How to Create a Meaningful Customer Satisfaction Survey

By John Aberle | Small Business Management

Jan 25

Ted Piper is a small business owner and the head of sales and marketing for his small business. They manufacture specialty plastics for heavy equipment manufacturers. His job takes him around the United States and occasionally into Canada. When on a business trip, he can be gone for days at a time. As a result of his hotel and motel stays plus all of the restaurants he’s eaten at, he has filled out numerous customer service surveys.
Image of a mock Example Manufacturing Customer Satisfaction Survey

Now Ted wants to design a customer satisfaction survey for his business. He intends to ensure that he knows how they stand with their customers and when they have a problem that he needs to address.

Most Businesses Fail to Ask the Right Questions on Customer Service Surveys

From his own experience traveling, he has found that most businesses are failing to ask the right questions on their customer service surveys. They ask you to rank your preferences and generally give you numerical ratings for customer satisfaction from 1 – 5 with 1 being totally unsatisfactory and 5 being far superior, yet their surveys lack any open-ended questions.

While these scales are convenient for data entry, by themselves, they are insufficient to truly understand why your customer responded as he did. For instance, why did Marilyn Jones mark her overall satisfaction a 3 when she marked 5 on all of the questions. What was it that so thoroughly disappointed Ms. Jones?

 Eight Steps to Improve Your Customer Satisfaction Surveys

  1. Start with the attitude, “How can I best serve my customers?
  2. Mentally put yourself in your customer’s place.
  3. Commit to truly serving your customer. Don’t allow efficiency to hurt your customer experience.
  4. Get a team of front line people who deal with your customers or clients together to do some brainstorming on several questions: “What do customers complain about?” “What do they ask for most often?” “What do our competitors have that seem popular?” “What do customers say they wish someone would add?”
  5. Once you have the list of issues you think are important, create a matrix or grid where you list the items you want evaluated with two columns or two to three sections:
    1. Essential or Required / Nice to Have but Not Essential Comments
    2. Pick the most important items at this time. You might be able to have 20 to 30 items to rate. Don’t go beyond the one page except to offer room for comments and contact information on the back side, including the date and time of whatever service you provide.
    3. Ranking of Importance: This is your scale from 1 to 5.
  6. Have space for Comments
  7. Ask if you may get in touch with them to get a better understanding of their answers. Then give them the fields for their contact information. Ask for their preference of how to be contacted.
  8. “What’s in it for me?” Remember to include some benefit for them to take the time to fill out your survey, like 1,000 frequent traveler points, a free upgrade when they stay again, or a 10% discount on their next manufacturing order or a free hour of consulting on their next project.

The easiest way to explain the problem with the questions that ask you to rank the importance to you about certain services or features is to look at hotel and motel surveys. Typically, they ask you to rank which features of the hotel are most important to you.

Does Your Survey Say You Only Care About Ranking Your Facilities?

Questionnaires that only allow for numerical rankings for specific items give customers the feeling that this survey is merely for some facility ranking, not to provide better customer service. Numerical ranking is easy to do data input then to generate a report.

Allowing for comments is messy and might require some real work. They might also mean you have to think about making changes. The plus side to asking for comments on customer satisfaction surveys is that you might actually get a better understanding of the answers.

Drawing from his own experience as a customer, Ted Piper knows the need for an easy way to give a business feedback. They need to know where they are doing well and where they fail to satisfy if they want loyal customers who are evangelists. He also realizes that the eight steps above will design a customer satisfaction survey that says, “We really care and want to make every experience with us wonderful.”

Do You Want to Go Beyond Customer Satisfaction Surveys to Customer Loyalty Programs?

Are you interested in learning about a variety of programs to convert customers into evangelists for your products and services? Gina Gaudio-Graves, on this teleconference interview, shares six different types of customer loyalty programs and so much more. Get your download of How Can You Use Customer Loyalty Programs to Grow Profits?

Building your profits through strong relationships,


John R. Aberle, Aberle Enterprises


Additional Articles on the Topic of Customer Satisfaction Surveys

First Person: The Value of Customer Satisfaction Interviews

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About the Author

My first Kindle eBook, How Relationship Selling Rewards Small Businesses, went live on April 24, 2012. I've lived a lifetime of service and spiritual search so it's natural for me to incorporate these attitudes into my work. I believe that selling and marketing are spiritual service when done with a heart-centered, relationship selling approach. All of business success comes down to building strong relationships.