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consumer profiling

Ten tips for successful customer surveys.

By Teresa P. Lanker

The modern world of retailing is all about consumer profiling, with personal preferences and buying habits of individuals and groups being logged and analyzed daily by businesses large and small. To get a grip on your shop’s consumer profile, follow these tips for developing and implementing a meaningful survey instrument.

1 Get focused. Determine what information you’d like from your survey. If you seek to clarify and define your target market or to pinpoint potential new markets, then demographic and behavioral surveys are appropriate.

Demographic surveys will gather specific information about such things as consumer age, ethnicity and income.

Behavioral surveys provide data on hobbies, interests, shopping habits, pricing preferences and more.

• If you desire insight into the acceptance of your products and services as well as the success of your staff, then a consumer satisfaction survey is ideal.

2 Determine your format. Consider how best to administer your survey to your target audience. Common methods include email, direct-mail, telephone, point-of-purchase and post-purchase surveys. If you desire feedback about your Web site, then a Web-based satisfaction survey makes sense. If you’re seeking unbiased reactions to new products, then off-site one-on-one surveys work well. To reach existing customers, statement stuffers are an obvious way to save on postage, but you risk your survey getting lost in the shuffle. For this reason, a catchy survey mailed separately will usually yield better results.

3 Develop the questions. Make sure every question on your survey is relevant to your purpose. Avoid asking questions that are highly personal or otherwise uncomfortable for respondents to answer. Maximize the use of dichotomous (yes/no) and multiple-choice questions with a reasonable range of response options. Minimize open-ended questions that make analysis complicated, but do provide at least one question regarding likes and dislikes or suggestions for improvement. Avoid phrasing that could bias answers. Remember, the point of your survey is to gather honest data, not to flatter yourself with glowing survey results.

4 Sequence strategically. Organize the survey content into a sequence that encourages complete participation from respondents. Start the survey with a few “safe” questions that are quick, comfortable and help create a sense of rapport. Demographic questions such as gender, age (use ranges rather than asking birth dates) and occupation are good starters regardless of whether the information is needed. Cluster related questions together, with short-response questions first, followed by open-ended questions.

5 Keep it short. To encourage a high response rate, strive for a survey that provides meaningful information with a limited number of questions. An ideal written survey will take five minutes or less to complete. Telephone and in-person surveys typically take longer to administer because the questions are read aloud. A maximum of three to five minutes is recommended. Responses to surveys of greater length can be flawed by distracted or impatient participants.

6 Test the waters. Test the effectiveness of the survey with a small pool of participants to determine potential problems. Reword questions that are confusing. Time how long it takes to administer the survey. Compile and analyze the results of the test survey to be sure the responses provide useful information. Make adjustments to the survey as needed, and discard the test survey results so they are not combined with results of the final draft.

7 Offer incentives. Give consumers a reason to respond to your survey. For email or direct-mail surveys, a discount or free product coupon is effective. A crisp dollar bill also is an attention getter that encourages the courtesy of a response. Contests with one or more valuable prize opportunities (perhaps a year of monthly bouquets or a $100 shopping spree) also garner higher participation rates. And, of course, an immediate payoff of free flowers is a logical choice that simultaneously promotes your product.

8 Keep it secret. Avoid disclosing your survey plans to consumers. Researchers theorize that consumers who know they will be surveyed pay more attention to their shopping/product experiences and feel more obligated to have something to say about the results. In reality, they may not be as dissatisfied as their survey responses would imply, so advance notice is not recommended.

9 Analyze carefully. Once a representative sample of responses is received, the results should be compiled and analyzed as objectively as possible. At this stage, it is important to remember the original intent of the survey and focus on how responses relate to the desired outcome. Results should be paired with recommendations and/or suggestions for improvement.

10 Hire a pro. Consider outsourcing the task of consumer profiling to an experienced market research firm. If there aren’t survey specialists in your area, a simple Internet search will lead to dozens of options. It’s essential to be involved on the front end of the survey planning process, but once you’ve provided the necessary product-specific input, the bulk of the burden will be on the shoulders of highly skilled analysts who can design a valid survey instrument and ensure meaningful and unbiased results.

Teresa P. Lanker is chair of the horticultural technologies division and coordinator of floral design and marketing at The Ohio State University ATI.

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