By David H. Martin

Public relations professionals have known forever that a great way to create news is to include the results of an original customer survey in company press releases and feature articles. Editors find surveys hard to resist. Readers love to read results of surveys. Research results are either used as a hook, or to reinforce a story’s credibility. Either way, it’s the spice of the story, or the frosting on the cake! In the context of today’s customer relationship marketing, a newsy survey can enliven a company’s newsletter, whether it’s published online or in printed format. (Aren’t you glad you’ve been collecting e-mail addresses of people you meet at home improvement fairs, as well as those of past customers?)

For years, the functions of creating, mailing and compiling the results of surveys was beyond the reach of smaller marketers, unwilling to outsource these functions to professional research firms that were considered unaffordable. Online marketing services specializing in do-it-yourself survey creation has changed all that with low-cost subscriptions.

A popular strategy for getting as much input as possible is to offer participants a free giveaway. The giveaway incentive could be a small cash reward for participating or the promise of a copy of the survey results. Determine your customer survey’s purpose, focus and content. Do you want to ask questions about your own company’s performance in various criteria? Or do you want to include questions about your key competitors? You can even ask readers to rank product features and benefits in order of importance.

Turn surveys into local publicity
Water issues are always in the news—some local, some regional, some national. Why not survey your water treatment customers for their views on issues dealing with such subjects as water rights, legislation, regulations and threats from contaminants? Write a news release on your letterhead. Then distribute survey results to your local newspapers, radio and TV stations. Even if they don’t choose to publish your survey, they will be sure to remember you as a key source for quotes in future stories on water issues. To help determine what web- based resources you will use to accomplish your goals, visit the websites of some of the online self-survey software providers listed in this article. You can even test drive some of them at low or no cost or risk.

SurveyMonkey
This leading survey software provider describes its product as “intelligent survey software for primates of all species.” Its stated purpose is “to enable anyone to create professional online surveys quickly and easily.” A basic subscription is totally free and includes all of the basic features of SurveyMonkey. It’s a great option for individuals, students and small businesses that don’t need the advanced features of SurveyMonkey. Unlike other services, there are no annoying banner ads on your surveys. In addition, all of your survey responses remain absolutely private. It should be noted that basic subscribers are limited to a total of 10 questions and 100 responses per survey. A professional subscription is $19.95/month (or $200.00/year) and includes up to 1,000 responses per month. If you exceed 1,000 survey responses in any given month, there is an additional charge of $0.05 per survey response. There are no long-term contracts and you can cancel at any time. As a professional subscriber, you have access to all of the advanced features of SurveyMonkey described on their website. You can create an unlimited number of surveys, with an unlimited number of pages and questions. www.SurveyMonkey.com

Other survey software providers
Constant Contact, a popular email marketing service provider, offers a similar survey service to SurveyMonkey. There is a free, 60-day trial with Constant Contact’s survey service with a $15 per month charge for a continuing subscription. www. constantcontact.com/onlinesurveys

Zoho Survey is a subscription service with a one-month free trial followed by a $19 per month service charge. Zoho’s website provides 34 survey form templates. www.zoho.com

ZIP Survey offers a one-month free trial for its subscription service with $19.95 per month continuing service. www.zipsurvey.com

Adobe Forms Central now offers easy-to-use templates to create your own customer satisfaction follow-up surveys. Sign up for a free account at www.acrobat.com/formscentral Ask and listen What are the right questions? Start with very basic ones, such as what the customer likes or dislikes about your current product or service. Then, there are the ‘what if’ questions, such as, “What if I had 24/7 emergency service—would you pay extra for it?” Use this opportunity to test your hunches about the business, too. As an expert in water treatment you’re probably right, but it really helps to get confirmation. When you get into market research with customers, be prepared to hear some things you might not like. You may be amazed at how much people will tell you, if you just ask and listen to them. The key is to listen, not go into denial or look for reasons why the customer is wrong.

Summary
Today, dealers, distributors and manufacturers of water treatment equipment can spice up their websites and printed newsletters with low-cost or no-cost online customer surveys. You can do it yourself with the help of online services offering software for self-generated surveys.

About the author
David H. Martin is President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at dmartin@lenzimartin.

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