April 2014 Features — 02 April 2014

How to Run—and Use—Customer Surveys

Feedback from those who ‘feed’ you can be invaluable

When your customers tell you what they like and don’t like, you can adjust what you’re doing to make your range more appealing to your guests.  The key to getting that kind of feedback is to give your customers a voice, a way to let you know what works for them and what doesn’t.

Courtesy of Shooters World

According to Don Turner, one very effective way to give your customers a voice is to use customer surveys.  Turner is a shooting range operations and management consultant in Las Vegas, Nev.  In the past he was project manager for the Arizona State Shooting Range Project, which included the Ben Avery Shooting Facility in Phoenix, Ariz.; in this capacity, he made good use of customer surveys to improve what ranges offered customers.

“You have to remember that your range itself isn’t why people are coming,” Turner said.  “Shooting is like bowling or golfing.  You don’t go to the golf course just to play golf; you go to take lessons, to participate in tournaments or to do something else.”

A customer survey can tell you why shooters come to your range, which, in turn, gives you information about how to craft your marketing and advertising.

Turner uses his experience as an operational planner to teach range managers how to use the information they get from customer surveys to improve how they run their ranges.

“In operational planning, you need to have a feedback loop, so you know if the implementation of your plans was successful,” Turner said.  “A customer survey is one kind of feedback loop.”

Let’s say that one of your goals is to create a customer friendly operation.

“You need feedback on whether your employees are friendly or not,” Turner said.  “So one of the questions on your survey should be about customer satisfaction; how happy is your customer with the service he or she received?”

How not to use a customer survey

Turner said that many businesses use customer surveys as just a way to collect customer information.  Customers can see through that, and they don’t like it.

“For customer surveys to be really valuable, they have to be tied into your plan for your business,” he said.  “I recently received a survey card from a fast-food place that offered me a chance to win $500, but the questions were ho-hum and what they wanted was my personal information.  That was just a data-mining operation, and customers get tired of that.  Sometimes on our surveys at Ben Avery we didn’t even ask for customers’ names or contact information.”

Many businesses also see customer surveys as a quick “one and done” way of answering a question or two.  Turner said this is an ineffective approach; customer surveys should be an ongoing part of your range operation.

“Surveys need to be continuous,” he said.  “They shouldn’t be something you do once every few years.  Your range should have monthly, quarterly and yearly goals, and your surveys will help you know if you’re achieving those goals.”

Data vs. information

According to Turner, data does not equal information.  In fact, they’re quite different.

“Too many people accumulate data and then don’t know what to do with it,” he said.  “What you’re really looking for is information, and the information that you’re looking for is how you can modify, improve or change your operation to make it more customer friendly or cost efficient.”

The information you’re looking for can be broken down into several categories.

“One kind of information you’re looking for tells you whether or not you’re meeting your goals,” Turner said.  “You’re also looking for information that tells you how to improve your product—what can you do to make people want to come back?  Without a feedback loop, you won’t know those things.”

Different kinds of surveys

Turner said you can do surveys in several different ways.

“One type of survey is an internal customer survey,” he said.  “At the Ben Avery Shooting Facility I always had a suggestion box with cards we made up; people could fill them out at any time.  With that type of survey, if a customer comes up to an employee and says, ‘I have a complaint,’ the employee can hand the customer the card and say, ‘Please fill this out.’”

Once a week, Turner said, he would go through the suggestion box cards.

“Every so often I would get something that made me say, ‘This is a good idea; let’s implement it,’” he said.

A customer survey of this type takes minimal staff time to implement.

Another type of survey is an exit interview, which is more labor intensive than just comment cards.

“This is a method that Disneyland uses,” Turner said.  “When you do this, have an actual written survey and designate an employee to take care of it.”

When a customer is leaving your range, the employee stops him or her and says, “Can I ask you a couple of quick questions about your visit here today?”

“Don’t use this technique for data mining,” Turner said.  “This is not a solicitation for marketing.”

Have the employee ask specific questions about the customer’s experience on your range and then use that information to improve what you offer customers in the future.

Customer feedback can help you create effective advertising.

“When I was in Arizona, we did a big marketing plan using billboards and other methods of marketing,” Turner said.  “We needed to know if that campaign was working, so we did exit surveys and found out that 70 percent of the people who came to the range were coming because of word of mouth.  As a result, we completely changed our marketing approach and went to methods that would more facilitate word of mouth, such as a day to bring a friend to the range.  Then we went to local gun stores and gave them pads of certificates for them to give out to customers when they purchased guns.”

The certificates were good for one day of free shooting at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility.

“The gun dealers liked it, because they were giving their customers something of value,” Turner said.  “Although it’s not a survey, it’s still a feedback loop for you, because you find out where your customers are coming from.”

When you do gun shows, Turner said, you can do the same thing: give out certificates for a free day of shooting, and tag them with a code number that indicates the specific show.  That lets you identify geographic areas to which you can target your marketing efforts.

If you maintain memberships on your range, a snail mail or e-mail survey is an option.

“And if you have a web page, you can post a survey on it,” Turner said.

Richard Sprague, owner of Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Ariz., uses a form on his website as a way to get feedback from his customers.

“We get comments almost every day,” he said.  “It’s really helpful, because we get feedback from all angles.  Some we’re proud of, and some are about issues we need to address.  Getting information this way lets us take care of our customers at a higher level.”

Sprague said he has the website set up so that information entered into the feedback form goes to all his managers and to him, all at the same time.

“That way if one of us is out of pocket, someone else is going to respond,” he said.  “When one person responds to something, he does it with a ‘reply all.’  That way we all know that everything got addressed and nothing got overlooked.”

Sprague said his customer feedback form also is a way to get positive reviews that he can use as testimonials on his website.

“We use those to help build our online reputation,” he said.  “We never include a person’s personal information on those; we just use what they said.”

At Shooters World in Tampa, Fla., customer comment cards are on the concierge desk by the door.  General Manager Bruce Kitzis goes through filled-out cards daily to keep his finger on the pulse of the range.

“We’ve made a number of changes because of suggestions that customers have made,” he said.  “We’ve changed the placement of certain items, and we’ve added services offered by the gunsmith and on the range.  Members often ask for things to make their membership more valuable, such as a complimentary range pass for a friend.”

One of the simplest types of customer survey is a very informal one.  Just walk about on the range and greet people with a simple “hello” and ask them how they’re doing.  You’ll hear everything from “great” to complaints.

“Complaints give you a lot of information,” Turner said.  “Ask the customer why he’s unhappy and what you can do to fix it.  The customer isn’t always right, but he always is the customer.”

Two Examples of Customer Surveys

Don Turner has been the manager of Five Star ranges in Arizona and Nevada, and he conducted customer surveys at both. Click to see the survey and results he used at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility in Phoenix and the survey card he made available at the Clark County Shooting Complex in Las Vegas.

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