shorter and more focused surveys have higher response rates and lower abandonment rates,” she says. Open-end questions, which essentially ask users to fill in the blank, are hard to calculate, although they can provide a lot of details if used as follow-up questions to closed-end questions, which ask users to select from a limited number of choices, according to Bucoy.
When it comes to structuring the survey, she suggests remodelers start with broad overview questions and then dig deeper with follow-up questions. For example, ask about overall satisfaction and then ask whether the client was satisfied with individual components of the job, such as price, timeliness, cleanliness, etc.
Bucoy recommends avoiding industry jargon and acronyms with which clients may not be familiar.
Finally, she urges remodelers who haven’t done surveys to take the plunge and do it. “We’ve had so many people come back to us and say ‘I can’t believe it took me so long to send out an online survey.’”
If a remodeler chooses to write his or her own questions for a customer satisfaction survey, taking time to carefully consider the questions and how they’re composed is time well spent. “All of us think we’ve learned something about survey research by taking surveys,” says Philip Garland, Ph.D., vice president, methodology, for Palo Alto, Calif.-based SurveyMonkey. “Unfortunately, that allows us to learn some things that are not necessarily best practices. One of the common mistakes that can lead to data that isn’t as valid as it should be is the use of agree/disagree questions,” he explains.
“A simple agree/disagree question can lead to what is academically known as ‘acquiescence response bias,’” Garland explains. That just means we all have a tendency to be polite and agreeable and say “yes,” a response that can skew results to the positive side unrealistically.
An alternative to either/or questions would be to use a scale, such as completely dissatisfied, mostly dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, somewhat satisfied, mostly satisfied, completely satisfied.
Another common mistake is to make questionnaires too long, Garland says. “The prevailing research has shown that people become seriously disinterested after about 12 minutes, and it may be as low as 9 or 10 now. It declines each year, along with our attention spans,” he says.
Today’s online survey services have a number of features that remodelers may want to investigate before committing to one service over another. Survey Monkey, for example, has an option for randomizing the order in which response choices are presented.
“Survey respondents have a tendency to read until they find something acceptable, sometimes without reading all the response options,” Garland says. His company’s product, he says, allows the user to flip the order or responses or put them in a random order.
There’s also a telephone option that is automated and works much like the online version.
Response rate is another concern that is sometimes misunderstood by novice survey creators. “Most people assume that response rates need to be high,” Garland says. “But what response rates need to be is sufficient. Depending on how many people you survey, you only need a certain amount of people to get a good estimate of the entire population. For instance, we predict elections by surveying 1,500 voters. If you’ve got 100 clients and 50 or 60 reply, you’re in good shape. We’d like the response to be 90, of course, but the odds are that the people who didn’t reply aren’t really that different from people who did.”
Many of the major online survey creation services have templates with well-written questions and provide tutorials and other online help and advice to users. Many offer a free version along with fee-based levels of service for those who need more sophisticated products. The surveys can be emailed, links provided in a newsletter or they can be embedded on the remodeler’s Web site. Results are automatically tabulated, usually in real time. For those remodelers who have hesitated to survey their clients, there seems to be little excuse left not to do so.