Nearly as old as the web itself, web survey packages have grown ever-more sophisticated over the years—to the point where you can use them to essentially run your own, never-ending focus group online.
Moreover, there's a crowded market of web survey providers. So many restaurants find they can satisfy all their surveying needs with the free versions of these solutions—and never upgrade to premium offerings.
"Our survey allows our guests to communicate directly with my office to share their experience," says Ken Hamilton, president, Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill & Bar. "We start with a marketing question, and then provide respondents an opportunity to advise which of the restaurant’s various customer touch points met their expectations."
Adds Cheryl Carpenter, marketing and advertising director, Travinia Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar: "Surveys have been a very useful tool. We've gotten some great feedback about our restaurant, food and staff. And we've also done an employee survey, too."
Restaurants looking for a short and sweet option will probably want to start with the free, entry-level surveys many of the major survey market players offer as a way to entice businesses to upgrade to more substantial tools. But if you're looking to drill down for very specific insights from your customers, you may want to ultimately trade up to the premium offerings.
"Traditional forms of collecting website experience feedback have included static comment cards that are presented at the same time to every visitor with the same set of required form questions," says Tog Bagnull, a content writer at Qualtrics, an online survey provider. "While still useful, this approach focuses on only one segment of the visitor population—those who are still on the site at the time the survey launches and willing to finish the whole survey. Furthermore, these survey forms ask each site visitor the same questions, whether they are relevant to them or not.
"In contrast, behavioral and profile-based targeting allows you to engage prospective customers exactly when it is best to engage that particular segment with the questions and experiences that are most relevant," Bagnull says.
For example, a restaurant may want to reach out to millennials who use mobile devices with specific questions about the menu. And with the same survey, you may want to reach out to baby boomers with an entirely different set of questions, Bagnull says.
"In addition, you may want to intercept any visitor who is idle on a web page for more than 30 seconds and ask if they need help finding a product or service," Bagnull says. "This level of flexibility is essential for site owners to capture segment-specific insights and meet the needs of each customer segment."
Web surveys are also great for creating an entire community around your restaurant website, continually feeding you new insights on how you're doing as a business and where you should be going—at least as far as your customers' perspectives are concerned.
"An insights community will be an extension of your brand and will serve as an engagement piece for your customers," says Dan Fleetwood, president, QuestionPro Communities, another web survey provider. "Here they will be empowered to not only share feedback. But through engagement tools, they will feel a real sense of community."
Yet another major service web surveys can provide is to give you deep insights into what's going on inside company walls in terms of employees’ satisfaction, their perception of the company's vision and goals, and their take on how your company stacks up against competitors that can work for and similar questions.
Chances are, for example, you might think the extensive overhaul of the IT system at your restaurant is terrific, but an anonymous web survey of your staff may say otherwise.
"You don’t need a lengthy list of questions to get the information you need," says Rachel Barker, content strategist, Qualtrics. "You just need the right questions."
Currently, you can choose from more than 200 Web survey providers, according to Capterra, which specializes in advising businesses looking to make software purchases.
But you'll be able to get a great overview of what the market is offering by simply looking at the five most popular web software tools on the market. According to a 2015 study by Capterra, those packages are Survey Monkey, QuestionPro, SurveyGizmo, Fluid Surveys and Qualtrics.
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With even the basic version of the top five products—as well as those offered by other service providers—you'll be able to design a survey; launch it via your website, email and social media; collect data; and report on results.
Many surveys makers also provide more than one way to ask questions. You may want people to respond on a scale of 1 to 5 on one question; choose from a, b or c on another question; and input free-form sentences in response to a third question.
Higher-end packages also give you the option to get more creative, such as giving you the ability to ask a set of prequalifying questions that steer people down roads to different questionnaires, as highlighted by Qualtrics' Bagnull.
Another premium feature includes the ability to view a spreadsheet of all survey participants to see who's already responded and who need to be prodded to return the survey.
And still other survey providers include a wider selection of graphic themes you can use to design eye-catching surveys; guards against people looking to spam your survey; the ability to automatically shut down your survey after you've received a certain number of responses; and more.
For a complete look at the market—including user reviews of individual packages—check out Capterra's 200+ directory of offerings.
In the meantime, here's a closer look at the top five most popular packages, according to Capterra:
• SurveyMonkey (free version or $19-$25 permonth): A pioneer in the industry, SurveyMonkey offers graphic templates, supports different question formats, allows segmentation of participants depending on how they answer questions and comes equipped with questions for typical surveys. It also keeps you updated via email on the number of responses your survey gets each day and gives you the ability to filter results based on a data-point of your choosing, such as “male responses only” to a survey.
• QuestionPro (free version or $12 and up): QuestionPro's free version offers basic surveying tools, a most common survey questions library, real-time reports and optimization for web and mobile. Premium versions add themes, data export, dozens more typical question types and the ability to manage email lists of a half million or more.
• SurveyGizmo (free version or $22 per month and up): A mobile-friendly package, SurveyGizmo enables you to design and implement as many surveys as you'd like with the free version, ask as many questions as you'd like and take in as many responses as you'd like. Premium features include multiple graphic theme choices, survey logic, a typical questions library, custom tools and analytics.
• Fluid Surveys ($100 per month): An enterprise-level package and “big brother” of SurveyMonkey, Fluid Surveys offers a wide variety of survey templates, supports dozens of different question formats and can be rendered in 64 languages. Fluid Surveys can also be programmed to pop up when someone visits your home page. It can also be integrated with Dropbox for Business, FreshBooks, Salesforce.com, Mailchimp, Olark and other online business services.
• Qualtrics (free version, call for premium pricing): Qualtrics allows for lots of customization, offers a bank of typical questions and enables you to prod via email people who still need to respond to your survey. It also offers Salesforce integration, A/B testing and company call center integration.