A few weeks ago, my husband and I were out with our kids at a restaurant chain. The whole experience was wonderful, and, with two five-year olds and a one-year old, to have a positive experience from start to finish is the equivalent of winning the lottery. Specifically, our waitress was fantastic. She was a true professional, knew what we were going to ask for before we needed it and was wonderful with our kids. While she got a huge tip from us, I even thought for a second about asking for the manager to tell her how wonderful she did. However, that was a fleeting thought.

Right before we left, we paid our bill on the Ziosk at our table and it encouraged me to leave feedback on our visit. I did so happily. I even typed a comment in the section where they asked for “other things we should know” which is something that I would normally never do. Why did I do that? Because the experience was so wonderful and I wanted her to get credit for it.

If you’re anything like me, I usually only share my opinion with the manager if the experience was truly horrible or just the opposite – great! But, it is important to remember that the most dangerous place to be as a company is to have your customers have a neutral opinion about your business. When you hit the place where customers are neutral about your business, you lose your greatest marketing tool, word-of-mouth marketing.

It’s important to have a constant pulse of what type of experience your customers are having with your business, and one of the easiest ways to do that is through surveys. I know many of you are thinking, “We have tried surveys, but no one ever gives them back to us.”

Here are a few things you should keep in mind to make the most of customer surveys.

1. Make surveys convenient for your customers.

Most everyone wants to give their opinion about something. You just have to ask. Keep your surveys short, to no more than 5 questions. Make sure that your survey gets at the heart of the experience and things you want to know. We find that using a rating scale of 1-5, is an effective way to understand your customers thoughts but also keep it convenient.

You can also leverage technology to make your surveys convenient for your customers. A tablet at your point of sale, much like restaurants do, will make it easy for someone to take a survey while they are waiting for their items. There are also many sites that are free, such as surveymonkey.com, where you can email your customer a survey after they have left your dealership.

2. Pay them for their time beforehand.

One of the dealerships that we work closely with sends out a two-dollar bill in the mail with a paper survey and a pre-addressed envelope with postage. They send a note that says, “Thank you in advance for taking the time to fill this out.” The majority of the surveys they send out are completed and returned because, not only do the customers feel like they owe them something from the two dollars, they understand that the dealer genuinely desires to continue improving their business.

3. Let your customers know how it will help you.

In a recent study, it was shown that if you include the phrase, “It would really help us out” in a note with your survey, you will receive 18% more surveys back from your customers.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, and when you ask for help you are communicating that you can’t do what you are trying to do on your own, and everything we have learned about how to treat others comes up. Studies have found that if you want to increase your response rate even more, tell your customers exactly how it will help you out. To do this, let your customers know how this will improve your department and how the survey will affect them directly.

4. Keep your survey relevant.

There are many different types of surveys that you can send to get a pulse of your customers. Each department can have a different survey; you can have one for your dealership as a whole or even one specifically for customers who didn’t buy from you. The important thing is to keep your surveys relevant to your audience. If your customer thinks that the survey is important, responses are shown to rise an additional 12%. It takes time and energy to create an effective survey and have your customers engage with it. The time you invest in creating a survey will be wasted if you don’t follow up and create change with the responses you receive.

As we work with companies across the world, we find that those who show sustained growth, year after year, have a good understanding of what their customers need, almost before they even ask, and surveys are one of the tools that can be used to do just that.