The popularity and use of online surveys has increased significantly as the tools have become more sophisticated, cost-effective, and easier to use. If you want to gauge how your customers think about your company by questioning a large number of people, a survey is the best tool available. The information you glean from survey results can help shape your company’s mission as well as your marketing, quality control, and customer service strategy. The following are three ways your business can benefit from using surveys.

Replace focus groups or direct data analysis

The information from focus groups can be very subjective, anecdotal, and challenging to interpret as you are dealing with a group dynamic. If you test a product, process, or any other business element “in the field,” you are looking at a time consuming and expensive process, especially if you want data from a large number of people.

Research shows that a typical focus group costs between six to eight thousand dollars. It is the age-old struggle with gathering quantitative or actionable data vs. qualitative, which is more emotional in nature. The research or focus group approach has been losing popularity in the last few years due to the availability of excellent, cost-effective and easy-to-use online surveys.

Assess a larger demographic

Online survey platforms offer the ability to upload several different databases of people to be surveyed and those remain stored on the secure site for future use. You can choose from pre-written yet editable surveys or templates to offer you great flexibility.

These sites will allow you to go as simple or as complex as you want, depending on your survey purpose and audience. The cost is affordable for small and medium-sized businesses although they are used by large corporations, as well. Some online survey providers offer an introductory free survey maker on their sites. Pricing can be based on a per-survey basis or by a website subscription, which allows you to create surveys for a monthly or annual fee. Online surveys are relatively simple to develop, manage, and interpret. Built-in algorithms will help you slice and dice the responses in multiple ways. Some sites will also help you to analyze your response data and provide auto-generated templates for presentations.

Online surveys are fast. They are quick to develop, fast to deploy, and provide feedback in a very timely manner. Initial responses from well-developed surveys can be expected quickly. Research shows that 90 percent of responses are received within 48 hours of deployment. This may not be typical for all surveys, but the turnaround time from question to answer is much faster than direct questioning or field surveys. If you are undecided about whether or not to go the online route, there is a fair amount of research dealing with the value of online surveys and their results.

Online surveys have several applications

If you are using your online survey tool properly, you no longer have to rely on your instincts or anecdotal evidence to determine the level of satisfaction of your customers. The survey can provide feedback on everything from a shopping experience to product satisfaction. Another application is using surveys to gather data to help you in your marketing approach, such as demographics. They can help you to know who makes up your audience and what is most important to them. A survey is a good way for a company to solicit opinions on products. This is sometimes called “crowd-sourcing.”

A survey provides a vehicle to offer feedback on new product ideas or performance, even during their development. You can use online surveys with your suppliers as your audience. For instance, if you work with a B2B supplement and vitamin manufacturer that provides private label supplements, you could survey your customer base to see which supplements they are interested in trying. The flexibility of the online survey process allows you to customize your surveys to fit your audience, whether it is a customer, retail outlets, supplier or manufacturer.

An online survey offers a flexible, effective, cost-saving alternative to old-school canvassing through focus groups and field or face-to-face surveys. Whether you are measuring customer satisfaction, product popularity, or identifying key characteristics of your customer base, an online survey can be your best marketing tool.