Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Customer Surveys Are as Important as Ever!

Image courtesy of m kasahara
I originally wrote today's post for Clicktools. It was published on their blog on July 6, 2016. I've made slight modifications.

Some pundits would have you believe that surveys are dead, that they are no longer important for customer listening and understanding. I beg to differ.

Yes, there are several other ways in which companies can listen to customers and learn how well they’re delivering on the experience, but surveys aren’t going anywhere.

The good news is that companies are listening through surveys. The bad news is, they’re often doing nothing with the feedback. Shame on them! Since I’ve already focused on the action part in a previous post, I’ll focus today’s post on the listening and understanding part; specifically, I’ll focus on designing surveys to which people will want to respond.

Despite the fact that getting people to respond to your surveys is harder today than it’s ever been, many of the same general design principles from years ago still apply. The major differences today really have to do with simplification.

Here are my thoughts on designing surveys in and for simpler times in order to get people to respond.

1. Open your survey with a brief introduction paragraph, stating your objective (in customer-friendly terms) and purpose, as well as any specifics on how the feedback will be used. Respondents want to know why you're conducting this survey and what you're doing with their responses. Don't set expectations about actions and follow-up here that you won’t be able to execute on. And give an honest assessment of how long the survey will take to complete.

2. Think about survey/question flow. Start with questions that warm up the respondent to the topic or experience. As you dive into the survey, put questions in a natural, logical flow and in sections rather than jumping around in some illogical sequence.

3. Be mindful of survey length. Transactional surveys can be brief, i.e., 10-15 questions max, whereas relationship surveys can be a bit longer, i.e., 50 questions (albeit respondents see only those questions relevant to them, in essence making the survey shorter). Depending on the relationship with the customer and the experience being evaluated, length could vary.

4. Use attribute grids to logically (questions that belong together) group questions with the same rating scales.

5. Use realistic progress meters to let respondents know where they are and how much longer.

6. Ask a mix of closed-ended and open-ended questions. It isn’t necessary to ask an open-ended question after every closed-ended question, e.g., every rating question. Limit the number of open-ends, but make sure you have at least one.

7. Don't ask the customer questions about things you already know about him, e.g., last purchase date, product purchased, date of support call, reason for call, etc.

8. Only ask questions that are relevant to that customer and his/her experience, i.e., don’t ask about a product the customer doesn’t own or about marketing materials in a support survey.

9. Don't allow other groups or departments to commandeer the survey by adding questions that are not relevant to the survey objective.

10. Use smart survey techniques to skip questions not relevant to the individual respondent based on responses to previous questions.

11. Don't use company or industry lingo/language that your customers don't know or understand.

12. If your survey is going out to a global audience, be sure to offer respondents the option to take the survey in their preferred languages.

13. Set the incentives aside. The best incentive (and indicator that she’ll continue to respond to surveys) is to thank the customer for her feedback, use it to make improvements, and let her know what you did with it. If she comes back and keeps experiencing the same issues, you won’t have to worry about survey responses; you’ll have to worry about keeping the doors open, instead.

14. Design the survey with mobile in mind; optimize for mobile, since 30-40% of surveys are completed via mobile devices.

15. Test your surveys often – make sure your surveys work – on all devices, all browsers; nothing kills your response and completion rates like messed up surveys.

16. Similarly, spell check and grammar check your surveys. Surveys filled with typos are a turn-off, too.

17. If you’re administering a post-transaction survey via a URL on the receipt or packing slip, make the URL easy to enter online.

18. Use carefully-crafted email invitations to invite customers to participate. Ensure the emails get delivered by using the right words and avoiding others (e.g., free, win, survey, etc.) to stay out of spam filters.

19. Send a reminder 7 days after the original invitation. Send just one reminder.

20. Keep survey frequency in check. Customers are inundated with surveys from every website, retailer, service provider, restaurant, grocery store, etc. that they visit. Don’t over-survey any one customer.

Remember that surveys are one of your customer touchpoints, as well. So make sure your surveys deliver a great experience, too. Don’t give your customers yet another excuse to roll their eyes and wish they hadn’t wasted time with you. Surveys are as important to your listening and understanding efforts as ever.

We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve. -Bill Gates


  1. Annette, thanks for posting this. Straight-forward recommendations to improve response rate/value.

    One assumption I start with regarding surveys is that the value propositions are backwards. Most surveys are done for the benefit of the company not customers. When companies create linkage between what they are asking and how it benefits the respondents, the entire experience improves.

    A few more thoughts (for your readers' benefit) about surveys here:

    1. Thanks, Andrew. And great point... we always need to put the customer first in survey design. I end up killing a lot of questions clients like to ask because they are for their benefit, not for the benefit of the customer. Thanks for sharing your post!

  2. Douglas MacGregorMay 2, 2017 at 7:57 AM

    "Companies conduct surveys to pat themselves on their back. Customers respond to surveys because they want to see a change" Don't remember where I read this many years ago but it is very relevant in many surveys I stop my clients from sending out.

    1. Love that quote. Sadly, it is true more often than we care to acknowledge.

  3. Good points and things that I try and impress upon clients. As you say, they have to keep coming back to what is the value/interest for the customer.

    Here's one that might be of interest around the same subject to share from over here.