How to Create Effective Survey Questions

Trustmary teamTrustmary team
Last edited: October 6th, 2023
avoid leading questions

Being able to create effective survey questions is more valuable than you might think.

If you nail this part, you’ll be able to:

  • Engage target audience
  • Improve the quality of the survey data
  • Get more accurate responses
  • Gain actionable insights

Let’s upgrade your surveys to the next level!

Online Surveys – Expected Benefits

Knowing your customers and their needs and measuring customer experience is absolutely critical to business success.

Every business owner wants to know what their customers think about them and their services. Luckily, this valuable knowledge can be gathered with well put together online surveys.

When you’re able to write great survey questions, you can truly learn what you’re doing well. Additionally, you can start fixing those areas where you have issues.

Great survey questions can also help you:

  • identify trends
  • get new product ideas and
  • let you know how you compare against your competitors

Be Proactive, not Reactive

Unfortunately, a lot of companies aren’t getting the value out of surveys that they could. Many organizations only use surveys reactively, but not proactively.

A prime example is, when a company experiences a dip in sales and want to find out why that is, they start surveying everyone who didn’t buy after a meeting. If they would’ve been doing this all along, they mightn’t have ever experienced that dip. Simply because they would’ve fixed any issues right after learning about them.

Another common mistake is to simply send out as many surveys as possible in bulk and hoping for the best. The best being that everyone loves you and there’s nothing you should improve. This is very rarely the case.

By being proactive and having clear goals when sending surveys helps you constantly learn from your customers. This information will help you improve your product and services and help prevent customer churn.

Best Practices for Creating Effective Survey Questions

The truth is though, you need to be asking the right questions at the right time for surveys to be effective. Customers are more likely to respond and give high-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.

In contrast, companies that have had direct contact (both online and face to face) with customers find response rates pushing up to 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.

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. Analyze your customer journey

Based on your goals you can determine in which customer touch points you’d like to survey your customers.

analyze your customer journey

3. Choose the right distribution channel

What is the easiest way for your customers to reply? If they aren’t tech-savvy, maybe you should send them a letter with a stamped return envelope to reach all target groups.

For most people, email or SMS work just fine.

survey distribution channels

4. Timing is everything

The closer to an interaction you can send the survey to a customer, the more likely you’re to get really useful insights on your operations. Emotional responses are at their highest, when they’ve just been had an experience with your brand. Try to make sure that the last impression you make is the most positive one.

The phenomena is also called the peak-end rule.

peak end rule affects customer experience

Tips for Great Survey Questions

Let’s dive deeper into how to craft the best survey questions.

Make the survey easy to follow

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.
  • 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.

Keep the questions short

  • 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.

Add value to your customer

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 & How to Use Them

Now you know how to put together a good survey question and have a specific goal. Next up, we’ll run through some of the types of questions and go over when to use them with some practical examples.

When using the examples below, try to stick to the same question type per survey. If you use many different types of questions within one survey, it can be a little confusing for the recipient.

1. Rating Scale or Likert Scale Questions

What are rating scale survey questions

Question types that use a likert scale are one of the simplest types of questions.

They usually ask the customer to rank a question on a scale of 0-5, for example, with 5 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 Choice Questions

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 “Likert 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 Questions

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.

Trustmary team
Trustmary team


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