Customer survey

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The term customer survey describes a method of obtaining information about satisfaction , expectations and buying habits of current or potential customers . Knowledge of customers and their (future) purchasing behavior ( market trend ) is the most important prerequisite for the effectiveness (target achievement) and efficiency (costs) of all strategic and operational marketing instruments in a marketing plan . Because of this importance, customer surveys must meet particularly high quality criteria such as ( validity , reliability ) and relevance.

Conceptual demarcation and definitions

The customer survey is classified as a specialist discipline in the field of market research . It is one of the survey methods used in primary research , in which the data is obtained 'on site' through questioning or observation. The type and scope of the survey are geared towards the specific objective of the investigation. On the other hand, desk research involves evaluating existing or published information such as articles in specialist journals, (official) statistics or surveys for other purposes.

The survey methods can be differentiated according to the degree of standardization and the type of question. The standardization of a questionnaire in an interview can be very high or very low. It is high when the number, the order and the possible answers are largely given. In the case of less standardized questionnaires, there is usually an interview guide with a greater scope for formulating questions, their order and the possible answers. The in-depth interview, in which open or associative questions are in the foreground and the respondent can let his thoughts run free, is an example of a very low degree of standardization. Depending on the type of question asked, a distinction is made between direct (e.g. “How old are you?”) And projective or psychologically “skillful” questions with which one wants to avoid that the respondents give socially desirable answers. Rather, they should provide an insight into their “real” motivations for their (buying) behavior. In addition, the survey methods can be divided into written, oral, telephone or online surveys, the advantages and disadvantages of which are outlined below.

Finally, one can differentiate between surveys and observations according to the information requirement and analysis purpose. In addition to customer analysis, this also includes competition and market analysis. In addition, there is the self-analysis, in which in-house customers (e.g. employees in service departments) are the subject of the investigation. This applies to both capital goods and consumer goods marketing . In summary, it can be said that the core concern of a customer survey is to measure all information about customers and their (expected) purchasing behavior that is relevant for long-term customer loyalty as validly and reliably as possible.

Possible uses of the customer survey

In general, information about customer needs, product design, brand awareness , company image, positioning , possible unique selling points , differentiation from the competition, pricing and customer satisfaction can be determined. The following survey areas are particularly important in market research practice:

  1. all services and performance processes of the provider (e.g. products, prices, up to the friendliness and reliability of the employees with customer contact)
  2. special (positive / negative) experiences or experiences (= so-called critical incidents), from which one can draw conclusions about the improvement of the range of services
  3. the willingness of the customer to change providers (customer loyalty or loyalty)
  4. Customer expectations (e.g. about additional services)
  5. Image of the provider and its competitors
  6. Review of assumptions about the quality of the services offered (external image).

An overview of the phases of a customer survey

According to Willi Schneider and Martin Kornmeier, a well-founded survey should include the following six phases:

  • Phase 1: Involvement of the project team (including external consultants if necessary)
  • Phase 2: Determination of the research objectives as precisely as possible to avoid duplication of work and wrong turns
  • Phase 3: Exploratory preliminary investigation (with unstructured interviews for the meaningful delimitation of the questionnaire)
  • Phase 4: Conception of the investigation with project plan, milestones and definition of situations that make it necessary to terminate the project
  • Phase 5: Conducting the interviews with evaluation and analysis of the data
  • Phase 6: Presentation and visualization of the results

Another suggestion for organizing a customer survey comes from Nikolas Beutin and looks like this:

  • Phase 1: Conception (target group, sample, type of survey, type of question, content, anonymity)
  • Phase 2: Survey (participation rate, quality assurance of the survey, file entry)
  • Phase 3: Evaluation (quality assurance of the evaluation, types of analysis, report structure, presentation)
  • Phase 4: Implementation (implementation of measures including setting priorities and monitoring success.)

By including implementation (follow-up), this classification goes beyond the actual implementation of a customer survey.

Individual phases of the customer survey

  • Phase 1: Involvement of the employees as well as compilation of a project team

The implementing company should involve employees in the considerations at an early stage in order to increase acceptance and willingness to participate. Furthermore, it is usually advisable to set up a project team whose leader already has experience in the implementation of organizational and strategy development projects. The project members should bring experience from various functional areas such as sales, service or production.

  • Phase 2: Determination of research objectives and target group (s)

When setting goals, it is essentially about answering the following questions:

  • How many customer segments are to be surveyed? Should all customer groups, product groups, areas of responsibility, sales channels, countries and regions be researched, or are we just looking at individual segments. In principle, it is advisable to concentrate on one segment during the first survey (pilot project).
  • Should all service components, i. H. both products and services are analyzed? Customers do not usually differentiate between product and service, but consider the service offered by the company as a whole (in the sense of problem solving). For this reason, it is advisable to inquire about satisfaction with all service components.
  • Who do you turn to when commercial customers are to be interviewed? While the selection of a specific contact person is relatively easy for private customers, many contact persons come into consideration for commercial customers. At least four functional areas are often directly involved in a commercial purchase decision: Purchasing, users, management and the finance department ( buying center ). This means that, as a rule, several people have to be interviewed at the same time. It also makes sense to identify the decision makers and the actual decision makers. Which target groups should be interviewed? Basically, three target groups with different objectives come into question: Potential customers (objectives: identifying new customer potential, acquiring new customers, searching for improvement potential), current customers (objectives customer loyalty, "cross-selling") and former customers (objectives: uncovering weak points, recovery ). A reduced questionnaire is particularly recommended when surveying former customers, since this group demonstrably shows the lowest level of acceptance for surveys.

At the end of this phase, the problem should be formulated / concretized, the target group to be questioned should be determined, an overview of existing data should be compiled, budget and time frame should be clear.

  • Phase 3: preliminary exploratory investigation

Before the detailed design of the survey instrument, the company should conduct an exploratory, i.e. H. carry out a lightening and structuring preliminary examination ( pretest ). In this way, customer expectations and factors that are decisive for purchase can be determined and the quality of the content checked.

  • Phase 4: Conception of the study

In this phase, four key questions in particular need to be clarified:

  • Which type of survey should be used: in writing, orally, by telephone, online?
  • How should the questionnaire be structured and how should the questions be formulated?
  • What is the specific subject of the survey?
  • How should the survey participants be selected?

Choice of survey type : In the case of written surveys, the questionnaire is distributed or sent to the respondents. The test persons fill out the questionnaire and send it back to the company or the commissioned institute. A major problem with the written questionnaire is the rather low response rate, which may jeopardize the representativeness of the results. The particular advantage is that no interviewers are required, which reduces costs. In the case of an oral survey (face to face interview), the interviewer and the respondent face each other directly. The oral survey can be carried out both as a standardized interview, in which the content and order of the questions are specified, and as a free interview, in which the interviewer has a margin of appreciation with regard to the procedure. The most important advantage of this survey method is the greater willingness to provide information, the main disadvantage is the high costs. The telephone survey is particularly suitable when only a few and easy-to-answer questions are asked. A general weak point is the distrust of the respondents towards telephone interviews, as these are often misused as "disguised" sales talks. Here too, lower costs can be seen as an advantage in relation to the oral survey. Internet / online surveys continue to gain in importance. According to Nikolas Beutin, one can distinguish between three different types of survey:

  1. Questionnaires can be sent by email
  2. an open survey can be carried out on a homepage on the Internet
  3. a closed survey (after logging in with a password) can take place on the Internet.

Structure of the questionnaire and formulation of the questions : The following structure is suitable for the structure of the questionnaire:

  • Icebreaker questions (introductory / contact questions) which serve to initiate the interview, should relieve the respondent of bias and create a relaxed atmosphere.
  • Factual questions relate to the actual subject of the investigation and form the main part of the survey.
  • Control questions (plausibility questions) should primarily answer whether the test person answers consistently. Questions with the same content but formulated differently are placed in different places in the form to check whether the respondent gives the same answer.
  • Questions about the person should be at the end of the questionnaire because this increases the neutrality of the answers.

There are two options for formulating the questions: the open and the closed question.

  • No possible answers are given for open questions. Thus, the answers are less subjectively skewed. Furthermore, new aspects and previously unknown problems can be discussed. A disadvantage of open questions is the difficulty in evaluating the results, as the answers are usually very different.
  • Answer options are given for closed questions. For example, they can be formulated as simple yes / no questions, as alternative questions (selection from a limited number of options) or as a ranking.

For economic reasons, the large samples, which are particularly necessary in consumer goods marketing, are dominated by closed questions because answering, coding and evaluating them requires relatively little effort. The following principles should be observed when formulating questions:

  • Simplicity (e.g. avoidance of complex sentences and technical terms)
  • Neutrality (e.g. no leading questions)
  • Uniqueness (e.g. avoiding duplicate questions)

Content design of the survey : The content of each questionnaire should be made dependent on the skills and willingness of the respondents to answer. Also important in this area is the question of how the survey should focus on particularly important aspects, because usually not all of the relevant content can be queried. In addition, with a long questionnaire and low involvement, the response rate drops significantly, which in turn impairs the informative value of the result. Selection of survey participants : This involves the question of how many participants are needed for meaningful results (size of the sample) and how these are to be selected. A full survey tends to produce more meaningful results, but can usually only be carried out with a small number of customers (approx. 1,000). A combination of a full survey for the largest customers (so-called A customers) and a partial survey for the smaller customers (so-called B and C customers) is also possible.

  • Phase 5: data collection and analysis

Field phase : During this phase in which the data is collected, there are numerous tasks to be performed, including:

  • Printing the questionnaires
  • Writing a cover letter
  • Sending the questionnaires
  • Recruitment, training and monitoring of interviewers
  • Documentation of the response rate

Cleansing and coding of the data : As the data collected is not always complete (missing information) or correct (incorrect information), the answers received often need to be cleaned up. Therefore, incorrect, contradicting or largely incomplete questionnaires should not be included in the evaluation. If, on the other hand, only a few details are missing, this problem can be solved by inserting a placeholder or the respective mean value of the variable. Coding describes the process of summarizing raw data into meaningful groups (categories), which are then converted into numbers so that they can be evaluated. Categorizations should meet the following criteria:

  • the categories must be consistent in themselves and relevant to the aim of the survey
  • If possible, all available data should be able to be classified in the category system
  • the category system should be reproducible (traceable) if another data analyst categorizes the same data.

Quality assurance of the data : Errors often occur in the form of transmission errors. This applies both to the transfer of the data from paper questionnaires into a database and, after the entry, by transforming a database into other evaluation programs.

Evaluation of the qualitative and quantitative data : The evaluation of qualitative data, which is obtained through less standardized, open questions, is comparatively complex. This can be remedied by creating categories (summarizing similar or at least similar answers) and assigning the answers to the individual categories. Particularly concise statements should, however, be presented separately. The analysis of the quantitative data is essentially intended to condense the individual data, describe observable facts on the basis of the data and uncover cause-effect relationships and other statistical key figures. The specific methods include univariate, bivariate and multivariate analysis methods.

  • Phase 6: Visualization and presentation of the results report

Results report: At the end of the project, the analysis results should be summarized in a written results report. This should

  • formulated understandably
  • visually appealing
  • professionally competent commented and
  • be communicated in a management-oriented manner.

Visualization of the findings : results can be communicated in a comprehensible, comparable and easily comprehensible way if they are visualized in the form of graphics. Various forms of graphs are available for this purpose (bar charts, pie charts, curve charts, scatter charts, etc.). When presenting the results, three main principles must be observed:

  1. the presentation must be tailored to the specific needs of the target group addressed,
  2. it must arouse the interest of the audience by providing information on the implementation of the research objectives;
  3. Finally, the presentation should be organized in such a way that it enables the addressees to continue working with the results immediately.

Choosing the right communication medium : overhead projectors, flipcharts, pin boards, slide projectors or presentation software (with projector ) can be used here. The selection is based on the preferences or expectations of the addressees and should suit the person presenting (be authentic).


  • N. Beutin: Overview of the procedure for measuring customer satisfaction. In: Christian Homburg (Ed.): Customer satisfaction. Gabler, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 978-3-8349-0190-3 .
  • Ludwig Berekoven , Werner Eckert, Peter Ellenrieder: market research. Gabler, Wiesbaden 2009, ISBN 978-3-8349-1548-1 .
  • H. Diller (Ed.): Vahlens Large Marketing Lexicon. Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-8006-2689-6 .
  • Andreas Herrmann, Christian Homburg, Martin Klarmann: Handbook market research. Gabler, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 978-3-8349-0342-6 .
  • Christian Homburg, Harley Krohmer: Marketing Management. Gabler, Wiesbaden 2009, ISBN 978-3-8349-1656-3 .
  • Heribert Meffert, Christoph Burmann, Manfred Kirchgeorg: Marketing. Gabler, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 978-3-409-69018-8 .
  • Waldemar Pelz: Strategic and Operative Marketing - A Guide to Creating a Professional Marketing Plan. Books-On-Demand, Norderstedt 2004, ISBN 3-8334-0634-8 .
  • Willy Schneider , Martin Kornmeier: Customer satisfaction. Haupt-Verlag, Bern 2006, ISBN 978-3-258-06978-4 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Meffert: Marketing. P. 146
  2. ^ Diller: Vahlens Large Marketing Lexicon. P. 430 f.
  3. ^ F. Salcher: Psychological market research. Berlin 1995, p. 27 ff.
  4. Pelz: Strategic and Operative Marketing. S.
  5. Berekoven: market research. Pp. 295-296
  6. ^ Schneider: Customer satisfaction. P. 97
  7. Beutin: An overview of the procedure for measuring customer satisfaction. In: customer satisfaction. P. 132
  8. ^ Schneider: Customer satisfaction. P. 98
  9. ^ Schneider: Customer satisfaction. Pp. 99-103
  10. a b Beutin: An overview of the procedure for measuring customer satisfaction. In: customer satisfaction. P. 133
  11. Beutin: An overview of the procedure for measuring customer satisfaction. In: customer satisfaction. P. 146
  12. ^ Schneider: Customer satisfaction. Pp. 105-106
  13. ^ Schneider: Customer satisfaction. Pp. 106-110
  14. Beutin: An overview of the procedure for measuring customer satisfaction. In: customer satisfaction. Pp. 136-137
  15. ^ Schneider: Customer satisfaction. Pp. 110-112
  16. Beutin: An overview of the procedure for measuring customer satisfaction. In: customer satisfaction. P. 138
  17. ^ Homburg: Marketing Management. P. 302
  18. ^ Homburg: Marketing Management. Pp. 296-297
  19. ^ Schneider: Customer satisfaction. Pp. 113-114
  20. ^ Schneider: Customer satisfaction. P. 123
  21. ^ Homburg: Marketing Management. P. 308
  22. Beutin: An overview of the procedure for measuring customer satisfaction. In: customer satisfaction. P. 151
  23. ^ Schneider: Customer satisfaction. P. 123 ff.
  24. ^ Schneider: Customer satisfaction. Pp. 140-141