Obviously the final quantifiable measure of a success story can be gauged in the monthly statistics: How many customers did you keep, and how many cancelled after their first month? That is your ultimate measurement of success, but outside of that, how many webmasters really know what people liked and what they didn't like? Some would say that the site logs show a relative popularity of a feature, video, or gallery and hence demonstrate a favored event or feature. I would submit that is not necessarily so, as page views exhibit an element of curiosity, perhaps even the effectiveness of the "title" or advertised response to a page, but not an effective gauge of the enjoyment of a page. To gauge that you need to dig a little deeper.
This is where surveys come into play. Surveys have been used throughout the commercial establishment for decades and take a variety of formats. Commercial entities have long recognized the importance of knowing what their customers thought, as a stepping stone to a bigger and better market share. The problem with surveys is that everyone started doing it, many were rather long winded and consumers just got tired of spending time to fill them out. Pop a dialog box up on the screen asking if your customer had time to participate in a short survey, and eight out of 10 times that box will be closed with no action.
So, how then do you get consumers to give you their thoughts with any kind of consistency? The most effective means of accomplishing this is through to use of what I call "Relative Micro Surveys." These are single question inquiries, which require no thoughtful input, takes them to no other screens and which are built into your site's normal functions. These can be incorporated into "Next" links and "Exit to Menu" links – in other words built into your site's navigation. For example, if I wanted to gauge customer response to a gallery they just viewed; I might use something like this on my gallery page as an exit option:
Return to main menu
• Recommend This
• Pretty Average
• Not Recommended
Clicking on either of the links would seamlessly deliver the customer to the next section or menu they expected with no further hassles. However, behind the scenes at the server level, a PHP or Perl script registers the response to a database or flat file counter. That in turn can be later used to provide a much better picture of what a customer thought than you could ever get out of a site log.
Properly used, a webmaster could then begin to form a consensus of what people liked and what they didn't like and focus their efforts in support of that data. This kind of "Micro Survey" can be adapted to almost anything in a commercial pay site: galleries, features, commentary, articles – you name it the possibilities are diverse and dynamic.
Other techniques that can be used to gauge consumer interests would include exit interviews or surveys. When you have a customer immediately cancel a recurring membership soon after sign up, shoot them off an inquiry asking why and inquiring as how your site might better fit their expectations? Inquiries of this nature may be met with the same two out of 10 response factor that an ordinary survey might meet with, but chances are if the outgoing member has a strong impression about something one way or another, they will likely tell you about it. Even if it is strongly negative, you are one step closer to understanding what your customers need and want.
The issue of customer retention is based mostly on member satisfaction. Any big program operator will tell you that recurring memberships have been steadily falling off in recent years. This may be a product of over exposure, consumer budget or thrift, desire for variety, a fear of previous abusive practices, or maybe even the desire to get more for less. In either of these cases, it's your job to figure out what factors are contributing to your customer retention ratio and apply that knowledge to effect changes that begin to remold those issues in your favor. To that end, there is really only one way to know what they are thinking, and that is to ask. If you are relying on your system logs to give you an insight into this, you are very likely getting a skewed view of what is most important to your customers – "satisfaction."