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  • Writer's pictureKelly E. Middleton

Exit Surveys - Dos and Don'ts

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

I was recently reading an article by customer service guru Shep Hyken about the importance of making sure the customer has a positive end to their experience with a brand or organization. He specifically mentions that nowadays businesses are utilizing questionnaires or exit surveys to get feedback on how they did with customer service. People will get an email after their experience and are asked to fill it out. Sometimes these are welcome opportunities to provide feedback on a certain issue that came up that the customer wasn't going to go out of his or her way to mention, but the survey makes it easy to do so. Other times, a customer can feel irritated that they are being asked to do something for the company afterward. It can feel like a chore or a favor, especially if the form is long. In these cases, the company has failed to leave the customer with a positive experience. Hyken calls this "the new end," as the end of the experience with the brand has become the follow-up email and not, for example, the smiling thank you or goodbye at the end of a shopping experience. It is at this "new end" that a customer's impression of the organization as a whole can be compromised, even if it had been a great experience up to that point.

So how can we make sure that our quest for feedback is not taken as a greedy time grab of our customers? There are a few general rules you can follow.

1. Wrap it in a "thank you" email. We all hate to receive an email that explicitly and single-mindedly asks for our time. Saying "We want your feedback" can turn off some customers. Why not have the email subject say "Thank You" and let the customer know they are appreciated first? That way they may be more likely open the email and to then click your "We value your feedback" link further down in the email.

2. Keep it brief. The absolute maximum amount of time an exit survey should take is 5 minutes. Anything more is just greedy and inconsiderate. If you need that much feedback, hold a focus group. An ideal exit survey should take 1-3 minutes from click to submit. If you can keep it under a minute, you're doing great.

3. Make sure it's easy to complete. I've personally filled out some exit surveys that were confusing, required too much thinking and didn't seem like they were asking important questions. Short, easy to understand and answer questions are best. If you can utilize "yes or no" questions, that's even better. Your goal should be to present the questions in the simplest way possible.

One of my coworkers shared a great end experience story. He had ordered a pair of chairs from the beach outfitter Tommy Bahama, but ended up returning them. After his return confirmation went through, he had a few follow up questions that a representative answered for him within 24 hours (the gold standard response time for customer service). Immediately after my coworker thanked the representative for answering his questions, he received an email from the company with the representative's photo, a few of her hobbies and her home city. Underneath there was an option to rate the email correspondence with the representative by clicking on 1-5 stars. This method for collecting information did several things right. First, it humanized the rep, which can definitely go a long way with customers. Second, it also made giving feedback quick and easy. Five seconds was all it took to get information on how well this representative resolves issues with customers. Lastly, it didn't even make the customer leave the page in order to send the feedback -- they just clicked right in the body of the email.

Public schools can utilize exit surveys too. It's never too early to think about the end of the school year. In my district, we measure student satisfaction by giving out exit surveys for those that are graduating or moving up to the next school. It is a great way to get quality feedback, as there is no fear that what is said in the survey will negatively impact the student. I've found that this is the best time to get input, as people tend to be at their most honest.

Students are not the only customers who should fill out exit surveys. I don't need to tell you that parents love to give their two cents. Be sure to include them in the process. One way you can get instant feedback is by providing some light refreshments after graduation or move up day and having a stack of brief surveys for parents to fill out near the food and drink while they socialize. They simply drop their completed form in a locked box.

Another idea is to include a link to an exit survey in an email to parents about graduation or after graduation thanking them for coming. Either way, it allows you to say thank you with some good news and give them the opportunity to share their thoughts about the school and school year at the same time.

If you don't already, try creating a short exit survey for the end of the year and see how it goes. Forms and procedures are always a work in progress, so retooling them each year will help you get better information each time. If parents and students have to pay unexpected fees or parking tickets at the very end of school that bad last experience may keep them from ever giving back. Remember, the goal is to have students and families leave on a positive note, or, as Shep Hyken says, to have "the new end" be a pleasurable one.

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