A big part of selling any product is knowing what the customer wants. The problem with that, however, is that customers may not want to tell you what they want; they may simply decide your product is not useful or good enough and simply purchase from someone else without comment. In any case, getting a customer to tell you what they would like from a product can be surprisingly difficult. Here are a few ways to get your customers to tell you what they actually want.

Conduct transactional surveys

The simplest way to get someone to give you feedback is to ask. The best time to ask someone to complete a survey is immediately after they have finished a transaction with your business, so you should consider conducting transactional surveys. If during the course of doing business a client gives you their email address, a transactional survey is usually sent as part of the email confirmation of a transaction or immediately afterward. A similar approach is often taken with in-person transactions as well; receipts from brick-and-mortar stores and restaurants often have instructions that tell the customer how to fill out an online survey.

One closely-related way to get similar feedback is with a mystery shopper, that is, a customer that expressly works with an establishment’s management in secret to help identify areas of improvement. While they may give valuable feedback, they also have their own biases to consider. Mystery shoppers are already prejudiced in a way a normal customer is not as a result of their arrangement with the business’ management, so it is important to come up with a way for them to objectively rate the various qualities of your business. Usually, this is done with their own specialized survey form. No matter the method of garnering feedback the customer has to know that you want it in a specific way, otherwise it tends not to be useful to you.

Offer incentives to take surveys

Even if someone considers the possibility of giving you feedback, there is no guarantee that they will do so. To this end, you should make your customer feedback survey as user-friendly as possible. It should be as short, clear and as simple as possible. Multiple-choice questions are a great way to do this. Another good way to increase the likelihood that a customer will complete a survey is to offer an incentive, though it may become difficult to decide what, exactly, the incentive should be. It shouldn’t be so enticing that the customer ignores answering the questions properly, but it should still be a tangible reward. While there may be no perfect solution to this riddle, the highest response rates are associated with cash rewards. Other appropriate, non-monetary incentives include coupons or free “thank you gifts” of small value. While incentives are not needed in many cases, they should still be a consideration if the amount of feedback received is not satisfactory.

Be timely and transparent

When the surveys are being advertised to your customers, you should also make sure that they feel their time will be well spent. The best way to do this is to make your survey as transparent as possible. This means that if your survey is short, has an incentive, is targeting a particular audience, or anything else that is vital to making sure the survey is a valuable data collection tool, you should make sure the customer is well aware of it right off the bat. Similarly, timing and actual perceived relevance are also key factors in determining how much feedback you get. If you are advertising your survey using any of the criteria mentioned above, double check your survey to make sure that it visibly does so; while your questions may be relevant, the customer is not likely to be privy to all of the details that go into your data collection and he or she may find the survey more tedious as a result.

It is easy to criticize someone or something, so theoretically it should be easy to collect feedback. Online services like SurveyKing mean that surveys are relatively easy to come by, so you should make sure that yours stands out among them.