8 terrific alternatives to staff surveys

For a different listening approach, don’t hesitate to open up the playbook a bit. Try these diverse strategies to gather better, rawer, feedback.

Survey alternatives

Naysayers have been shouting, “Surveys are dead!” from rooftops for a couple of years now.

Well, they’re not dead (yet), but companies are certainly looking for alternative approaches to customer and employee listening to combat survey burnout.

As a result, there has been a greater focus on qualitative research and different listening approaches. Which ones, you ask? Here are eight options to try:

Customer advisory boards 
These panels offer benefits to your customers and to your company. Establishing an official, insider channel with customers will help you elicit raw feedback from your target audience. This approach can increase trust, understanding and troubleshooting, and it’s a nice opportunity to give valued customers some face time with your executives. (Nonprofits might also consider creating a donor advisory board.)

Customer advisory boards typically meet semiannually, which should give you enough time to act on the feedback derived from each meeting.

Employee advisory boards
Employee advisory boards typically meet monthly to provide feedback regarding benefits, culture, communication and overall employee experience. The benefits here are significant: Employees make their voices heard, and employers can swiftly address threats to morale or retention.

Focus groups
This oldie but goodie is a great way to get customers to reveal product insights, communication preferences, raw opinions and honest feedback.

If you want your focus group to be worthwhile, however, you’ll need a skilled moderator who can keep people on task and make sure everyone gets a chance to speak up.

One-on-one interviews
Have you conducted “stay interviews” before? Whether you’re talking to customers, clients or colleagues, face-to-face chats tend to yield more candid feedback. People will say things in person they might not utter in a group setting.

There’s no better way to let a customer or an employee know that you care than to have a one-on-one discussion—except to have a follow-up chat to let the person know what you did with the feedback they provided.

Voice of the customer (through employees)
When’s the last time you asked your front-line staffers for insights about your customers? You’d be wise to seek wisdom from the folks who interact with—and talk to—your target audience.

Formalize the process for front-line employees to share the pain points, objections and sources of frustration that they hear about from your customers. You’ll uncover a trove of insights that can help you create better communication campaigns.

Online communities
Create a space online where customers can help each other solve product issues. You can also use online communities to test product concepts or to get feedback about the customer (or employee) experience.

Social media
Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are obvious candidates, but don’t forget online review sites such as Yelp, OpenTable, GlassDoor and TripAdvisor. There is a ton of feedback on these sites; the real challenge is wrangling it, making sense of it, responding to it and doing something about it.

A moment of silence for Google+, please.

Immersion programs
These help executives learn what customers experience when they (try to) do business with your company. Similar to the notion behind “Undercover Boss,” it’s smart for executives to walk in someone else’s shoes to gain a better understanding of how others live, work, buy or communicate.
The next time someone in your organization groans at the thought of doing more surveys, consider one or more of the options listed above. You’ll come away with rich data—straight from the horse’s mouth—which can help you craft more strategic marketing and communications.

Annette Franz is a consultant, speaker and author. A version of this post first appeared on CX Journey.

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