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Tips & Bits #30: Survey Says… Tips for Creating Effective Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Listening to customers is a great way to fine-tune and improve your business and, hopefully, improve profitability while generating loyalty. But not all of your customers are forthcoming with their thoughts and opinions.

That’s why more and more companies are conducting customer satisfaction surveys. And while large corporations can afford to hire a J.D. Power & Associates to orchestrate an exhaustive study, you may not have the funds or the time.

Lucky for you—we are going to pass along some useful tips on how you can get this valuable information. By gaining insight into your customer’s wants and needs, you can make business and marketing decisions with greater confidence.

Figure out what you want to learn.
And be specific—an unclear goal can produce results that will not be of any help. Also, you need to focus your survey. Making it too broad or too long will discourage participation.

Be realistic in your expectations.
You probably won’t reveal the “secret” to success in a survey. At best you will be able to confirm some of the assumptions you’ve been operating under or discover that you were misguided and need to revise your direction.


Keep it simple and make it easy.
Chances are your customers are not fond of taking tests. Don’t make your survey difficult to respond to. Make it easy any you’ll improve the response rate.

Variety is the spice of surveys.
Don’t lull your respondent to sleep with the same question structure throughout the entire survey. Switch styles and you’ll get a better completion rate. Here are a few:

  • Yes or No, True or False
  • Multiple-choice
  • Ranking on a scale of 1 to 5  
  • Open-ended or fill in the blank

Stage your questions.
Begin with a few easy questions, and then slip in the more difficult ones. Then alternate between the simple and the more challenging. This will help prevent frustration with and abandonment of the survey.

Don’t lead the witness.
A successful survey will produce objective results. Avoid steering the respondent into answers you may want to hear. 

Do you find the prices to be reasonable?       [] Yes   [] No    (more leading)
How would you rate the prices:          Low 1 2 3 4 5 High      (less leading)

Set a benchmark.
If you want to measure improvement (or decline), you must have a point of reference with which to compare the new data. A pre-survey test may be needed to establish threshold values.


Keep it in the ballpark.
Be sure your questions are relevant to your customers. Impertinent subjects waste their time and yield data of no use.

Keep an eye on the clock.
Please don’t create a survey that will try a respondent’s patience. If you are conducting a phone survey, be sure to finish up in 10 minutes. Any longer will jeopardize the honesty of the answers because the person will say anything to get off the phone.

Quid pro quo – give something in return.
It’s always nice to provide a respondent with a token of appreciation. If you value their opinion, show it with a small gift.

Test the survey or rehearse the interviews.
To help make sure everything runs smoothly, test your questionnaires with a few people. Check to see that the flow is logical. Launch the survey only after you feel confident that the “bugs” have been worked out.


Consistency is critical.
Answer scales should be consistent throughout the survey. This will help manage the data and facilitate the analysis to yield more useful conclusions.

Don’t forget the demographics.
Always include a portion of your survey to capture data such as gender, age range, education, household income range, cultural background, or company size and industry type if a business to business survey.

Watch waffle words.
Avoid words with weak definitions such as could, should, might, and may. Words that have a clearly defined meaning will product results that are more definitive.

Don’t look too far into the future.
Surveys that attempt to probe into the future usually fall short of the truth. Yogi Berra once said that making predictions is difficult, especially when they are about the future. While we all want to know what the customer will want a year from now, we’re lucky if we can forecast a few weeks in advance.

Good luck, and may all your data be revealing!

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