How to Write a Killer Survey
Customer feedback is critical, and surveys are a great way to get it. But how do you craft a survey that will deliver the actionable results you’re after? Experts offer their best advice.
THE DIGITAL MARKETER SAYS…
“Make it accessible. We live in a survey-polluted world. Every time you visit a shop or receive a service, chances are you’ll receive a survey about it. It’s great that you have a voice, but with the high volume of surveys people receive, surveys have become more of a nuisance than a privilege. That’s why it is insanely important to make the survey extremely accessible to the consumer. Don’t make the consumer go to a bunch of sites, create an account and fill out a hefty survey. Try to cut down as many steps as possible.
“Make it polished. As silly as it seems, make sure your survey looks polished. A survey is an extension of your brand. Consumers should feel impressed no matter what stage of your marketing funnel they’re in.”
—Ciara Hautau, lead digital marketing strategist, Fueled
THE UX (User Experience) DESIGNER SAYS…
“The biggest reason people don’t complete surveys is that they’re too long. Unless you are reimbursing [respondents] for their time, you want to keep the survey short, with a maximum complete time of five minutes. Show them how much progress they have made so they can see how much is left. It’s frustrating going through the steps of a survey and never knowing how many [questions] are left.
“Consider offering an incentive, such as a prize draw for gift vouchers. You don’t have to offer huge sums of money. Fifty dollars can be enough to increase completed survey rates by 10 percent.”
THE BUSINESS CONSULTANT (WITH A MASTER’S DEGREE IN PSYCHOLOGY) SAYS…
“Most businesses use Likert-type surveys—those that ask if you agree, disagree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, etc.—without knowing what these are or how to do them properly. Please stop doing this. [You] get bad data, and [the results] don’t say what people think they say.
“True Likert surveys need five to eight questions to answer one topic. If you aren’t going to ask that many questions, I recommend at least two, with only three options for answers: agree, disagree, undecided.
“Likert’s brilliance was that he realized most people avoid demonstrating strong opinions. These are socially unacceptable. So people tend to mark the middle, which is why Likert put ‘undecided’ in the middle. This answer removed people’s [response] since they had no opinion. Next, some people will fudge and just mark all the answers to the far right (strongly agree) or far left (strongly disagree). Having a positive and negative version of a question (‘I enjoy shopping at Wal-mart’ plus ‘I do not enjoy shopping at Wal-mart’) removes noise because they cancel each other out. That left Likert with real responses.
“If you only use two questions, you really only need agree/undecided/disagree. This is why Netflix only has a thumbs up and thumbs down. Thumbs up is positive (agree), and thumbs down is negative (disagree). When you don’t rate a film on Netflix, it counts as undecided. Netflix only factors in the movies you rate positively and negatively. That’s all you really need for a customer survey. Amazon’s five-star reviews are an example of Likert in action too. Amazon uses these to help decide what to sell you, so think about that the next time you write a review!
“If you want to develop a product or service, solve a problem. And survey for problems. What bothers people? What do they hate doing? What are they doing now that your product will do cheaper?
“As for length, shoot for no more than 20–30 Likert-type questions. People will spend more time and do a better job on surveys if they are paid, due to a sense of fairness. You also get more honest responses if they put their name on the form versus doing it anonymously, unless the topic is embarrassing. Avoid open-ended questions, and if you have them, you need five or fewer.”
“Finally, listen to your customer support people. They know what people do and don’t like about your product. Customer service call center databases have some of the best open-ended discussions a company can get their hands on. The reasons people call will help optimize products and can create efficiencies elsewhere. Along those same lines, you get more valuable feedback from fan clubs than you get from focus groups. So start a fan club, don’t hire a focus group. Fan clubs love your product and want it to be better. They are more invested than focus groups.”
—Anthony Babbitt, MS, MCSE, business consultant
THE BUSINESS STRATEGIST SAYS…
“When it comes to creating customer surveys, the key is to learn what the customers’ pain point is. Ask, What problem are you trying to solve? Keep this question open ended. By allowing customers to use their own words, you not only gain insights into how they see the problem (as opposed to your assumption of the problem), you also get verbiage you can reuse in your marketing to create an emotional connection. Another key question (that should also be open ended) is what their dream solution to this problem is. This gives you an insight into what your customer is looking for.
“When writing the survey:
- Use qualifiers. Not everyone you are speaking to or who is willing to answer your survey is your ideal customer. Using conditional logic, the first few questions should ask information that confirms that you are speaking to your ideal customer.
- Think about UX design. This is often an overlooked piece and can contribute to how many responses you get. The survey doesn’t need to be a beautiful piece of art, but it should be easy to use.
- Unless you only have a handful of questions, don’t put all your questions on one page. This can be overwhelming to the user and may limit the number of people who are willing to fill out your survey.
- Only ask the critical questions. This is not the time to ask every question that you want an answer to. Ideally your survey should take less than four minutes to fill out. If it takes any longer, not only will the number of responses go down, but the quality will too.
“Software and tools don’t need to be complicated. A free tool such as Google Forms works just fine. To help the business later on, capture emails in this process.”
—Kat Rosati, business strategist, Apparel Booster