10 tips for your next customer survey

Creating an effective customer survey can be challenging, but the investment is absolutely worthwhile. A survey can give you a lot of data faster than most other feedback mechanisms. A customer survey can help to discover issues that customers might not tell you in person.

In this article we will outline 10 tips for making useful customer surveys.

Keep the customer survey short and simple (KISS)

This variation on the usual KISS acronym is what will make the difference between success and failure in a customer survey.

To meet this rule, your first concern needs to be in asking a question in the shortest way possible without losing the intent. This means getting rid of any unnecessary words. It’s not about character count, it’s about short and relevant. This is challenging if you default to complex words. Short questions, using simple words, are always best.

The ‘shortness’ also applies to the total number of questions. When was the last time you spent more than five minutes answering a survey? Probably never.

One option is to conduct a Net Promoter Score survey with 2 or 3 questions. Net Promoter Score provides management with a single metric of the overall performance of their organisation, a product or a service.  One or two free text questions also be added to allow customers to expand on the score given and make suggestions.

Ask only relevant questions

Cutting questions is a skill that you need to hone. Being brutal about what is absolutely required to meet your needs is going to be one of the hardest jobs you’ll do.

Every question that you ask must have a well-defined purpose, and a strong reason for its inclusion in your customer surveys. If you either of these is missing, the question needs to be cut out.

Do you need to know your customer’s gender? Or home town? Are you going to call him or her? If not, don’t ask.

Remember to include demographic questions

A common mistake in customer surveys is forgetting to include demographic questions. Some data can be obtained from other sources. Otherwise, you must ask the questions if you want to filter your results to identify trends across different demographic customer categories.

Include smart, open-ended questions

For all that we love multiple choice questions and scales, open-ended questions can really give you deep insight.

The challenge is to make them not appear daunting. With this in mind, leave them for the closing questions.

A simple way to do this is to draw respondents into simple questions, and follow up with an open-ended question, like Why do you feel this way?

Ask one thing at a time in the customer survey

If you have ever faced a whole series of questions in one go, you will know that feeling of interrogation that some surveys give you.

Don’t do this to your audience. Give them time to think.

By asking many questions all at once, you’re relying on your respondent being able to filter out which one is important for them to answer. Most of us are bad at doing that, and will take a stab in the dark at what we think you want us to answer.

Better is to ask one meaningful question at a time: It’s simpler, easier, and a much calmer user experience.

Use consistent rating scales

When you use rating scales make sure that they are consistent. Grammar nuts will ask them to ‘agree’. This means that if in your first scale 1 = Strongly disagree, then this needs to be the same in every subsequent scale.

Nothing will confuse people faster than encountering scales that shift and change at random. At best, your respondents will skip questions, and at worst they will abandon your survey altogether!

Use yes/no questions

Do you have a question with a simple outcome? If you do, try and frame it as a Yes/No question.

These questions are fantastic starter questions. They are easy to answer, easy to evaluate, and easy to complete.

A simple yes/no question can also help you to eliminate leading questions or unnecessary bias.

Be specific

If you assume that your customers are knowledgeable, you will create problems for yourself. This means that if you find yourself using jargon or other specific terminology in the customer survey, stop and rethink the question.

Similarly, if you expect that people will answer with examples, then you will be really disappointed when you don’t get any. If you want people to provide examples, ask for them!

You can also point out that being specific is encouraged. For example, Do you have a specific example? Please tell us, we love detailed feedback!

Get the timing right

Like with email marketing, surveys often have high open and click-through rates on Mondays, Friday afternoons, and Sundays. But, this might not be the same for your demographic.

The only way to know which time is the best for responses is to test a range of surveys and keep data about them. In any case, a good starting point are the days noted above.

Offer an incentive

Bonuses and incentives can be a great way to encourage people to take your customer survey. But incentives have to be properly considered.

In any case, if you offer an incentive, make sure that you can (a) deliver on it, and (b) financially handle it. One way of doing this is to offer to donate to a charity that your audience cares about instead.

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Mark Sinclair, Co-founder, Spark Chart