Customer check-in is critical right now

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

By Michelle van Schouwen

Many large companies conduct customer satisfaction surveys all the time. In fact, a recent Forbes Quora article describes major companies as “drowning customers in survey requests.” However, the same cannot be said for smaller companies, and after a tumultuous year, small businesses will be wise to conduct a check-in with customers. (If you are dubious about the need, or are almost afraid to ask your customers or clients how they – and you – are doing, all the more reason to do so. You can be sure that they know the answers, and you’d best hear them, too.)

The process of customer or client survey for a small company can be as unique as your company itself. A restaurant can include a survey with the menu or the bill, or ask for customer emails and send one along with an incentive for responding. A company with just a few clients can conduct in-person interviews, or even hire a consultant to do them for added impartiality. (My longtime marketing company conducted phone surveys for several of our clients, and the results were invaluable for business decision-making. We also conducted online and old-style written surveys for clients and ourselves.)

-Consider what type of survey or check-in will work best for your company and for your customers: Online, phone, written survey, or in-person discussion.

-Include a quick introduction that clarifies why you want the customer’s input. Try something like, “A lot has changed in recent months. We welcome 2021 with a renewed commitment to supporting what you need right now. Please tell us how we are doing, and what we can do better.”

-Be respectful of customer time. Ask relevant questions only. Keep it as brief as possible. But do offer space or time for open comment.

-Ask the questions that matter to your customers and your company now, after a tumultuous 2020. For nearly any early-2021 survey, you should include such questions as, “Have we kept up with your needs during COVID? How or how not?” “If we could make one improvement to our products and services, what would it be?” A B2B survey might include: “Do you expect your company to do more, less or the same amount of business, 1) overall and 2) with us, in the next 12 months as compared to the previous 12?”

-It may be valuable to offer a thank-you for survey completion. For survey respondents who spend time with you online or on the phone, consider donating in their name to a charity (either one of their choosing, or one you select for use with every respondent). For a retail establishment, a small gift card or a one-time benefit may work.

-Be careful not to bias your questions to get the answers you want. (I get a weekly mini-survey from a senator who usually poses the single question in a way that virtually assures most people will give him a prescribed response. It’s infuriating!)

-If you opt for in-person check-in, choose your interviewer carefully. For example, your account manager may have the incentive to report more good feedback than critical.

-Finally, be prepared to act on the input you receive. Prices are too high, according to your customers? Delivery too slow? No one answers the phone? Your competitor offers better service? (Remember, even if you can’t lower prices, you can better justify them.)

A formal customer check-in not only gives you important feedback, it lets customers know you care. And as we’re all reeling from economic disruption and a long pandemic, a little caring goes a long way.


Michelle van Schouwen is principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. See Q5 For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.

Leave a Reply

The Self-Employment Survival Guide can help you succeed. Learn all about it here.

Self-Employment Survival Guide book cover