There’s an art to creating effective customer satisfaction surveys — too long and few customers will respond, too short and you won't receive enough information to be helpful. 

Though there are nuances for effective surveys depending on the business, some general best practices apply to all customer surveys, according to marketing experts.

“Customer satisfaction surveys give us a current reading on how well we are keeping the promises we make to customers,” said Bruce Clark, associate professor, marketing, D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. “Two good simple questions to ask are: ‘How satisfied are you with our product?’ and ‘How likely are you to repurchase our product?’ The latter question is particularly useful to ask because it gets at those future benefits. Someone can be very satisfied, but unlikely to repurchase, either because this was a one-off buying experience or because they are equally or more satisfied with other products."

Clark recommended using a 1-7 scale, though anything from five to 11-point scales can be effective.

“Short surveys are always better,” Clark added. “You can probably get away with the two questions above as long as you have other means of classifying the customer (type of products bought, demographics, etc.). If not, ask some questions that help identify the segment to which the customer belongs. Any survey that requires more than a single screen (say five to 10 questions) is going to see a lot of drop off in response rate.”

Related Article: How to Measure Customer Experience Beyond Net Promoter Score

Determine Survey's Usage Before Developing Customer Questions

A company needs to determine its use for the survey information before developing the actual questions, said Brian Zotti, vice president of global operations for Trilogy Education Services. “Customer satisfaction surveys really need to begin with set of framing questions. What is it we're trying to understand? Who can answer the questions to give us the understanding that we need? What are our current assumptions? What do we plan to do with the information?”

Once those questions are answered, Zotti said, the company can move forward developing the actual questions. He recommended no more than five.

“A survey should allow respondents an opportunity to explain the drivers behind their satisfaction or dissatisfaction,” Zotti added. “And including questions that allow companies to understand the degree to which customers value an experience, product or service as well as their satisfaction, is optimal for determining courses of action.”

For those looking for further help with survey design, scoring and more, Clark suggested looking to SurveyMonkey or other survey companies for tips.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Can Customer Surveys Advance What You Learn From Data?

Quick Tips to Improve Customer Surveys

Sarah Cho, director of research for SurveyMonkey, offered the following tips:

  • Clearly define the purpose of your online survey: Fuzzy goals lead to fuzzy results, and the last thing you want to end up with is a set of results that provide no real decision–enhancing value.
  • Keep the survey short and focused: Short and focused helps with both quality and quantity of response. It is generally better to focus on a single objective than try to create a master survey that covers multiple objectives.
  • Keep the questions simple: Make sure your questions get to the point. Avoid the use of jargon.
  • Use closed-ended questions whenever possible: Closed-ended survey questions give respondents specific choices (e.g. Yes or No), making it easier to analyze results.
  • Logical ordering: Make sure your survey flows in a logical order. Begin with a brief introduction that motivates survey takers to complete the survey (e.g. “Help us improve our service to you. Please answer the following short survey.”). Next, it is a good idea to start from broader-based questions and then move to those narrower in scope.
  • Consider your audience when sending survey invitations: Recent statistics show the highest open and click rates take place on Monday, Friday and Sunday. In addition, SurveyMonkey research shows that the quality of survey responses does not vary from weekday to weekend.
  • Consider offering an incentive: Depending upon the type of survey and survey audience, offering an incentive is usually very effective at improving response rates.

Related Article: When it Comes to Customer Feedback, Less Is More

Work Towards Meaningful Conversations

“When collecting feedback, how you ask is everything, and the key is to ask questions in a way that is consistent with your brand, and which encourages thoughtful responses,” said David Apple, US general manager and vice president of customer success at Typeform.

“Many satisfaction surveys of today — developed circa 2000 — are conversation killers and leave the respondent with a negative perception of your brand,” Apple added. “Static, formulaic and oftentimes off-brand, these forms that are intended to gather information are usually the most neglected part of a website or app. They certainly don’t reflect the way conversations happen in real life, and they’re almost guaranteed to turn people away.”

The key to a successful customer satisfaction survey is understanding and getting to know the brand’s key audiences, Apple added. “The best way to do that is through a meaningful conversation. Especially in today’s digital world, the more personalized and interactive the experience the better — it will only increase the chance that a customer will want to converse around a topic.”

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