Here are some strategies for getting customers to offer up the information you really need, about their experience.

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How many times, during a customer experience, have you been asked to “just take a quick survey”? Whether you receive a pop-up immediately after buying something online or get a phone call a few days after an interaction with a service representative, you’ll likely agree that you rarely enjoy the experience.

Related: 5 Steps to Creating Effective Customer Surveys

In fact, you probably ignore most survey requests unless you have something very positive or very negative to say.

The main problems are that: 1) these surveys come to you at inconvenient moments; and 2) there is no obvious benefit for you to take the survey in the first place. And while your answers will presumably have some sort of impact on how the company thinks about its customer experience in the future, you won’t see that feedback loop in action.

As a result, a “customer experience survey” is often the worst part of the customer experience! And that’s a problem during what Forrester has called “The Age of the Customer.”

But, good news: The surveys you want to conduct  don’t have to be an annoyance that your customers try to avoid. Instead, they can be used to improve a customer’s experience with your company. How? By becoming one more way you understand and engage your customers as individuals.

Indeed, surveys of the future will:

  • allow entrepeneurs to affect each customer’s experience in the moment; and
  • allow them to gather valuable insights about each customer as an individual to leverage for future personalization.  

Surveys can be used to affect the customer experience in the moment.

When a shopper is in a physical store, an associate can ask her what she is looking for and provide assistance tailored to her needs. If you have no physical store, targeted surveys can help you recreate this type of experience in the digital world — by asking your customer directly what his or her needs are, or how you can help.

Related: Tweak Your Company Survey to Find Out What the Customer Actually Experiences

For example, a financial services site can recognize when a site visitor has clearly engaged in credit card research on the site but has not completed an application. The site can deliver a one-question survey, asking something like, “We noticed you have spent some time researching credit cards but have not begun an application. What is holding you back?”

If the customer indicates that he isn’t sure which option is right for him, the site can ask him about the features he is looking for and direct him to the best option.

As another example, a software company can ask new users one or two questions to uncover their experience level and how they plan to use the product. With that information, the application can send each customer through an onboarding track best suited for his or her specific needs.

In both examples, the key takeaway is that the questions asked in the survey should be relevant to the experience the person is having right now. Maybe he or she is researching different financial services products or onboarding with a new solution. The questions that are then asked should help this person accomplish those tasks.

The customer’s answers shouldn’t just be shipped off to be analyzed later — the customer should see an immediate effect. Then, when you “train” your customers that answering your questions will result in a better experience, they will answer more of your questions. But, if you demonstrate time and again that your questions offer no value and are simply an interruption in their lives, they won’t answer any of them.

Surveys can be used to gather insights for future personalization.

Beyond providing assistance in the moment, survey data can also enrich your understanding of a customer. While you can learn a lot about a person from observing her behavior or noting certain attributes like her geolocation, referring source, loyalty-program status, etc., sometimes the best way to learn something about a person’s interests or motivations is just to ask.

Of course, you don’t want to ask a person every single thing about herself, because that results in a terrible experience. But a question or two at the right moment — asked in an interesting and unobtrusive way — can be very valuable. While most personalization is delivered based on implicit data, it’s OK to ask for information explicitly every once in a while.

For example, a subscription-based fashion retailer can ask a simple question to new customers to uncover which activities they enjoy doing in their free time and use that information to deliver personalized product and category recommendations on the site or in future emails.

The questions themselves can be very simple and visually appealing, such as images that display different activities like yoga, hiking, and crafts. A win-win are questions that are easy, or almost fun, to answer but also provide you with helpful context to better understand your prospects and customers. 

Related: 10 Innovative Ways to Excite Your Customers

Start thinking strategically about your surveys.

Surveys are already inextricably linked to customer-experience initiatives, but they don’t need to be backward-looking, ill-timed and seemingly useless to the respondent. Start thinking about surveys in more strategic ways. That way, surveys can be incorporated into the customer experience to help you better understand your prospects and customers and immediately deliver better experiences.

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