Collecting customer feedback can earn you valuable insights about your audience and help you leave competitors in the dust…
But how can you make sure the feedback you collect is accurate and leads to direct improvement in your business?
How can you design your surveys so that they actually get completed in the first place?
We’ve combined our own experience as a survey software provider with research from top universities, customer service blogs, and more to bring you this mega-list of factors for ensuring successful customer feedback surveys:
1. Have one clear objective in mind before you start:
Before you start writing your survey’s questions, be sure to give some serious thought to what exactly it is you want to learn by conducting the survey in the first place.
For example, you might be an eCommerce company trying to find out which products your customers would most like to see added to your inventory. Or maybe you’re a SaaS (software as a service) company like us, and you want to survey your free users to find out why they don’t feel motivated to upgrade to your paid plan.
Whatever your objective, define it clearly before you begin. Also, try to stick to just one objective per survey.
Letting this singular objective guide your question writing will ensure you end up with much more useful, actionable feedback in the end.
2. Know your audience:
Before you begin writing questions, make sure your audience is as well-defined as your survey objective. This will help you write relevant questions and use questions relevant language, plus it can help you figure out the best places to share your survey.
For example, is your target respondent a customer in general? An unsatisfied customer? First-time customers only? You’ll likely approach a survey differently depending on the group it’s aimed at.
3. Ask only one thing per question:
One of the rookie mistakes of survey making is to write out long, complex questions. Not only can these be confusing, but they sometimes make it seem as though you’re asking multiple questions within one. Just as your survey should have one clear objective, every question should have just one clear ask.
Here’s an example of why ‘double barreled questions’ are problematic:
“Do you think the city should spend more money on parks and roadways? Y / N”
If someone thinks the city should spend more money on roadways but not on parks, or vice versa, they’re going to have a tough time giving an answer that accurately reflects their views.
4. Remember, surveys are still a touchpoint between customers and your brand:
The tone of voice in your survey questions and any accompanying instructions should be an extension of your brand – make customers feel at home, not like you’ve hired a market research robot to write you a feedback survey.
5. Avoid assumptions:
The more you assume when surveying, the more chances you give yourself to get something wrong or confuse a respondent by thinking that they know something that they don’t. It’s best to avoid assumptions and explain everything clearly when you ask each question. The industry-leading blog of Help Scout backs us up here.
6. Double check for double meanings:
Check your survey copy for any wording that has a double meaning or that might be offensive or have a certain connotation. Sometimes this can create answer bias, or it might just rub someone the wrong way and paint your company negatively. Your customer profile will be your best guide here. You do have a customer profile, right?
7. Avoid framing questions in a way that creates potential response bias:
Question bias is one of the biggest reasons for customer feedback to be inaccurate and therefore fairly useless to the company doing the surveying. It comes into play when you write a question in a way that elicits a non-objective mindset.
In simpler terms: Don’t lead your respondents toward giving a certain answer.
Let’s look an example of a question that introduces bias in its phrasing:
“Some experts have said that watermelon are healthier than oranges. Do you think that eating a watermelon per day or an orange per day is better for you?”
Wording a question in this manner is obviously problematic. Not only did you introduce an opinion directly related to the question you’re asking, you said ‘experts’ said it was so.
As soon as someone reads this, their self-knowledge starts getting second guessed as they think things like “well if an expert says it…”
This is an exaggerated example, but the point remains.
Here’s a more subtle one:
“We’ve recently improved our service with voice commands. Do you find the voice command feature helpful?”
It’s not as pushy as the fruit question, but stating that you’ve “improved” your service by adding voice commands already frames it positively, right before you ask for an objective opinion.
If you want honest, unbiased feedback, it’s best to do everything you can not to influence responses once way or the other.
8. Avoid ‘Agree or Disagree’ type questions:
According to Harvard University Program On Survey Research’s own guidelines, asking respondents whether they agree or disagree with a statement has been shown to create a bias toward ‘agree,’ so it may be best to avoid these types of questions.
9. Have an offline option when applicable:
A physical business might realize that their best bet is giving users a way to complete surveys on-site / out in the real world. A tablet displaying a survey near a store exit or at a checkout counter might be the way to go in this case. On the other hand, an online-based business might do better emailing out a survey link or even embedding it on their checkout page.
10. Keep your survey short, 10-15 questions max:
Our primate friends over at SurveyMonkey (yeah, we’re competitors, but credit where credit’s due!) decided to study how the total question count of a survey affected the amount of time spent, on average, per answer.
What they found was that the longer surveys got, the less time respondents would spend per question. That rate of speeding up also got more and more severe the longer the survey went on.
And it makes sense: I’m certainly guilty of giving thoughtful answers for the first few questions of a survey, but then speeding up and getting impatient as I realize the darn thing is going on forever.
A good rule of thumb is to keep surveys, at a maximum, 10-15 questions. If you can go shorter than this and still walk away with enough information, that’s even better!
11. Brand your surveys:
In addition to keeping your brand voice in mind (tip #4), include a company logo or background. This is especially important when sharing your surveys with customers online or via email, where people are constantly having to evaluate the legitimacy of the links they click and the sites they go to.
12. Give an estimate of how long your survey will take:
It’s a great idea to include an accurate time estimate in the beginning of your survey to give your customers an idea of how much of their time they’ll need to invest.
For short surveys, this will likely boost response rates. For longer surveys, you may lose people, but your responses will be more accurate (because people won’t start rushing half way through your survey, wondering how much longer they have left).
13. Do not mislead with your time estimate:
Don’t be shady here; if a survey can be completed in 2 minutes, but will likely take 3-5, play it safe and just be honest. Don’t risk pissing people off after they’ve agreed to hand you over their attention.
14. Put your most interesting questions first:
Lead off with more interesting or higher value questions to help get the information most important to you early on, and to lessen those who drop out after seeing your initial questions. AKA: Please don’t lead off with ‘what is your email address?’
15. Save demographic questions for the end:
For the same reasons as number 14 above, save questions regarding demographic information for the end of the survey.
Think of it this way: If someone only answers the first question of your survey, would you rather know that a 34 year old female said absolutely nothing, or get some useful feedback from an unknown customer? Sure, it’s best to have the whole picture, but you can do more with partial information if it’s actionable.
16. Include a progress bar:
Another way to help your respondents feel like their time is respected is to use a survey builder that can display a progress bar (hint: we are one). Progress bars can help respondents see that they’re progressing through a survey. For short surveys, this will likely increase completion rates, but may have the opposite effect on exceptionally long surveys.
17. Use question logic to avoid asking respondents questions that are irrelevant to them:
‘Question logic’ is a feature of many survey tools which allows respondents to skip over irrelevant questions or be forwarded to a followup question based on how they’ve answered a previous question.
For example, if you ask a person “Do you like ice cream?”, question logic would allow those who answer “No” to skip over the next question asking what their favorite flavor is.
This saves customers time from having to answer questions that aren’t relevant to them.
Unfortunately, it does not save them from a life ice cream-less misery.
18. Let respondents skip long or involved questions:
If you anticipate a question being a stumbling block – looking too long and involved, for example – your first effort should be to make it more consumable.
If you can’t, however, feel free to make a question skip-able, especially if you’re worried respondents will drop out and not complete the rest of the survey.
Again, this comes down to weighing the risk of people skipping this question, and the information that you will lose, versus the chance that they drop out completely and don’t answer the rest of the questions remaining in your survey.
19. Use exact values for ratings and evaluation:
Because different words mean different things to different people, it’s important to never give phrases like “most,” “many,” or “very few” as answer choices. What they represent to one customer likely doesn’t reflect the reality of another respondent.
Instead, give exact number values so that everyone knows exactly what they’re saying in their answer.
20. Eliminate ‘jargon’ or language that could slow down question comprehension:
Make sure you’re in your target customer’s shoes when writing your questions, and adapt your language accordingly. This includes considering insider/industry jargon, reading level, and geographic vocabularies/local phrasing.
21. Double check for double meanings:
Check your survey copy for any wording that has a double meaning or that might be offensive or have a certain unwanted connotation. No one will judge you if you have to check over at UrbanDictionary.com to make sure a phrase isn’t communicating something you don’t want it to.
Sometimes this can create answer bias, or it might just rub someone the wrong way and paint your company negatively. Your customer profile will be your best guide here. You do have a customer profile, right?
22. Avoid surveying for cryptic qualities like ‘overall satisfaction’:
More specific questions that help you find out why customers are or aren’t satisfied are more likely to lead you to feedback you can actually do something with.
Knowing that your website crashes when a certain page is viewed in a mobile browser is much more helpful to you that just hearing that some users are ‘dissatisfied’ with your website.
23. Limit open-ended questions:
Open-ended questions give your customers a great opportunity to speak their minds, but having too many free-text or open-ended questions can slow your survey down and cause respondents to drop out.
Plus, freeform answers are harder to quantify than multiple choice, rating scales, etc.
24. Keep your rating scales consistent:
Keep rating scales as consistent as possible to avoid confusion and inaccurate data.
For example, let’s say both of the following questions are included in your survey:
“Please rate the quality of the service you received on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being very good and 1 being very poor.”
But then a question or two later…
“Please rank these 5 components of your in-store experience on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the most important to you and 5 being the least”
Now, you’ve used a 1-5 rating scale in two completely opposite ways, in which the “best” answer goes from 5 to 1, in a matter of a couple of questions.
Sure, many people will read carefully and respond correctly, but some won’t, and you’ll be left with data that doesn’t accurately reflect your customer opinions. Try to keep questions with similar answer schemes from flip-flopping.
25. Give customers a chance to tell you exactly what’s important to them:
While it’s a good idea to keep most of your questions quantitative (numerically measurable), make sure you are giving at least come opportunity for unique expression. A common way of executing this is an “Anything else you’d like to let us know?” type question at the end of survey with an open text field.
If people feel strongly enough about something that they’d write it out, then it’s probably in your best interest to give them an opportunity to do it.
26. Always have a ‘middle’ options:
When using rating scales or asking for categorized evaluations, always have a middle/neutral option. This has been shown to provide better data.
27. Organize your questions in an order that makes sense:
Create a logical progression in which related questions are grouped together and there are no weird topic leaps. Since you’re only trying to accomplish one feedback goal per survey (right?!) this shouldn’t be too difficult.
28. Include supplementary explanation and instruction when helpful:
Make sure you include any clarifying information or instruction that can help your customers better understand your questions. This might include a brief sentence after the main question that explains the rating scale used in the question, or further clarifies the types of information you’re trying to get with that question.
29. Don’t rely on anonymity for more responses:
People don’t care as much about privacy and anonymity these days. They say they do, and then their actions directly contradict it when they willing visit websites that track them, post about everything they do on social media, etc.
More helpful than the couple of extra responses you’ll get by promising complete respondent anonymity, will be the ability to follow up with individual respondents. And we’re not the only ones recommending you make sure you can trace responses.
A good idea is to disclose that you won’t share respondent info with outside parties, but would like to be able to get in touch personally.
30. Consider offering an incentive to boost response rate:
Consider offering an incentive for survey completion that is relevant to your customers. the right incentive can help you garner more responses and encourage more detailed answers (people may perceive being more thorough gives them a better chance of being chosen as a winner, even if that’s not the case).
31. But know there are (potential) downsides to incentives too:
Beware of offering a prize that creates bias, however.
If you offered a coupon for 10% off at your store/site, for example, the only people responding to your survey will likely be people who like your brand and already plan on shopping with you again (and therefore want the coupon).
People who have had negative experiences might just think “I don’t want a coupon for products I don’t even like!” and never give you valuable feedback on how you could improve or win them over.
Additionally, don’t make your prize be the classic ‘iPad giveaway’, because you may find a lot of people who aren’t interested in leaving thoughtful feedback at all breezing through your survey with quick, uninsightful answers just to get their name in the prize drawing.
32. Pre-populate any information that you can:
When possible, avoid sharing surveys that ask for redundant information, or information that might not be related to your survey’s goal but still necessary (contact info, for example).
As an example, if you’re sending out a survey via email already, don’t ask your customer to fill in their email address at the end of your survey if you can avoid it.
33. Give respondents an ‘out’:
While you may not want to let a customer completely skip a question, you should still consider giving them an “Other” or “Not Listed Here” option for questions where they may want to respond with something outside of your listed answers.
Remember, opinions vary greatly, and the whole logic behind surveying customers is the assumption that you don’t already know everything. For this reason, the options you think up for a multiple choice question might not cover everything.
For example, we tweeted out a fun survey a few weeks ago about toast preferences after seeing #NationalToastDay start to trend (yes, you read that right, there was a ‘Toast Day’ and you missed it).
When asking respondents what their favorite toast topping was, we wanted to make make choosing common toppings easy, so we used a multiple choice question rather than just making the question an open-ended text answer. That said, we also included an “Other” response, which forwarded respondents to a field in which they could write in their own favorite.
Without it, we would have never learned that a lot of people like “Marmite,” “cream cheese,” and “avocado” on their toast, ha.
34. Share your surveys where they’re most likely to be completed:
The biggest issue many businessesh ave in collecting feedback is getting people to actually take the time to fill out their surveys. While you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be forcing anyone to take your surveys, you can make it as easy as possible.
A crucial part is reaching your customers where they’re most likely to complete their survey. For example, you might email a link to your survey out at 5pm in the hopes that they have some time to fill it in on their phone during an evening commute.
Alternatively, you might embed your survey right on a checkout page or other essential step in your sales funnel to ensure it gets seen. Different still, you could request feedback on a social media network where you know your target demographic or customer congregates.
Consider how you can best get your survey in front of a customer when and where they’re most likely to complete it.
35. Track where your responses are coming from to identify the best places to ask for feedback in the future:
If possible, track where your responses come from, so that you can see if different audiences have different experiences with you. For example, different link to the same survey on Facebook, twitter, email, etc., and then separate answers by where they came from later on.
36. Don’t survey too often:
Because you’ll be targeting one specific purpose for each survey, it can be tempting to send out various surveys in order to collect different kinds of information.
Remember that completing your customer feedback survey means someone making the conscious choice of giving you the value associated with their time. Don’t undervalue this by surveying too often; your customers will probably get annoyed.
37. Share your results to encourage participation (plus, it’ll keep you accountable):
If your survey covers a topic customers themselves might find interesting or useful, consider disclosing that you will (anonymously) release the results of the survey publicly when it’s done.
Not only might this encourage participation, but it will keep you accountable: Releasing feedback publicly means putting areas of both praise and needed improvement front and center – giving you a kick in the butt to do something about it. In most cases, customers will appreciate this transparency and find it refreshing.
38. Remove extreme outliers from group data:
Opinions far away from the bulk of your data are outliers, and they can skew your aggregate data, so it’s a good idea to remove them from quantified averages.
Even their answers to open-ended questions should be taken with a grain of salt when compared to your other responses.
39. But you should still follow up with outliers:
That said, those with extreme praise or criticism are both prime candidates for followup. Reach out to as many of these people as possible to thank them for their kind words or remedy any issues they’ve encountered.
40. Actually, you should follow up with everyone:
Even better, followup with everyone. Depending on response volume, this may be impractical, but do your best to let people know their opinions were both heard and appreciated. This will open a personal dialogue with your brand and make them more likely to respond to you the next time you need customer input on something.
41. Actually do something with the feedback you receive:
If there’s one thing you take away from this list, it should be that you should actually do something with the feedback you receive. One of the biggest reasons that people give for not participating in a customer feedback survey is something along the lines of “what’s the point? They’re not going to actually do anything about it!”
It’s a sad but not undeserved perception. If you’re going to take the time to collect customer feedback, make sure that you’re ready to act on your feedback and follow up with customers based on what they had to say.
For most customers, this simple step will put you in a league of your own.
42. Thank your respondents!
You don’t know how to collect customer feedback until you know how to be thankful. Your customers just gave you their precious time – be polite and make sure you say “thanks!” at the end of the survey! Acknowledging each respondent personally makes them feel like part of the team/process.
How to use this information to collect customer feedback effectively in your business:
Treat this post as a checklist. Start at the beginning with planning and question writing, and check each factor off as you can ensure that you’ve met it. Above all, take each point with a grain of salt as required to be authentic to your company and your voice – these guidelines may not be ignorable, but they are flexible!
P.S. If you want a free, good-looking software to make your survey with, try us out 😉