Customer feedback surveys are a powerful tool to help improve your business.
A budding ecommerce 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.
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.
When constructing customer feedback surveys, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with leading questions. These risks include:
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.
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.
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 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“.
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?“
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?“
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.