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Surveys Fill in the Blanks

Find out what customers like and dislike by asking them. Otherwise, you're operating in the dark.
survey wikimedia commons

Even if your clients have success in the field, they may think some other area of your operation is weak. Survey them to find your areas of strength and weakness
photo by Wikimedia Commons

We all know the customer is always right. They are the ones paying the bills and keeping things going.

It’s their perceived experiences that determine the success of a trip and ultimately whether they’ll rebook. Are you making decisions based on a gut feeling or are you getting data from your current clients?

You won’t know what you aren’t told, and you normally aren’t told anything if you don’t ask questions. At Blue Heron Communications, a public-relations and marketing firm that serves the outdoor industry, we know that customer feedback is the most valuable asset for improving business operations, and there is no better way to receive feedback than in the form of a survey. Campfire talks are great for building relationships, but in general, people are more willing to be honest on paper or online than they are face to face. How often do we write down the feedback people are giving us and compare it to other responses? Whether online or pen and paper, surveys are an invaluable resource for receiving the type of feedback that will help you make your company better.

Of course, there is no greater asset than experience, and some operations truly have a secret sauce for doing business. But the reality is, your customer base is never guaranteed and in many cases, it’s changing. Would it surprise you to know that more and more clients nowadays want to help with field processing because they want to learn a new skill? They say it’s more than just killing an animal, it is about the complete experience. How do I know this? Surveys of new hunters across the country show it again and again. And if you haven’t noticed a growing interest in field-to-table catch-and-cook, you haven’t been surveying.

Here are some practical tips for conducting your own survey so you can have the hard data back up your business decisions.

How to Conduct a Survey
In its most basic form, a survey is asking a question and getting a response. I recommend creating a survey using online tools such as Google Forms or Survey Monkey. Both offer free versions for creating surveys you can send via email or text.

Additionally, most website platforms such as Wix or WordPress offer tools to include surveys on your website. Lastly, you can always create a survey manually using programs such as Microsoft Word or Excel. Simply write out your questions and email them or hand them to clients and ask them to fill them out before they leave.

The most important thing to know is the information you get is only as good as the questions you ask. Ask questions that are designed to give you feedback that will help you improve, implement, or re-evaluate the ways you conduct business. Also, ask questions that help define your current customers, such as age, years of hunting or fishing experience, and where they live.

Keep your questions simple to move the survey along, and when applicable, create space for expanded answers. Simple questions also allow you to organize your data over time. In some cases, you want to force the survey taker to go in depth with an answer. For example, one question you can ask is the following:

    How was the lodging?
  1. Needs Improvement
  2. Average
  3. Above Average
  4. Excellent

By assigning a number to the choice, you can look at many responses at a glance to see where you are really popular with your clients or, conversely, where you need to up your game.

Also, offer a “Comments” space that gives them room to expand their answers. At the end of the survey, offer a question that will give them a chance to pinpoint weaknesses in your outfit. Something such as, “What is the weakest area we could improve our operation?”

Pre- and Post-Trip and New Customers
Did you know when you request client information before a trip you are technically conducting a survey? In most cases, the information outfitters request is limited to what is necessary to apply for a tag or get paid. But your customer will have a much better experience if you take the time to know what their needs are before arrival. If you have a favorite beverage on hand or can accommodate someone’s physical ability without running to the nearest town, you’ll instantly increase client satisfaction.

Once the trip is over, request feedback to determine what worked and what didn’t. We all have rough weeks where the weather doesn’t cooperate or the animals simply don’t behave as expected. If you know the areas of your operation that work no matter what the uncontrollable forces of nature throw your way, you can mitigate pressure to make the kill to guarantee a great experience.

In other words, a survey can help you figure out things you are doing that they love separate from getting their personal-best buck or trophy trout.

As a recruiting tool, you can use a short questionnaire that captures new-customer contact information. For example, via social media or at a trade show, you could ask random people about their expectations of guided trips. It’s a great way to build leads.

A sincere request for feedback to improve your business is sometimes all you need to get participation. But other times you may need to provide a little extra motivation for completing. A small discount on a future service, a free cap, or a chance at a free trip might be what is necessary to convince people to complete a survey.

Organize Your Data
Keep your surveys organized. If you do, you can compare year-over-year results to see if you improve over time. Keeping records can also help you avoid bothering repeat customers with questions they have already answered.

Staff Evaluations
Additionally, The information you learn in surveys can be used when evaluating your staff and keeping things real. If you have documented feedback from customers explaining where your team members are dropping the ball, it will help you build a more effective team.

Be Honest with Yourself
If you run your outfit like a hobby it will never operate with the efficiency of a business. Keep records and use tools such as surveys to make your operation run better and stronger. It is never easy to receive criticism for the things we put our hearts and soul into perfecting, but if we learn to use it constructively we will win every time.


Jordan Egli is the director of digital marketing at Blue Heron Communications.

Author
Guidefitter Staff
Bozeman, Montana
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