Using a Third Party for Customer Surveys [Ultimate Guide]

The good news is you’re here!

This means you already find value in or understand the need to conduct customer surveys. 

Your next choice is deciding between using a third-party customer survey company or conducting the survey in-house.

This ultimate guide answers everything you need to know from customer satisfaction survey costs, processes, and benefits to help make your decision easier.

Article contents 📝

What is a Third-Party Customer Survey?

A third-party customer survey is a research method conducted by an external organization or agency, often specializing in market research and data analysis, to gather feedback and insights from a company's customers. 

Unlike internal surveys conducted by the company itself, third-party surveys are conducted by independent firms that have no direct affiliation with the company.

These surveys are typically designed to collect information on various aspects of the customer experience, such as:

  • Satisfaction levels
  • Product or service feedback
  • Brand perception
  • Buying behaviors
  • Demographics

The data gathered from these surveys is then analyzed and interpreted by the third-party firm to provide actionable insights and recommendations to the company.

Recommended Reading: Ultimate Guide to Conducting Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Benefits of Using a Third Party for Customer Surveys

Customer surveys are invaluable tools for understanding your market, improving products or services, and fostering customer loyalty. 

However, conducting effective surveys requires careful planning, unbiased questioning, and efficient execution. Partnering with a customer satisfaction survey company can enhance the effectiveness of your market research in several ways. 

Here are five compelling reasons why you should consider working with a third party for your customer surveys:


1. Custom-written surveys

When you collaborate with a third-party market research company for your customer surveys, you gain access to customized survey questions tailored specifically to your organization's needs. 

These survey questions are crafted using sophisticated techniques to identify areas of strength and improvement crucial to your customer base. 

By leveraging the expertise of a market research company, you ensure that your survey questions resonate with your customers and yield actionable insights.

Here is what our market research company believes are the most important questions you need to ask in your customer survey.

2. Impartial questioning

One common pitfall in customer surveys is unintentional bias in the survey questions, which can skew the results. 

By working with a third-party market research company, you mitigate this risk as they approach survey design with impartiality. 

Unlike internally crafted questions that may inadvertently lead respondents towards certain answers, third-party formulated questions remain open-ended and neutral. 

This approach fosters genuine feedback from customers, allowing for a more accurate assessment of their perceptions and preferences.

3. Open communication with customers

Honesty and transparency are essential elements of successful customer surveys. 

Yet, customers may hesitate to provide candid feedback directly to the company out of fear of repercussions or bias. 

Third-party customer survey companies offer a layer of privacy and anonymity that encourages customers to share their opinions openly. 

By facilitating open communication channels, these companies enable businesses to gather authentic feedback, unencumbered by concerns of judgment or retribution.

4. Accurate survey feedback 

Maintaining the confidentiality of customer responses is paramount to the integrity of any survey. 

Third-party market research companies ensure the anonymity of respondents, fostering trust and reliability in the survey process. 

By guaranteeing the privacy of customer feedback, these companies promote honest and uninhibited responses, leading to more accurate insights into customer satisfaction and preferences.

5. Customer survey benchmarks

Another advantage of partnering with a third party for customer surveys is access to benchmarking data.

These companies often possess extensive industry-specific benchmarks and customer satisfaction metrics against which to compare your survey results. 

Benchmarking allows businesses to gauge their performance relative to competitors and identify areas for improvement.

By leveraging benchmarking insights, organizations can refine their strategies and enhance their competitive positioning in the market.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Utilizing a third-party market research company for customer surveys offers numerous benefits, including tailored survey templates, impartial questioning, enhanced communication channels, reliable feedback, and benchmarking capabilities.

Ways to Survey Customers

When surveying customers, it's important to accommodate diverse preferences, access points, and engagement levels. Online surveys offer convenience and scalability, while phone surveys provide a personal touch.

Meanwhile, mail surveys ensure inclusivity for those with limited internet access, offering a comprehensive approach to gathering customer feedback.

From our experience, most clients choose between online surveys and paper surveys.

  • Online Surveys: These surveys are commonly delivered via email or through online platforms. They offer cost-effectiveness, quick turnaround times, and measurable feedback from customers. Online surveys are accessible across various devices and gather high-quality insights from your customer base.

  • Paper Surveys: Alternatively, paper surveys can be distributed through the mail or by handouts. While less common in the digital age, paper surveys still have their place, especially when targeting specific demographics or regions where online access may be limited (older generations, lower income areas, etc).

How Does a Third-Party Customer Survey Work?

In this section, we’ll break down the process for surveying customers online.

Drive Research follows a systematic in-house approach our team has built for customer survey projects. Our method uses a step-by-step and task-oriented approach to project management from kickoff through completion.

online survey process

1. Contact a third-party vendor 🤝

First, you have to contact a customer survey company like Drive Research. The best will respond within a few hours with some additional information to get the process started!

In cases where your customer survey is more complex or you need some advice to walk through your options, the market research team will schedule a brief 30-minute discovery call with your team. 

During this call, they’ll talk about your objectives, what you want to accomplish, the size of your customer base, options for methodologies, and other key criteria that go into a proposal.

2. Proposal 💍

The market research request for proposal for your customer survey is the next step of the process.

The firm takes all of the feedback from your request and discovery call and builds out a custom proposal to address your needs. This document walks you through your unique project from A to Z.

It includes an all-inclusive fee, timeline, and deliverables.

3. Kickoff meeting 🏈

If you decide to proceed with the third-party firm, a kickoff meeting is scheduled to discuss survey topics, objectives, and specific questions tailored to your industry or organization. 

For the kickoff, plan on inviting a small team of key stakeholders (2 to 3). We often find the discussion more fruitful with a smaller, more focused team.

4. Workplan ⚒️

Within 24 hours of the kickoff meeting, a detailed workplan is exchanged outlining key tasks, deliverables, and deadlines. This document ensures that both teams are aligned and aware of upcoming milestones.

5. Survey draft 📝

The core deliverable of the process, the survey draft is meticulously crafted to address your objectives and gather relevant feedback from customers.

Third-party firms leverage their expertise in survey design to ensure questions are unbiased, well-structured, and effective in eliciting valuable insights.

Garbage in. Garbage out. 

This is the most important piece of the customer survey process and is the critical reason to use a third-party market research company. 

Writing a survey is an art and a science.

It takes many years to perfect the survey writing process and there are always things to learn.

While writing a survey, a third-party market research company thinks about order, flow, wording, bias, types of questions, potential results, skip patterns, masking, and many other criteria.

This document is developed in Word to allow for comments, edits, and feedback from your team.

6. Exchange of customer database 🗄️

If applicable, your customer database is exchanged with the market research firm.

This data allows for additional analysis and segmentation of survey responses, providing deeper insights into customer preferences and behavior.

In nearly all cases, this is delivered as an Excel file or CSV.

7. Survey programming

Once the survey draft is finalized, it is programmed for online distribution or formatted into a paper version, depending on the chosen delivery method.

Online surveys are optimized for mobile, tablet, and desktop use, while paper surveys are designed for easy completion and return.

8. Pre-notice 📧

If the email survey route is chosen, Drive Research recommends the sponsoring organization send a pre-email notice to all customers.

This announcement helps introduce the upcoming customer survey and other important details such as:

  1. When customers can expect an invite
  2. Why a response is important
  3. Confirms the credibility and third-party aspect of using a separate market research company

Ultimately, it sets a good tone.

9. Testing 🧪

Test. Test. And test some more.

The survey runs through our entire team of assistants and analysts who test it for:

  • Grammar
  • Context
  • Comprehension
  • Skip patterns
  • Logic
  • All other issues

The test link will also be sent to the client for review so the team can view the survey as if they were customers participating.

Your job is to break our survey – or at least attempt to!

10. Invitations and reminders 📨

The survey is launched with an initial email invitation, followed by one or two reminders to non-responders. Additional reminders may be sent as needed to boost response rates.

As part of the base customer survey package with Drive Research, your team is provided an online dashboard of the results using real-time charts and graphs.

This passcode-protected portal allows you to log in and see a sneak peek of the results before the fieldwork is closed. These reports can be exported in Excel, PDF, PowerPoint, or Word.

A client dashboard looks something like this 👇👇

Drive Research employee survey portal

11. Close fieldwork 🔒

Once responses have been exhausted or you have reached your response goal for the customer survey, fieldwork is closed. The survey company closes the online survey and posts a message for anyone who visits the link that the survey is closed.

12. Analysis and reporting 📊

Now the real fun begins when the customer survey company digs into the data to summarize key insights, feedback, and recommendations from the data.

This includes basic and advanced analysis such as correlation and regression.

Additionally, several different levels of reporting options are available for your organization. 

These often include two typical levels of packages:

  • Topline summary: Topline summary of the results with key insights (bullet points of 2 to 4 pages)
  • Comprehensive report: Comprehensive report with a summary, recommendations, and full cross-tabulations

customer survey reporting packages

The interpretation of data and results is a true differentiator for Drive Research. Receiving feedback is only the beginning of the process for us.

We provide you with a comprehensive yet digestible customer survey report. 

The report has several pieces that can be shared specifically with separate locations or management teams.

Since the reports are created in PowerPoint they are easily shared and can be used as part of presentation decks internally for our clients.

13. Debrief 🗣️

After the report is delivered, the customer survey firm will schedule a 30-to-90-minute follow-up conversation with your team.

The presentation will walk you through the background and methodology, key findings, recommendations, action items, next steps, and showcase the layout of the deliverables to help you navigate through the feedback as part of your strategy.

Although the report and debrief is the final step of the market research process with our team, we’ll check in after the project concludes. As you dive deeper into the results, questions often come up and our team is happy to respond.

14. Thank you note or email 🙏

After the project concludes, it's recommended to send a thank-you note or email to survey participants, acknowledging their feedback and highlighting any anticipated changes based on their input. This gesture reinforces customer engagement and fosters goodwill.

💡 The Key Takeaway: In short, a customer survey firm acts as a trusted partner for all facets of your project: survey design, programming, fieldwork, and reporting. While we can work as fast as you need us to, typically customer survey projects take 4-5 weeks to complete.

Choosing the Best Customer Survey Company

Building and maintaining strong customer relationships is vital for businesses aiming to thrive in today's competitive landscape.

Customer surveys serve as invaluable tools for understanding customer needs, preferences, and satisfaction levels.

However, the effectiveness of these surveys hinges on choosing the right third-party vendor to administer them. Here are four essential considerations when selecting a customer survey company:

1. Comprehensive services beyond self-service platforms

Many companies are presented with self-service survey platforms, offering limited functionalities such as a bank of pre-designed questions and basic data collection capabilities.

However, to maximize the value of customer surveys, it's essential to partner with a vendor that offers comprehensive services. Look for a company that acts as an extension of your team, providing end-to-end project management.

This includes custom survey development tailored to your research objectives, confidential survey deployment, and in-depth analysis of customer feedback.

By leveraging the expertise of a third-party vendor, you gain actionable insights and department-specific recommendations, without the burden of data interpretation falling solely on your team.

2. Data interpretation and actionable solutions

While collecting and visualizing survey data is crucial, the ultimate goal is to drive meaningful improvements in customer engagement and satisfaction.

Therefore, it's imperative to choose a survey vendor that not only assists in survey creation and deployment but also offers actionable insights and next steps based on the findings.

For instance, a reputable vendor will analyze survey results to identify key areas for improvement, such as addressing common pain points or enhancing service offerings.

By partnering with a vendor that translates data into actionable solutions, you can drive tangible improvements in the customer experience.

3. Third-party survey invitations for honest feedback

To elicit honest and unbiased feedback from customers, surveys should be sent from a neutral third party rather than directly from the company.

This ensures anonymity and encourages customers to provide candid responses without fear of repercussions.

When evaluating survey vendors, prioritize those that support the sending of third-party survey invitations through their own tools.

By leveraging third-party invites, you create a safe and secure environment for customers to share their opinions, thereby enhancing the reliability and accuracy of the survey data.

4. Customized questionnaires aligned with business goals

To extract meaningful insights from customer surveys, it's essential to ask the right questions aligned with your business goals and objectives.

Seek out a vendor that writes 100% custom survey questions tailored to your specific needs.

A quality vendor will work closely with your team to understand your objectives and design survey questions that yield relevant insights.

Additionally, look for vendors with experience in your industry, as they can provide valuable guidance on the types of questions to ask based on industry best practices and benchmarks.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Selecting the right customer survey company is a crucial step in optimizing your survey efforts and driving continuous improvement in customer satisfaction. Find a partner like Drive Research that has the flexibility to collaborate on survey design, pricing, and interpreting the results. 

Cost of a Third-Party Customer Survey

The cost of a customer survey can vary depending on factors such as the size of the target audience, the complexity of the survey questions, and the desired level of analysis and reporting.

Typically, customer surveys conducted through email or online platforms fall within the range of $3,000 to $15,000 when utilizing the services of a third-party market research company.

This cost covers comprehensive management from the survey company, including survey development, deployment, data collection, analysis, and reporting.

Several factors can impact the scope and cost of the survey, including:

  • Number of customers surveyed
  • Complexity and length of survey questions
  • Additional components such as printing and postage for mail surveys
  • Inclusion of phone call reminders
  • Level of reporting and analysis required
  • Benchmarks requested for comparison

Adjusting these components can either increase or decrease the overall cost of the survey project.

If budget constraints are a concern, many experienced survey companies offer turn-key solutions that can help tailor the project to fit within budgetary constraints.

💡 The Key Takeaway: While there's no fixed cost for conducting customer surveys, it's essential to communicate your budget to the survey vendor. They can offer suggestions and adjustments to ensure the survey aligns with your financial constraints.

Customer Survey Timeline

The duration of a customer survey project can vary depending on factors such as the chosen methodology, the complexity of the survey, and the size of the target audience.

Typically, online or email customer surveys take approximately 4 to 5 weeks to complete from project kickoff to reporting.

  1. Once the agreement is signed and returned, the survey setup and kickoff phase usually take about 1 week.
  2. The fieldwork phase, where the survey is actively administered, typically lasts for 2 to 3 weeks.
  3. Finally, the reporting phase, where data analysis and report generation occur, takes about 1 week after fieldwork is closed.

The timeline for customer surveys can be accelerated if prompt feedback and sign-off are provided or if a simplified deliverable, such as a topline summary report, is sufficient.

Here's a breakdown of the typical timelines for different survey methodologies:

Online or email customer survey:

  • Best case: 1 to 2 weeks
  • Typical: 4 to 5 weeks

Paper or mail customer survey:

  • Best case: 4 to 6 weeks
  • Typical: 8 to 10 weeks

Paper or mail surveys generally take longer due to the additional time required for printing, assembly, mailing, transit, and data entry processes.

💡 The Key Takeaway: The duration of a customer survey project depends on the chosen methodology. Online surveys offer faster data collection and analysis compared to paper-based surveys, making them a preferred choice for quick and cost-effective insights.

Contact Our Third-Party Customer Survey Firm

Drive Research is a national market research company specializing in customer surveys. We have partnered with organizations across various industries to write, program, and analyze surveys so that they can make decisions based on data, not assumptions.

Interested in getting a proposal or quote from our company? Contact us and share your objectives. We’ll create a customized scope of work for your project with step-by-step details.


emily carroll about the author

Emily Rodgers

A SUNY Cortland graduate, Emily has taken her passion for social and content marketing to Drive Research as the Marketing Manager. She has earned certificates for both Google Analytics and Google AdWords.

Learn more about Emily, here.


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