man taking survey on laptop
If you’ve never created a survey to learn more about your customers (or would-be customers), are you truly a marketer?

Only joking—kind of.

As marketers, we’re always honing in on the best way to reach and market to our target audiences. A favorite way to do so is with customer surveys. We’re all familiar with the online questionnaire—whether we’ve created it or taken one ourselves. Simple online surveys are an easy, (usually) affordable, and pretty accurate way to get feedback from your customers that you otherwise might never hear.

Surveying can be a tug-of-war: you need to hear from your customers so you can implement their valuable feedback and keep them happy in the future, but they have to be willing to spend the time to give you their honest thoughts. In asking your customers to take a survey, you’re asking them for a favor—one that they are under no obligation to fulfill.

Many times, you can sweeten your request with an offer, like a coupon or a chance to win something. Regardless, there are some best practices worth keeping in mind. Follow these tips for high-quality feedback and data you can use while avoiding annoying your customers with yet another survey request.

1. Have a clear goal in mind

First things first, know why you are surveying. There’s no point in asking your customers for feedback if you don’t understand why you’re asking them questions or what exactly you want to find out. Have a goal—a SMART goal, even—in mind when crafting, distributing and analyzing your survey.

2. Keep it short and simple

This strategy goes for each question and the survey overall. The appropriate length will depend on your audience and your research’s purpose, and many experts recommend keeping the time it takes to complete to under ten minutes. If you can keep it under five minutes, that’s even better. As a frame of reference, a five-minute survey includes about ten questions maximum.

The ultimate in short and simple? A micro-survey. Micro-surveys are one to two questions maximum and take only seconds to complete. Think a popup window on a Google site that asks you if you found the information you were looking for on the page, or the self-checkout screen at Meijer that ask simple questions, like if the grocery store was clean or if employees greeted you. It’s almost faster  to answer a single question than it is to navigate away from the survey without responding. Of course, this isn’t a feasible solution to every surveying need, but it is an option for quickly collecting data.

As for questions, make sure they aren’t unnecessarily wordy, and only have the necessary amount of responses to choose from. Read on to see why this is important.

3. Make sure each question is valuable

It’s easy to get survey fever and start adding in all of the questions you can think of because you already have your audience’s attention. Do not do this. If you ask too many unrelated questions (or worse, duplicate questions), your respondents will bail on your survey, and you won’t get any responses at all.
While brainstorming, it’s okay to include every question you think of. But go through your list with a critical eye to make sure each question is truly unique, and that you will be able to take actionable steps based on the responses you will receive.
Ask yourself: Do I need to collect this information? Will I use it? How will it help me achieve the goal of this survey? All of your questions should focus on the same general topic, and each piece of data your respondents give you should be able to be put to good use. If it doesn’t, delete the question.

Now is the time to think of sensitive information, as well. People can be uncomfortable disclosing personal information like their name, age, or household income. If they’re uncomfortable and you don’t provide options—e.g., a “prefer not to say” selection—the likelihood that they will drop out of the survey completely is high. If you’re asking these questions, make sure you need to know first, and then take steps to ensure confidentiality of responses.

4. Write your questions carefully

It’s easier than you think to ask a biased question. Biased questions affect response rate and the quality of the responses you get.

Take this question for example: Should concerned dog owners vaccinate their pets? 

The word “concerned” makes it a biased question, implying that owners who do not vaccinate their dogs don’t care about their pet’s well-being. It may skew—either consciously or unconsciously—your respondents’ answers.

Equally important: ask only one question per question. It can also be easy to lump two questions into one, which makes answering a multiple choice question very difficult.

For example: Do you eat the recommended serving of fruits and vegetables every day?

With the question phrased this way, if the respondent could eat both, either fruit or vegetables, or none. But, you won’t know because the question asks too many things at once.

5. Use question types appropriately

There are many different kinds of questions you can ask: rating scale, radio button, drop down, open field, and more. The type of question you select will depend on the question and the kind of data you want to get.

A name field needs to be short answer, but age could be a drop down (just make sure your options are mutually exclusive). The more open response questions you ask, the harder your survey will be to analyze using numbers alone, but, an open response field is a great way to collect testimonials and quotes if that’s what you’re after.

Scale questions are common, but there’s more to them than meets the eye. One of the most signficant debates in the world of survey creation is whether or not rating scales should have an even or odd number of options—that is, should respondents be given a “neutral” option, or should they be forced to choose a side? The answer (as with all questions) depends on what you want to get out of asking the question.

6. Use validation

Survey builder tools usually come with the option to include basic validation on questions, such as requiring an email address format (including the “@” symbol) for a question that asks for email address. It’s quick, simple, and it reduces the opportunity for user error, which increases the quality of your data.

7. Use logic

Using logic is another tactic to help reduce user error. If some questions are dependent on a particular answer to a previous question, hide those questions until the criteria have been met. Using logic throughout your survey ensures that respondents will only see questions that are relevant to them.

For example, we recently created a survey for a client to distribute to customers. The question, “Have you made a purchase at our store?” had logic built into it. If a user answered no, the survey ended. If they responded yes, then questions appeared about their purchase and experience in the store.

Had we not used logic, any survey takers who hadn’t been to the store would either have answered the following questions falsely or dropped out, and our client would not have been able to capture any of their responses.

8. Test it

Test, test, and test again. Test the flow of the questions, the time it takes to complete, whether or not the logic works—test everything! Remember, you are asking your customers for a favor when you ask them to fill out a survey, so make sure it’s easy for them to take and understand.

9. Know who will be taking your survey

You can spend all the time in the world crafting a great survey, but if it isn’t prepared for the audience you’re sending it to, it is worthless.

Take this example. You are interested in improving your Net Promoter Score, so one of your survey questions is: Would you recommend our services to your friends? 

This seems reasonable, but what if you send the survey to a list of brand new customers? This group has only just engaged with your business, and they likely won’t know if they are pleased with your services yet, much less whether or not they would want to recommend your company to friends. Making mistakes like this will severely affect participation rates, and your responses will be unreliable at best. However, if you match questions to your intended audience, you’ll not only increases the likelihood of getting more responses, but you’ll also potentially increase the quality of the responses you do get.

Surveying is an indispensable tool for marketers. They give you the chance to find out exactly what your customers think of you, for better or worse. Properly constructed surveys provide useful data with minimal imposition on your customers. Though surveying is commonplace, it’s still important to make sure you’re doing right.

Curious about how a survey can improve your customer insights, and how that might translate to a stronger marketing strategy? We can help. Let’s get started

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