by Michelle Podolec
Surveys help you gauge what your customers think of your business, and give you the chance to learn more about what they want from you. Online polls can help you gather feedback quickly and easily from your customers. While not appropriate for every business or situation (sometimes paper surveys can get a better response rate), there are some great free online assessment tools available for farmers that can help grow your business.
Here at the Cornell Small Farms Program office, we often use free online surveys and poll software to gather quick feedback on the best times for meetings, exploring emerging issues, collecting audience demographics, and seeking online course feedback. You may find polls and surveys useful in many areas of your business whether you are a small farm, a non-profit, or a community cooperative.
Surveys can range from very short (one or two questions) to more-in depth (twenty minutes long or more) depending on the type of information you want to gather. Designing online polls and surveys is a learning process – each time our staff develops one of these tools we learn more about the best ways to frame and present our questions, and gain more experience in analyzing our results.
Developing a survey or poll that gets at the data you are seeking can be more complicated than it initially appears. It can be very helpful to draft up a survey or poll and then have a friend review to make sure questions are clear, concise, and you are framing the question in a way that gets to the heart of the information you really want. A few quick tips we’ve found helpful: keep questions simple and don’t use farm jargon unless you explain it in the questions, only ask one question at a time, and use open ended questions and essay boxes to gather more in-depth opinions. Also try mixing multiple choice, ranking, and fill in the blank questions to help break up the monotony of a long survey.
Tips for a great survey
• Name your survey or poll. Names should be short and to the point – tell your customers right in the title what you are trying to accomplish!
• The longer and more complicated your survey, the more difficult it can be to coax customers to finish the survey. Incentives (prizes, coupons, or giveaways) can help draw interest and enthusiasm.
• Be sure to include an introduction telling people WHY you need the information. You should also be sure to include your contact information including business name, phone number, and a link to your website.
• Set a goal and a time your survey will run – knowing how many individuals you would like to reach with your survey or poll can help you decide when your survey is ‘done’. When you have received enough responses, be sure to close the poll or survey and review your results.
Advertising your survey or poll
You are finished building your survey at last. You’ve reviewed your survey or poll, made sure the questions are framed in a way that will get you the information you want, added your contact information and website link. Now it’s time to get that survey or poll out to your customers! Target your audience – knowing which customers you want to reach with your survey or poll can help you select the best method to reach them. Online services will create an automatic web address for you. Sharing that link can be done through signs, newsletters, emails, letters, postcards, order forms, and word of mouth.
The more you use online web polls and surveys, the more comfortable you and your customers will be with them. These great free online tools can really help you market effectively and grow your business.
There are many more free online polling and survey tools out there –a quick web search will turn up hundreds of options. Our favorite online survey and polling tools are:
Doodle – Create online polls to get customer feedback on the best times for CSA deliveries, farm stand hours, or opinions on scheduling other farm related events like field days, farm dinners, or open houses. Best for one-off events and quick polls. Free, fast, and EASY! http://doodle.com/
Survey Monkey – Are you seeking a way to survey your customers about what they want to see in their CSA shares and crops they’d like you to try? Are you looking to find out more about WHO you serve – where they live, the size of their family, or other demographic details? This website offers easy survey creation, simple instructions, and result tracking. Best for small and informal surveys. Basic plans are free! www.surveymonkey.com
Facebook – Ask simple poll questions to your customers right from your Facebook home page using the “Question” tool. www.facebook.com