How to create a customer survey using Google Docs Forms

One of my clients wanted to create a survey to send to her customers, and asked me how I would recommend setting one up. I suggested using Google Docs.

Survey graphicOne of my clients wanted to create a survey to send to her customers, and asked me how I would recommend setting one up.

Since her budget is limited, I recommended going with something free. I know of at least two good free survey platforms, Survey Monkey and Google Docs. In this case, I steered her towards Google Docs, since Survey Monkey would have limited her to only ten questions, and she needed a longer survey for her purposes.

Don’t be put off by the fact Google Docs are free. You can create a very professional-looking survey with Google Forms.

Setting up a customer survey in Google Docs is easy. Here’s how, in x easy steps:

1. If you haven’t already, you’ll need to set up a free Google account. You can do this here.

2. Click on “Drive” in the menu bar at the top of the page.

(If you are accessing Drive from your Gmail or other Google account page, you can find it by clicking the little “Apps” grid in the upper left.)

3. In Google Drive, click on the “Create” button on the upper left.

4. From the drop down, choose “Form.”

5. This will pop up a window where you can type in the title of your survey and choose a theme for its appearance. (We chose “Purpleicious.”)

6.Click OK.

7. Now it’s time to fill in the questions for your survey. In addition to the question, it will allow you to select the type of question (multiple choice, text, etc.) and/or ask for information (date, etc.)

7. If you want more than one question, click “add item” to fill in the next one.

8. When you have entered all your questions, scroll down just a bit to select what your viewers will experience once they’ve finished the survey (Google forms lets you choose from several options – just click the box(es) to select your choice(s) ), and hit “Send Form” in the lower left.

9. You’ll get a pop up that offers you a link to your survey, as well as the option to share on your social networks and/or email your survey to your contacts.

10. Once you have copied the link and/or shared your survey, it will prompt you to create a new Google spreadsheet (or a new page in an existing spreadsheet.) You do this by going back into Drive clicking the “Create” button again as in Step 3, but this time you’ll want to select “Spreadsheet” rather than “Form.” Your customers’ responses will appear in this spreadsheet (which you can find listed in your Google Drive) when people start filling out your survey.

And that’s pretty much it! 🙂

Surveys are great for all sorts of applications. My client wanted hers to use as part of a free diagnostic service for new customers, but they’re also excellent for getting feedback from customers, testing marketability of a potential new product, etc.

Do you use surveys in your business? Do tell!

5 Simple Ways to Let Your Customers Know You Care

A little bit of personal attention can make the difference between a prospect who walks away and one who converts to a happy customer – potentially bringing in even more business through word of mouth.

Man playing guitar
It’s OK to strum your guitar while speaking to customers. Just be sure to look up and smile while you do it!
Illustration ©2013 by Anne Michelsen, courtesy of Kids Celebrating Earth

Back when I worked in retail music, I’d frequently hear comments like this from customers:

“To be honest, I was going to rent my son’s trumpet at the other store in town. But I walked in there and the store tender was too busy picking at his guitar to pay me any attention. So I walked out and came here instead. I’m so glad I did. Thanks for all your personal attention. I’m going to tell my friends.”

A little bit of personal attention can make the difference between a prospect who walks away and one who converts to a happy customer – potentially bringing in even more business through word of mouth.

It doesn’t have to be anything earth shaking, either. In my case, all I did was offer a genuine smile and a “What can I do for you today?” to anyone who came through the door. No matter their age or the condition of their clothes.

But what if you’re not involved in brick and mortar retail? What if you never actually see a single one of your customers?

No matter. There are still plenty of ways to help your prospects feel appreciated and acknowledged. When they do, they’ll be so much more likely to stay around and buy.

Here are five things you can do to roll out that virtual red carpet to anyone who comes your way:

  1. Speak to your customer’s needs and desires. This is so basic, I’m sure you’ve heard it a bazillion times before. But I still come across home pages that are nothing but rants on How Great We Are, with nary a thought given to what the customer wants. (Ironically, the worst offenders I’ve come across have been marketing agencies.) Seriously, you might as well go play your guitar to the wall.
  2. Use language your customer can relate to. Ever read an article or white paper you thought might be useful – only to abandon it midway because you just don’t have time to read every paragraph twice? Business writing should be easy to read. Period. Think middle school reading level. And no, that doesn’t mean you’re talking down to your reader. (For example, this article rates at grade level 5.2). It just helps busy people stay focused.
  3. Embed a smile in your words. I have one corporate client who is very formal in his emails to me. Every time I got an email from him I used to wonder if he really wanted to be working with me. This went on for months, until one day I stopped by his office to take care of some business in person. He came out grinning from ear to ear, loudly praising my work to everyone in sight. (Kind of embarrassing, but in a good way!) Now, I’m not picking on my client. He’s not dealing with customers. But if you are, make sure the warm feelings you have towards them come through in every single thing they read from you.
  4. Offer something of value. Of course, your customers want value from your products or services. But how can they be sure they’ll get it from you? When you give them something useful, they don’t have to wonder. Free samples are great. So are coupons. But information is often at least as effective. Try a tip sheet, white paper, or idea book that explains fun or useful things other customers have done with your products.
  5. Keep delivering value. Once you have permission to contact a customer, don’t stop. They’re guaranteed to forget about you if they do. Keep drip feeding them good stuff via newsletters, blogs, or even postcards. Just be sure it’s relevant to their needs and desires. And don’t forget to make it easy and fun to read!

What’s your favorite way to let your customers know you love them? Post it below. If it’s a good tip I’ll tweet it out!

One Company’s Journey Towards Supply Chain Transparency: Interview with Founder Douglas Farquhar

No one knows the challenges of green product sourcing more than Douglas Farquar, founder of Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Doug about the Green Products Standard – his company’s proprietary green product rating system – and the rewards and challenges he and his team experienced in developing and implementing it.

stainless steel water bottles
Figuring out what’s “green” about these water bottles is hard enough, let alone comparing their environmental footprint to, say, a ream of copy paper.

What makes a “green” product green? A simple question, but not so easy to answer. Almost no product is “green” across the board – some features are greener than others, and one has to weigh the environmental pros and cons.

This, of course, is one of the biggest challenges faced by businesses trying to offer more responsible choices – and by consumers trying to make those choices.  The whole scene is confusing, and too often results in consumers just throwing up their hands and giving up – either blindly purchasing whatever “seems” like the best option, or walking away from responsible purchasing altogether.

One Company’s Journey Towards Transparency

No one knows the challenges of green product sourcing more than Douglas Farquhar, founder of He launched his online business in 2007 with two goals:

  1. To create a one stop shop for eco friendly products, and
  2. To offer a way for consumers to intelligently compare products based on their environmental impact.

In order to meet the second goal, developed a comprehensive proprietary rating system – the Green Products Standard – for all products sold on their site. The Green Products Standard reviews and rates products based on their environmental impact in four key areas: source materials, manufacturing, materials and disposal.

Products are scored from 1-100 in each of these categories, plus each product is given an overall score. (It’s important to note that a positive score, even a low one, still indicates that a product is more environmentally friendly than typical products on the market.) This scoring method is notable because it enables consumers to compare all’s products at a glance – making it much easier to make informed environmental choices.

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Doug about the Green Products Standard, and the rewards and challenges he and his team experienced in developing and implementing it.

Anne Michelsen: What prompted you to implement the Green Products Standard?

Douglas Farquhar: At the time (that we launched, I wasn’t always able to understand objectively why & to what extent a product was green. There are a lot of certifying organizations, but they are mostly product or industry focused. For example, if I want to buy copy paper, I know the FSC certification is very good and I look for that. But if I want a water bottle, how do I make sure I’m making as good a decision?

We take trust very seriously – it’s even reflected in our tagline – and I think the Green Product Standard is a pillar of trust for our customers.

Anne: Please tell me about the process you went through to bring the Green Products Standard into being.

Doug: We started out taking it from a laymen’s perspective. Some of these certifications you need to be a PhD to make sense of them, your eyes kind of blur over. We wanted to put it in plain English and in layman’s terms, to make it accessible to the average Joe.

It’s really a part of our product selection process. The initial part of identifying products is not particularly scientific. It’s a gut reaction – “oh, that one looks really good.” That’s how our product selection starts. Then we get samples of the product itself. We want to know that it’s something of quality, that it will last longer than the warranty. We also use the products make sure our customers will have a good experience.

We then ask the supplier to participate in an online questionnaire. There’s often some back and forth communication to make sure we understand the information they supply, and they understand what we’re looking for. We use an algorithm to come up with a rating. Once we accept a product, at the bottom of the product page there’s a link to a full 2 page report for each product.

Once we got the basic framework worked out, we ran it by a number of people for feedback – sustainability consultants in different areas. Our basic theory was, the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. We took that approach and threw it against the wall to get people thinking.

I shudder to think back on it – it’s involved several thousand ratings. It was – is ― a huge endeavor.

Anne: What has been the reaction from suppliers?

Doug: We’ve had varying reactions. Some are happy to complete the product questionnaires, some do it grudgingly.

Our merit rating is 0 -99 (it’s technically impossible to reach 100.) One supplier – her products rated in the 60’s – only met the threshold for two of the four basic components. She was fixated on the fact that her product rated a 68, and applied it to her academic experience – “my product is not a D+ product.” What I couldn’t seem to get across to her was that we only apply the standard to products we’ve already identified as green. By virtue of being rated, you’re several steps ahead of most; a 68 actually puts you in the top quartile. But she opted not to go further.

We’ve had some manufacturers, though, who got a rating and said, “what can we do to get a better rating?”

I look at this whole thing as a journey, a marathon rather than a sprint.  Whether it’s the consumer changing their purchasing habits, or the manufacturers changing their products, we’re still moving along for a greener world.

Having a number is a good place to start a conversation. Scores are something people are familiar with and have a good understanding of. Especially in the e-commerce world, we’re all familiar with comparison shopping. A rating system like ours allows customers to have an apples-to-apples comparison to, say, the water bottle and the copy paper.

Anne: And that’s great, especially if they’re looking for a gift and need to compare two very unlike things.  How have customers responded?

Doug: Historically, our light green customers have taken more of a blind approach. They just want to know it’s “green.”  Our dark green customers often have a very specific belief – all things from China are horrible, all plastic is bad.

Of the green buyers, some really like the Green Product Standard a lot and some are oblivious.

With the poor economy the greenwashing situation has become a bigger problem. (We’ve noticed that) more traditional manufacturers and suppliers are trying to put a new spin on their products, and are seeing green as an opportunity to, if not grow, then at least maintain their business. You certainly have traditional stores that suggest that (a product is) green, but it’s often a complete mystery why it’s “green.”

A lot of times the info as to why and to what extent a product is green, is nowhere near the product. You have to go search for it. Or, you’ve found the accreditation and now you’ve got to go find the product.

(Both) transparency and easy access to information are important considerations if you’re trying to avoid greenwashing. Most people don’t have the time or interest in doing the research. They just want to know it’s safe and eco friendly, so they can buy it and move on. (Our program) gives consumers easy access to reliable information they can base their decisions on.

Anne: It’s interesting to hear you make the distinction between different types of consumers. Can you elaborate? Do you have an idea what percentage of your customer base you’d describe as “light” vs. “dark” green?

Doug: No, not really. We get approached from all sorts of different angles.

When we started we were somewhat confused by the LOHAS consumer. We thought people would want to vote with their wallets. Clearly there are consumers out there that do that with some regularity, but regrettably they are the minority. I think it’s somewhat exacerbated by the economy.

Personal safety and health are often the biggest motivators, and by the way, if it’s softer on the planet that’s icing on the cake.

I think we’re starting to see a bit of a change. Selfishness continues to be a motivating factor, but over the last 12 months with some of these weather conditions and gas prices you’re starting to see some of the non LOHAS consumers turning the lights on in their heads. With Sandy, we started selling solar powered flashlights, etc. That motivation was more necessity, but it seemed to come along with a realization that green has merit.

(Interest in going green) comes from all sorts of different places. Sometimes it’s just awareness. Like, “I didn’t know there’s a solar powered flashlight, or biodegradable garbage bags.”

I think we’re facing both a challenge and an opportunity. Ask 100 people if they’re interested in going green, and most will say yes, but there’s a big gap between saying and doing.  Any time we can bridge that gap, whether it’s simple education or making a personal connection, it makes a difference.

Anne: Are you aware of anyone else who’s doing this? Wal Mart comes to mind with their sustainability index – do you know of any others?

Doug: WalMart has some areas where it has a bit of a black eye. As the largest retailer in the world they have an unbelievable opportunity, but I think they’re backed off lately. For them it was more this conceptual effort, where it was going to get pushed down through the supply chain.

The Good Guide is a really good resource, although they were just bought by Underwriters Laboratory – I don’t know what effect that will have. I think they’ve done a good job. But they wouldn’t talk with the manufacturers, they just pulled publicly available information. And they have more of a social focus.

Anne: Tell me about your new website,

Doug: From a business model, we hope to have a portfolio of green business websites.  We’re developing, we’ve got in the works, etc. We were going to develop blogs for each one, and thought maybe there was something we could do that would apply to all our ecommerce websites.

And hopefully something interactive. Every time we do a show or something, a person waltzes up and looks at a water bottle or something and asks questions. is very new – we’re still working on the questions and answers section. But we hope to offer something of value. To get instant answers, obviously, Google & other search engines provide answers, but sometimes there are things that can’t be answered in a Google search. We’re hoping to offer a place where people can come with their green product questions and get them answered.

Anne: Linked In just dumped their Answers section – are you thinking of jumping in and filling the gap here for green topics, inviting lots of interaction, or will it be more set up as an authority site?

Doug: We’re going to let the interest and demand dictate what direction it will take.

Anne: Thank you, Doug – it’s been a real pleasure speaking to you!

Doug: You’re very welcome!

Please enter your comments and questions about Douglas Farquhar’s insights and/or the Green Products Standard below!


 Anne Michelsen was not paid for this article.

Six Ways Articles Can Add Power to Your Company’s Presence

Don’t overlook the humble article as a means of generating business. When used intelligently, articles can more than pay for the time or expense of writing them. Here are a few ways they can benefit your company.

Article published online
This article, published on green business site, scored me a sale. Article marketing can help power your business, too.

Don’t overlook the humble article as a means of generating business. When used intelligently, articles can more than pay for the time or expense of writing them. Here are six ways they can benefit your company:

  1. Becoming an author is an excellent way to establish yourself as an expert and build credibility for your business. Articles are by far the fastest and easiest way to get published.
  2. Nothing beats free publicity. Articles are great publicity generators, especially if they get picked up by a major news source or local publication.
  3. You can use articles to promote a product, or as part of a new product launch. Why not post a copy of your published article prominently in your place of business, or use it as a trade show handout? People are more likely to read and believe articles than sales copy. Just stick to good, useful, informative content and steer clear of hype.
  4. You can often re-use an article on your blog or in your company newsletter. Be sure to mention where it was first published, or just write up a little summary and link to the original article.
  5. Use articles to gauge popular interest. When you hit upon one that generates a lot of response, leverage it into more opportunity – for instance, a speaking engagement on that topic.
  6. If you would like better search rankings and online traffic, articles can do that for you, too. Each time you publish an article online, the site it’s published on should include your bio and a link to your site. (You can often include links within the body copy, too, where appropriate.) Google likes backlinks, and rewards you with higher rankings. They also provide another way for people to find your site!

Over time, article marketing can outperform traditional advertising in terms of ROI. This is especially true when used as part of a well-thought-out inbound marketing strategy.

The big drawback to article writing? It takes time. It also takes writing skill. But don’t worry – if the thought of writing makes your skin crawl, you can still reap the benefits of article and other content marketing without spending the time and effort. Just drop me a line – I’ll be happy to help!

Green Business: Where to share your eco-educational messages

There are as many avenues to educating your customers as there are ways to market to them. And the good news is, all your education attempts add up to effective marketing, too! Here are some good places to start.

There are as many avenues to educating your customers as there are ways to market to them.  And the good news is, all your education attempts add up to effective marketing, too!  Here are some good places to start:

·        Write articles about green issues and (depending upon your target market) submit them to local, national/international or trade publications.

·        Hold workshops and invite your customers and prospects.

·        Exhibit at trade fairs and business expos – and make sure you have plenty of good information to engage people and get them thinking about you as the expert.

·        Get speaking engagements. This will educate people about sustainability as well as making them aware of your business and what you offer and building trust in you as an authority.  If your business is local, try contacting churches in your area.  A lot of them are really starting to get interested in sustainability as a spiritual act.  They are hungry to know more and will thank you for the favor of coming out to speak!  (Don’t try to do a hard sell when you’re speaking to church groups, but it’s usually fine to give them informational pieces with your logo and contact info.)  Business groups are also good ones to speak to.  Try your local Chamber of Commerce.

·        Offer information kits, free reports and case studies to your clientele.  When you give people helpful, in-depth information on topics that interest them they develop a sense of gratitude and relationship to you, and are more likely to turn to you as an authority.

·        Keep educating your existing customers. Send a newsletter or e-zine out at least quarterly; once a month is even better.  Including environmental education messaging on packaging is another great idea.  Make it fun for your customers by holding contests and other events they can participate in and invite their friends.

·        Blog regularly (once or twice a week is fine).  When you blog on a topic of interest to your social media friends, post it and tweet it out.  (But only if it truly is good information and not just a thinly disguised sales pitch.)

·        Make videos about the same topics you speak or write about.  Your videos don’t have to be high tech as long as you present good ideas.  Even on a limited budget you can buy a little flip video camera for under $50 that will do the trick.

Get in the habit of videotaping any speeches you make, or even just capturing your thoughts on camera in your office, or documenting the positive changes your company is making. Put your videos to work for you by posting them on your blog, putting them on a CD or thumb drive and giving them to prospects or customers, using them as premiums for lead generation, or distributing them to the same kinds of groups you speak to.

·        Don’t forget your website. Add articles, case studies, videos and the like as extra pages.  Doing so can help with your search engine rankings, increase the amount of time people spend on your site,  and increase the chances of people linking to your site and/or coming back for multiple visits.

The important thing to remember is that consumer education is an ongoing process.  Do it consistently, one idea at a time, and always tie your statements back to positive personal benefits.  Over time, your efforts will make a difference!

Do you repeat yourself in your marketing? If not, why not?

How to educate your customers effectively without causing confusion or turning them off

Part 3: Repetition Rules

Your audience may not have anywhere near your understanding of environmental issues.  Almost certainly they’re not nearly as aware as you are of the benefits your product brings to them personally and to the planet.  You may even have to overcome some deep-seated irrational or emotional barriers in your prospects.

It’s a very good idea to repeat your messaging in as many ways as you can. Try delivering the same idea via different media.  Use various examples and analogies to get your point across.  Be both persistent and consistent.

For example, you can speak about a topic at a conference, blog about it, offer an in-depth white paper about it, shoot a video about it, create an interactive survey addressing it,  put it on an audio disc, hold a workshop or teleseminar, tweet about it, etc.

Don’t worry about overdoing it.  Most people are so inundated with information that it takes a few times for a message to sink in.  Also, everyone has their preferred way to absorb information.  By sending your messages out using a variety of media (on- and offline short and long copy, video, audio, email, social media, live events, etc.), you’ll reach a much broader segment of your targeted population.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Kids develop preferences and beliefs through their experiences. You can help your customers do the same.

You know how sometimes kids say the wisest things?

The other day I was down in the basement putting in a load of laundry.  Pretty routine – except I was trying out this new detergent.

Actually it’s not detergent at all, it’s these nut shells that contain soap-like compounds.  You put a few in a little muslin bag and throw it in with your wash, and the clothes come out clean.

Like I said, I was trying it out for the first time.  And I had my doubts.  How could these silly nuts possibly clean a whole load of wash?  But when I unloaded the machine, the clothes smelled sweet and fresh.

“WOW!  These things really WORK!” I exclaimed.

My daughter looked at me in surprise.  “Of course they do!  Why wouldn’t they?

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Her comment stopped me cold.  Indeed – why wouldn’t they work?

I realized that as much as I believe in the need for environmental products, I still struggle with the deeply embedded cultural belief that more technologically “advanced” products will do the job better.

My daughter, on the other hand, has been growing up listening to my lectures (and, I have to admit, sometimes my lip service) about environmental values.  More importantly, for the past eleven years she’s observed my admittedly imperfect striving to live in harmony with Nature.

Clara herself thrived on Nature’s perfect food as an infant.  She was present during the many La Leche League meetings I led, helping other breastfeeding moms nurture their babies as Nature intended, and used to carry her dolls around in her own little organic sling.

She watched as I composted kitchen and garden scraps and returned them to the Earth, enriching our garden soil…then again as the seeds we planted in that soil blossomed into thriving plants…

…and she feasted on the bounty our garden provided – without unnatural chemicals or fossil fuels.

She helped clean our home with vinegar and baking soda, and never picked up the idea that “sqeaky-clean” can only be attained with the help of chemical cleaners.

In the end, she’s internalized it.  Clara has accepted – at a gut level – the power of natural products.


It’s the power of experience – and of demonstration.

The Power of Experience

Remember the old parenting joke, “Do what I say, not what I do?” It’s funny because we all know it doesn’t work.

In marketing, too, as in parenting, we’ve got to do more than talk about our products.

Did you ever have a Kirby sales rep come to your door?  Sure, they talk about the vacuum cleaner and what it will do for you.  But the real magic in their presentation comes when they dump a bunch of dirt on your carpet and vacuum it up with your own machine – and then throw a filter into the Kirby vac’s hose and suck up a ton of dirt out of the very same spot – thus proving through experience the benefits of owning their product.

Do you think they’d sell nearly as many vacs if all they did was talk?

Not on your life.

Experiencing is believing.  One of the reasons many people still distrust the effectiveness of green products is because they have no experience using them.

In-person demonstrations are an ideal way to dispel doubts about a product.  But it’s not always possible.

Here are a few ways to show (rather than just tell) your prospects just how effective your product is, even if you’re restricted to print or web:

  • Free samples
  • Videos
  • Photographs
  • Diagrams, charts and graphs
  • Testimonials (yes, it’s telling, but it allows your prospect to vicariously share the experience of a satisfied customer.)
  • Stories (again, it’s telling, but storytelling activates the “experience” part of the brain.)
  • Analogy – if you can link your product to something they’re familiar with, you’ll tap in to their already existing experience.

Can you think of any more?  If you can, share them below!

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer who helps Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s weekly tips and insights into Green marketing and sales writing, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.

For more information about Soap Nuts and other eco cleaning products, or to find out about a business opportunity that will help you make a living while making a difference, visit

Meta Tags – Back in Vogue, with a Story to Tell

Surprise!  Meta tags are back in fashion.

According to Richard Gilmore’s  recent post on, “Your Meta Descriptions Now Affect Your Google Rankings Again,”  Google’s new search procedures make it more important than ever to keep your meta descriptions compelling.

Hopefully you can sit back smugly at this point, saying, “Well, duh!  Of course my meta descriptions are compelling.  They’re the little snippets human searchers use to decide if my site is worth visiting.”

But if you’ve been a little lax about it, it’s time to sit up and take notice.  Maybe you didn’t know that Google searches get personalized to the user.  So if you click on a site several times, it will start coming up higher in search rankings on your computer than it will in a generic search.

This process has been going on for some time for those people logged into their Google accounts.  But now, Google’s shot it up with growth hormones.

Recently, Google switched to storing search data on browser cookies, so everyone gets personalized results whether they’re signed in or not.

Scary?  Maybe.  But as marketers we’d better pay attention.

The human element is more important than ever. That makes the story you tell about your business more important than ever.

Make it a good one, and let is permeate everything about your business.  Including your meta tags.

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer specializing in helping Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into marketing, sales writing and sustainability, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.