Today’s post is from John Wechsler, President of FormSpring. The company, which recently partnered with Email Center Pro, focuses on data collection and management through the use of Web-based forms. As a service, FormSpring ties together improved customer relationships with business success. Sounds very much like the Email Center Pro approach. 

“What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”  This romantic view of the world espoused by Ralph Waldo Emerson can be adapted to business to help us stop looking at past and future customers and focus some love and attention on our existing customers.  It is, for most of us, much less costly to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one.

Increasingly, an enterprise’s long-term viability will hinge on the strength of its relationships with its customers. So where do we start when it comes to getting closer to our customers?  Tim Berry, president of Palo Alto Software, suggests that “unless you are a new business without a customer base at all, your market research should begin with learning as much as possible about your present customers.” Berry goes on to advise that businesses learn the following about their customers:

•    Who are they?
•    How did they find you?
•    What do they like about you?
•    What don’t they like?

Oftentimes a simple online survey is effective in letting customers know you care about them while also helping you learn a few things about your customers that will help you better serve them.

Traditionally one of the biggest challenges of getting so close to your customers has been purely logistical. This included: developing and designing a survey, printing and mailing it and compiling and analyzing the results. Any one of these tasks was difficult to manage “back in the day.”

Today the management barriers are largely removed. Online tools make it easier than ever to collect and manage data online.  There are no excuses for not understanding who your customers are, what they like and dislike, and what they think about your company.

When you’ve made the decision to start getting closer to your customers by using online surveys, it’s important to remember a few rules of the road.

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Super Simple)

When designing an online survey you want to keep it simple. Keep questions clear and answer choices easy to understand.  Spend time thinking about the flow of your survey. Do the questions progress in a logical and thoughtful manner? Once you think you’ve nailed it, take the survey yourself from the beginning.  You’ll probably see a few more things you can improve.

Make it easy for your customers to use

Make the exchange of information easy.  Keep required fields to a minimum so it’s easy for people to participate.  Be careful not to use unnecessary CAPTCHA (a challenge-response test used in computing to ensure that the response is not generated by a computer). The easier it is for someone to actually submit their information, the more you will learn and the better your customers will feel about interacting with you.

Make sure your forms are secure

Lock down information that you collect that is of a sensitive nature or could harm your customers if compromised. Use SSL for a secure browser connection (the URL will start with https://). Also, encrypt data stored in the database. Since your forms provider or IT department won’t be able to retrieve your data, don’t forget your password.  Finally, Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is a way to encrypt emails to ensure that only the intended recipient(s) see emails that are meant to be secure. Make sure to use PGP for email privacy if you are receiving notification emails of the submitted data.  It does not help you or your customers to make a secure connection online and encrypt data if you then send emails without the protection of encryption. Alternatively, don’t send the actual data via email, instead just send notices that a submission has been received and use the security of an SSL connection to log in and view or download your data.

In Summary

Making your contact forms, surveys and other online forms simple for the user to complete, easy to access and use, and secure are three steps towards building strong relationships with your customers. It’s best to take the initiative now to ask your customers what they think than to wait for your competitors to do it!  With this knowledge, you will be on your way to creating an environment that helps you achieve the maximum lifetime value of your customers.

formspringJohn Wechsler is president of Indianapolis-based FormSpring. With nearly 20 years of business experience including extensive startup experience, John is uniquely qualified to comment on many aspects of running startup, early-stage and high-growth organizations. John can be reached via email at john@formspring.com.

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John Wechsler
John Wechsler

John Wechsler is president of Indianapolis-based FormSpring. With nearly 20 years of business experience including extensive startup experience, John is uniquely qualified to comment on many aspects of running startup, early-stage and high-growth organizations. You can follow him on Google+.