3 rules for collecting site visitor feedback

Many companies forget their manners when approaching visitors online. Tactics that would be considered rude in the physical world are often executed without hesitation in the digital world. However, extensive research shows that politeness will open up more doors to communication with your visitors and even improve your brand image among visitors who choose not to communicate with you.

When implementing a voice of customer (VoC) analytics program, the manner in which you elicit visitor feedback and the timing of asking for feedback are critical components to the success of your initiative. How and when you prompt online visitors to provide post-experience ratings and reviews will ultimately determine the validity of your survey results and the perception of your brand.

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There are three main points to consider when collecting visitor feedback. First, honesty and transparency are the keys to successful communication. Second, selective listening will lead you down the wrong path, but continuous listening puts you in tune with your customers. And third, the solicitation of visitor feedback needs to be a brand-building experience for all visitors who get involved, not just those who agree to participate.

Be honest, transparent, and never interrupt
Nobody likes the feeling of being watched. It is important to tell visitors on arrival to your site that they have an opportunity, if they so desire, to provide feedback after their visit. As well, nobody likes being interrupted -- so do not interrupt potential customers in the middle of their visit with a solicitation for feedback that was clearly triggered by some action they took. Research shows that survey interruptions yield four to five times fewer respondents than on-arrival invitations and will significantly increase the aggravation among all of the visitors involved, whether they participate or not.

By inviting on arrival, you avoid interrupting visitors during their experience. Consider entering a retail outlet and receiving a polite, "Welcome, is there anything I can help you with today?" Compare this polite greeting to a sales person following you around the store and rushing over only once you pick up an item. 

Moreover, inviting feedback during or at the end of a website visit introduces a negative bias into the results, as these forms of invitations have been proven to garner more negative feedback. The timing affects visitors' motives to take the survey, and people are quicker to complain than they are to compliment.

On-arrival invitations produce a representative sample of both positive and negative feedback, as the commitment to provide feedback after the visit occurs before the experience itself. Further, research has shown that the positive to negative ratio among those who participate in on-arrival surveys is equal to those who don't participate at all.

Selective listening can be worse than not listening at all
A successful VoC analytics program requires that you are always listening. Leveraging VoC results necessitates understanding that customer satisfaction and experience is a process, not an event. By continuously listening to your visitors, the ability to take action emerges. It transforms static measurements into viable decision support. It helps you see trends, understand the impact of change, and be confident in your choices.

The danger of using VoC analytics as a checkup discounts the influence of continuous change. The results at any given point are a function of a myriad of internal and external factors. Take the example of a company that decided to run a snapshot survey of its site to gauge the impact of a marketing campaign. The results suggested that the site was difficult to navigate and that visitors couldn't find what they were looking for, so the company decided to make a major financial investment to change the website. But when the campaign ended, the company noticed a significant drop in conversion.

The reality was the campaign had drawn in a great number of first-time visitors who were not familiar with the site layout. But when the campaign ended, regular customers struggled to complete their tasks. If the company had been listening to its customers all along, it would have realized that a major website redesign wasn't necessary, avoided the redesign costs, and prevented the subsequent loss in online revenue from regular customers.

VoC analytics is vulnerable to economic and seasonal influences, current product and service offerings, marketing and advertising initiatives, competitive initiatives, and so forth. Knowing what drives customer satisfaction is the most powerful tool in order to make smart, profitable decisions, but only when employed on a consistent basis.

Use VoC listening to improve your brand with all visitors
Since the majority of people do not take surveys, it is important that a survey invitation build brand equity, especially among those who don't participate. To succeed in doing this, your invitation needs to meet the following criteria:

  1. Visitors must understand immediately that the solicitation for feedback is coming from your organization. If visitors feel like they've been hijacked by an outside source, this will have a very negative impact on your brand. Therefore, the invitation should be customized and branded to your organization to make it clear that you are the one conducting the survey.
  2. The invitation must have a clear and intuitive opt-out button. Most visitors won't want to participate, and you're not there to force the issue. Once a visitor opts out, it is equally important to respect their decision, and avoid asking them again for at least three months.
  3. The invitation must mention how much of a time commitment you are asking for (less than five minutes is a good rule of thumb) and then respect that commitment.

On average, 2 to 6 percent of visitors will opt in to a well-branded, on-arrival invitation, with more than 90 percent of those who agree to take the survey actually providing feedback at the end of their visit.

Feedback from your actual site visitors is an extremely valuable and finite resource, so it's important to not abuse it. Serve as few invitations as possible in order to capture a statistically significant sample size. For most sites, 750-1,200 responses per month is enough to address your intelligence needs. For example, if you have 100,000 unique visitors per month, then an invitation rate of three in 10 should suffice.

Conclusion: Listening is a strategic business decision
VoC analytics is driven by a sincere desire to listen and share. In order to do this effectively, you must be inviting visitors on arrival, collecting feedback only after the visit, collecting and analyzing feedback on a regular basis, and ensuring that the entire exercise is respectful and brand-building. When it comes to VoC analytics, you're dealing with real people and real issues that can provide your company with incredible insights, so your approach is extremely important. If done properly, continuous listening is one of the most strategic business decisions a company can make.

Duff Anderson is VP of research at iPerceptions.

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Comments

Jose Ramos
Jose Ramos August 20, 2010 at 11:36 AM

Duff-

Love the article. This was really timely insight for me as we are currently evaluating our options for collecting attitudinal feedback for a number of campaigns. Really nice to hear a clear explanation of the "blocking and tackling" considerations which can help us improve the intelligence-gathering experience at a time when we really struggle to get sufficient responses for some audience segments. I definitely plan to utilize your recommendations as we move down the path of survey vendor selection.

Keep the great thoughts coming!