How to Avoid Leading Questions in Customer Surveys

Trustmary teamTrustmary team
Last edited: June 17th, 2024
avoid leading questions

Customer feedback surveys are a powerful tool to help improve your business.

A budding e-commerce brand can use surveys to get a better understanding of how customers feel about their purchase experience or product quality. Or, a SAAS company can use customer surveys to prioritize feature requests and build a product roadmap.

No matter the purpose of your survey, the goal is always the same — to get accurate feedback from your customers. But there’s one major pitfall that can trip up even the most well-intentioned survey: leading questions.

To ensure the data you collect is unbiased, it is important to avoid leading questions in your customer surveys. This article will cover everything you need to know about leading questions, how to spot them, and how to craft better questions.

Btw, did you know that traditional customer surveys are dead anyways?

What Is A Leading Question?

A leading question is a type of question that inherently pushes respondents toward a specific answer. This directional quality can be deliberate, in an effort to elicit a certain response, or it can be the result of poorly constructed question phrasing.

Leading questions can be explicit, in which they directly encourage an answer, or they can be implicit, in which an answer is more subtly suggested.

In either case, leading questions can jeopardize the integrity of customer surveys by producing biased results.

Risks of Leading Questions

When constructing customer feedback surveys with a customer feedback tool, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with leading questions. These risks include:

  • Inaccurate results: One of the most significant risks of leading questions is that they can produce inaccurate results. This is because leading questions can influence respondents to give answers that they may not have otherwise given. As a result, the survey results can be skewed and may not accurately represent the opinions of the respondents.
  • Reinforce company assumptions: Leading questions tend to reflect the assumptions of the company, rather than the actual opinions of customers. This can lead to decision-making touted as data-driven when it’s actually driven by bias.
  • No new information: Because leading questions often thrive on the company’s own input, they may not provide any new information. In fact, leading questions can actually close off dialogue by discouraging honest feedback.
  • Damage credibility:  Finally, leading questions can damage the credibility of the surveyor. This is because leading questions call into question the surveyor’s motives and integrity. Even if unintentional, leading questions may make the surveyor appear biased or unprofessional.

5 Types of Leading Questions to Avoid

68% of businesses report competing on customer experience above all else.

If you want to get the most accurate feedback to build customer loyalty and improve the customer experience, it is critical to avoid leading questions.

To help you spot them in advance, let’s take a look at five types of leading questions to avoid in customer surveys.

1) Presumptive questions

Presumptive questions are those that presuppose something to be true. These questions hinge on an assumption that the company or surveyor has already made, which can seemingly limit the respondent’s answer options.

This type of leading question shifts the frame of reference and can be difficult to spot. For instance, a question such as “How did you enjoy our services?” presumes that the respondent has enjoyed their experience. Rather than answering honestly, the respondent may feel pressured to give a positive answer.

This question would be more effective if worded as “What did you think of our services?” This phrasing allows the respondent to give a more open and accurate answer and doesn’t influence their response in a particular direction.

Examples of presumptive questions:

  • How exciting was the event?
  • How did you like our new product?
  • How pleasant was your experience today?

2) Coercive questions

Coercive questions are those that put overt pressure on respondents to answer in a certain way. Typically these leading questions guide toward an affirmative response and create more friction for respondents to give a contradictory answer.

Coercive questions are easy to spot and correct because they are very direct. And they can be especially damaging to customer voice survey results because they do not provide room for open dialog.

And although “coercion” may sound quite forceful, coercive questions can actually come off fairly innocently. For example, a question such as “This new website is easy to use, right?” is coercive in nature even though it may be delivered in a friendly way.

The respondent may feel compelled to say “yes” because they don’t want to seem difficult or uncooperative. However, this type of leading question doesn’t provide any meaningful feedback because the respondent wasn’t given the opportunity to fully express their opinion.

A better way to word this question would be “What do you think of this new website?” or “Describe the user experience of this new website“.

Examples of coercive questions:

  • You had a great time, didn’t you?
  • Our services met all of your needs, right?
  • There wasn’t anything else we could have done better, was there?

3) Direct implication questions

Direct implication questions ask respondents to answer a question based on an assumed or potential outcome. These leading questions steer customers to a particular conclusion by removing an entire set of scenarios in which responses may look quite different.

If used carelessly, direct implication questions can inadvertently paint a rosier picture than reality. For instance, consider the following question: “If you feel we provided excellent service, how likely are you to return?

The problem with this question is that it cherrypicks only one potential outcome (excellent service leading to a return visit) and completely disregards other possible outcomes (e.g. poor service leading to no return visit).

A more balanced way to word this question would be “How likely are you to return for another visit?

Examples of direct implication questions:

  • If you enjoyed your experience, how likely are you to refer us to a friend?
  • If our product met your needs, would you consider purchasing it again?
  • If you had a positive experience, how likely are you to come back?

4) Interlinked questions

Interlinked questions begin with a statement before following up with the actual question. This type of leading question often appears to offer some additional clarity or background information. However, it may actually distort the context or perspective of the customer.

Interlinked questions can be sneaky because they may seem innocuous at first glance, but they are often leading or coercive in nature. For example, a question such as “Many customers rave about the quality of our products. What did you think?” is interlinked.

The statement at the beginning of the question (“Many customers rave about the quality of our products“) may influence the respondent’s answer. In this case, the respondent may be more likely to give a positive review because they don’t want to go against the grain.

A better way to word this question would be “What do you think of the quality of our products?

Examples of interlinked questions:

  • Most people rate this website as user-friendly. What did you think?
  • A lot of customers say they were very satisfied with their purchase. Were you?
  • Many respondents find our services to be competitively priced. Do you feel the same?

5) Scale-based questions

Unlike the other four kinds of leading questions, scale-based questions do not steer customers in the question itself. Instead, they influence customers’ responses with a skewed answer scale.

For example, consider the following question to measure NPS: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to refer us to a friend?” This question may read fairly if 0 is labeled highly unlikely and 10 is labeled highly likely. In this case, customers would have a full range of balanced responses to choose from. 

However, the question may be leading if 0 is labeled neutrally and 10 is labeled affirmatively. With only neutral to positive answer choices, the survey will produce inflated results.

Similarly, the following 1 to 5 scale is also leading:

  1. Disagree
  2. Somewhat disagree
  3. Somewhat agree
  4. Agree
  5. Strongly agree

This set provides two negative options and three positive options. As a result, it is likely to evoke more favorable responses than a balanced scale would.

To prevent leading survey results, be sure to use an even scale with consistent increments and neutral response choices.

Tips for Avoiding Leading Questions

Even when you are careful, leading questions can still sneak their way into surveys.

To avoid these types of questions and get the most out of your next customer questionnaire, follow these five tips:

1) Be aware of your tone and word choice

The tone of your voice and the words you use can influence the way respondents answer leading questions. For example, if you use a tone that implies disbelief or skepticism, respondents may feel the need to justify their answer.

On the other hand, if you use a tone that implies agreement, respondents may feel the need to affirm your statement. Therefore, it is best to use a neutral tone and avoid loaded words that could influence the respondent’s answer.

2) Allow for open-ended responses

Open-ended questions are less likely to be leading because they do not provide respondents with a limited set of options. This type of question allows respondents to freely express their thoughts and feelings without any influence.

When open-ended responses are not feasible, instead use a Likert scale that offers a neutral middle option. This way, respondents are less likely to feel compelled to provide a certain type of answer.

3) Be simple and specific

When asking questions, be as straightforward and specific as possible. Avoid jargon or long, complicated sentences. The simpler the question, the less likely it is to create confusion or leave room for interpretation. This will ensure your survey results reflect the true opinions and experiences of your respondents.

4) Ask one question at a time

Asking double-barreled questions can be confusing for respondents and make it difficult to identify which question they are answering. As much as possible, stick to asking one question at a time. Follow-ups are fine, but make sure each question stands on its own. This will reduce the risk of leading respondents in a certain direction.

5) Pre-test your questions

Before administering a meaningful customer survey, it is a good idea to pre-test your questions with a small group of people. Ask each beta tester to approach the survey with a critical eye and look for any questions that may be leading. By identifying these questions early on, you can avoid potential bias in your survey results.

Final thoughts

Leading questions are dangerous because they can introduce bias into survey results. This, in turn, can lead to inaccurate data and bad decision-making.

Fortunately, now that you recognize the five types of leading questions, you can avoid them in your future customer surveys.

Use our tips to craft thoughtful, unbiased questions and gather reliable data.

Before long, you will have a clearer picture of customer sentiment and a pathway to improving the customer experience.

If you wish to create customer surveys right now, you can use Trustmary’s feedback forms that help you avoid leading questions.

Frequently asked questions

What is a loaded question?

A loaded question is a type of question that contains assumptions or presuppositions. These questions are often phrased in a way that limits responses to those that agree with the assumptions being made. For example, a loaded question might be, “Have you stopped cheating on your taxes?” Whether the respondent answers “yes” or “no” here, they are inherently admitting to wrongdoing.

What are the 5 kinds of leading questions?

The five main types of leading questions are presumptive questions, coercive questions, direct implication questions, interlinked questions, and scale-based questions. Each of these question types can introduce bias into survey results, leading to inaccurate data.

Are there any benefits of leading questions?

In some cases, leading questions can be used to elicit more specific or detailed responses from respondents. However, this comes at the risk of introducing bias into the data. Therefore, leading questions should only be used with caution and when absolutely necessary.


Trustmary team
Trustmary team


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