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How to Create Effective Survey Questions

It should probably go without saying, but knowing your customers and their needs and measuring their customer experience is absolutely critical to business success. Every good business wants to know what their customers think and they crave the valuable knowledge a well put together survey can provide them.

When done correctly, customer surveys can highlight what you’re doing well and help you fix those areas where you have issues. They can also help you identify trends, get new product ideas and even let you know how you compare against your competitors.

Unfortunately, a lot of companies just aren’t getting the value out of surveys that they should be. Many organisations might only use them reactively, for example when they see a dip in sales and want to find out why, or they use them with little strategy behind them, simply sending out as many surveys as possible and hoping for the best.

The truth is though, you have to be asking the right questions at the right time for surveys to be effective. Customers are more likely to respond and give quality answers when they have a closer personal relationship with you and the questions are relevant to their experience.

For example, large online retailers tend to have a very low response rate hovering around 5% because they can be seen as quite distant to the customers, but those companies that have had direct contact (both online and face to face) with customers find response rates pushing up 30%-50%.

To get you started on compiling your own survey questions, we’ve pulled together a list of useful tips alongside some examples of the kind of questions you can ask.

Tips for great survey questions

1. Set a clear objective for the survey

A good survey question has a purpose; to find out a specific piece of information. While short surveys like the net promoter score can be a good way to gauge general customer satisfaction, they don’t always give you the detailed customer insights you might need.

Some good goals for survey questions can include:

  • Finding out why a specific product is failing and what customers don’t like about it.
  • Helping to break down your customers into demographics to find out what appeals to each segment.
  • Giving you insights when trying to launch into new markets.
  • Collecting feedback following a new customer purchase and use it as a way to establish a longer term relationship with that customer.

Remember, if the data isn’t serving a specific purpose it’s not going to be as useful. Your first step in any survey should always be to ask yourself what your objective is and work from there.

2. Make is easy to follow and keep the questions short

People are bombarded by information these days. We’re constantly online now, connected to our smartphones and we have a host of sources vying for our attention. With the latest news, social media posts, work emails and staying up to date with friends, it can be very easy for a customer to simply ignore a customer survey when it lands in their inbox.

To avoid this you can:

  • Keep the questions relevant to your objective – Don’t meander off onto other topics. If your survey is about a specific product and its features, don’t waste time on unrelated questions.
  • Try to keep the survey focused on about 10 questions – Those longer than this tend to see their completion rates drop or the customer might get bored and just want to hurry through to the end and could skew your data.
  • Use multiple choice questions as a useful tool – While open ended questions can certainly have their uses, some customers are immediately put off answering a survey when they see a free text box. Keep things easy for them by providing a list of responses to choose from.
  • Make responses simple with scores out of 10 – Another way to make things easy for the customer is an easy to follow score out of 10, providing quick and easy to read results.
  • Always give customers an applicable answer – You should hopefully know why you’re targeting a specific customer or group of customers and have relevant answer options for them. Just in case though, give them an option to opt out of the question where it might not apply to them.
  • Don’t lead the customer or use biased questions – This means avoiding questions like, “How much did you like our product” as this implies to the customer that they did like it and doesn’t give the option for honest feedback.
  • Tell your customers how long the survey will take – Customers are much more likely to respond if they know exactly how much time they’ll have to spend on the survey. Let them know in your initial contact with them.

3. Use the survey as a way to add value to your customer too

Surveys don’t have to be a one way street where you take and the customer gives. When done correctly, a good survey can make the customer feel like they’ve contributed in some way, be this in product development or helping to give them better service next time.

While this might not always be possible (for example when trying to build new markets where customers don’t have any connection to you yet) always try and think about the value you can offer them when setting your survey objective.

Some ways to add value to the customer include:

  • It gives the customer a chance to have a say in what they want – If a customer feels connected to a product they’re much more likely to respond to a survey. When offered the chance to give their thoughts on improvements, addition of new features or any other way in which they feel their voice is being heard, you’ll definitely up your response rate (and likely retain that customer).
  • Try and follow up on surveys – If a customer has provided feedback in a survey that you subsequently went on to implement, try and follow up with that customer to let them know to show evidence that you listen to your customers. If you can show their responses had tangible results, there’s an excellent chance of you increasing customer loyalty.
  • Offer incentives to complete the survey – People are taking time out of their busy days to complete a survey. If they don’t feel a connection with you or their product they may not respond at all. Try and incentivize customers with the chance to enter a prize draw for a voucher, or money off their next purchase as a way to encourage them to complete the survey.

Survey question types and how to use them

Now that you’re a little clearer on how to put together a good survey question and have a specific goal, we’ll run through some of the types of questions, when to use them and some examples. When using the examples below, try to stick to the same question type per survey, if you use multiple different types of questions it can be a little confusing for the customer.

1. Rating scale

What are rating scale survey questions

One of the simplest types of questions. Usually asking the customer to rank a question on a scale of 0-10, for example, with 10 being “Very satisfied” and 0 being “Not at all satisfied”. It is a type of close ended question that limits a customers choices.

When to use rating scale survey questions

Useful when you need quick, easy to read general statistics. For example, in assessing customer satisfaction on a new product launch or when gauging your net promoter score. They are also great to use when you don’t have a lot of time and resources to analyze surveys and need fast responses.

Examples of rating scale survey questions

  • “How satisfied were you with the new features added to product X in June 20XX?”
  • “How likely would you be to recommend product Y to your friends?”
  • “How would you rate the overall quality of your buying experience?”

2. Multiple choices

What are multiple-choice survey questions?

These are a very popular choice of question type and offer the customer a number of different options to choose from, usually no more than five or six choices per question with a final option for “other” if none of the options are applicable to them.

Sometimes multiple-choice questions can be “dichotomous” offering only two options, or a simple yes/no response, while others are presented as a “Linkert scale” that assesses a customer’s level of agreement with a statement. All multiple choice questions are also a type of close-ended question where you have control over the responses.

When to use multiple-choice survey questions?

Similar to rating scale questions, these are great for providing easy to analyze statistics but in a little more depth. You can drill a little deeper into customer thoughts whilst at the same time controlling the data you’d like to collect, making it easier to analyze.

Examples of multiple-choice survey questions

  • “Which of our products is your favorite?”:
  • Product A
  • Product B
  • Product C
  • Other
  • How would you describe the level of customer service provided by our contact centre agent?”
  • Excellent
  • Good
  • OK
  • Poor
  • Terrible

3. Open-ended

What are open-ended survey questions?

These questions give you the freedom to ask whatever you’d like. There are no restrictions on customer responses and are given in the form of a free text box for them to fill in.

When to use open-ended survey questions

These are great when you want to learn about very specific customer needs as the customer is free to respond how they wish. They’re also useful in identifying a specific issue you have with a product or service. If you notice sales starting to fall, try reaching out to past customers to find out why they’re no longer interested in that product.

However, you may find a lower response rate on open-ended questions given the additional time and effort you’re expecting from the customer to complete it.

Examples of open-ended survey questions

  • “What made you choose to purchase product X”?
  • “What specific product would you like to see us produce next and why?”
  • “What made you decide to cancel your subscription with us?”
  • “What are the biggest factors that prevent you from purchasing our product?”
  • “If you could change one thing about our company, what would it be and why?”

In summary

Remember, all good survey questions need a specific goal and everything should be geared towards improving the customer experience and creating a better product. Never just send out surveys for the sake of it. Think carefully about what you want to achieve but also feel free to experiment with the different types of questions listed above.

Monitor your response rates, find out what works for you and what types of questions are returning the most valuable responses and you’ll soon be producing highly targeted, specific and useful surveys.

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