Online surveys are an effective method of collecting opinions on customer behaviour or lifestyle. Designing an effective questionnaire will generate valuable customer insights.  So long as you ask the right questions in the right way.  As well as engaging your audience through informing them about your product or service.  However, asking the wrong questions poorly will not only give you misleading information.  It also has the potential to switch off potential customers from future engagement.

Plan your survey for success

The key to success is to ask the right questions of the right people, at the right time.  Planning your survey is an important first step.  You can read more about ‘What, who, when: 3 steps for planning market research’ by PS Research.

Ask the right questions

The first stage of survey research is to help you to define your survey goals.  To ensure the results collected generate useful customer insights that will answer specific business questions.

  • What is it you need to know?
  • What will the results look like?
  • Will the insights they generate meet your survey goals?

Ask the right people

Who do you want to target for engagement?  Are you asking existing product or service users? Or trying to find out what potential customers might think about your brand?

Quantitative research depends upon getting a breadth of responses from a range of respondents. It is important to ensure your sample is representative of the wider population you are targeting.  If, for example, you are targeting older people, then ask a question about age ranges to monitor responses by age group.  Demographic profiling of a population can assist with survey sampling.  You can compare your survey sample with the wider population to see if it is representative or not. This might be a local area or a group of stakeholders such as employees or customers.

Qualitative research such as focus groups can access smaller cohorts for in depth answers and exploration of ideas.  These groups can reflect your wider population, but will not be large enough sample to be representative.

The combination of quantitative and qualitative research results provide wide and deep customer insights.

Ask at the right time

Devise detailed survey plans to ensure surveys go live at the right time.  Online survey tools support live monitoring of response rates to help minimise non response in key areas or groups.  Sending out reminders to boost responses if necessary.

Avoid busy holiday periods like Easter, Summer or Christmas.  Link your survey to PR campaigns such as new product launches for example.  Will you want to monitor responses annually? Then consider seasonality by sending the survey out at the same time each year.

Design an insightful questionnaire

An effective and insightful questionnaire has to achieve a tricky balance.  It needs to be comprehensive enough to tell you what you need to know.  But not so detailed as to turn people off.  The easier the questionnaire is to complete, the higher the response rate.  It also requires appropriate questions that provide accurate insights, avoiding bias.

Plan the appropriate question type

There are a wide range of question types available within an online survey.  Questions can have single or multiple choice responses. The following are some of the types available:

  • Matrices can be used to organise repeat questions for related topics.  These are good for gauging lifestyle or behaviour.
  • Scale questions are good for understanding customer satisfaction.  Ask customers to scale their satisfaction of a service numerically out of 5 (e.g. 1 is most dissatisfied and 5 is most satisfied).  Alternatively, ask to what extent they are satisfied or dissatisfied using ‘Likert Scales’.  Consider whether there is value in including a neutral response, which will split your responses.
  • Ranking questions are good for understanding order of preference.
  • Open text boxes are good for other responses or additional comments.  These are good for exploring new answers.  But time consuming to analyse and categorise.

Ensure appropriate length, structure and flow

Keep the questionnaire short and focussed.  Resist the urge to keep adding more and more questions which increase response burden.  Ideally the survey should take no longer than 15 to 20 minutes to complete.  If it takes longer, review if the questions answer your survey goals.   Be ruthless and cut out any which do not contribute value.

Consider applying ‘skip logic’ to minimise survey length by only asking relevant questions.  For example Q1) Do you use the leisure centres? Y/N If yes go to Q3, if no go to Q2.  Survey ‘piping’ automatically inserts answers from previous questions.  This is a smart use of relevant information to reduce response times.

Place the most important questions at the front of the survey.  Any sensitive or less important questions should go near the back.  This includes demographic questions as well.

Writing questions that are easy to understand

Using plain English and avoid jargon. A survey form which is easy to complete is more likely to engage a response.  Whereas, the harder it is for respondents to understand the questions, the less likely they are to continue filling it in accurately, if at all!

If we ask questions with bias built in we will only get bias results back.  Avoid leading questions which introduce bias, by using an overly positive or negative tone.  Check your response scales are not imbalanced to negative or positive answers.

For example, how would you re-word the following question to be more neutral in tone? How would you re-balance the scales to include some negative opinion?

Another common mistake is to ask double questions, for which there could be two answers.  For example, in this question respondents could have different views about the friendliness versus the professionalism of the staff.  Split the questions out into two separate parts.

Engage with your audience

A customer research survey is a great opportunity to engage with existing customers or attract potential new ones.  You can inform people about what your product or service has to offer them.  As well as asking their opinion about any potential changes being planned.  Their feedback is valuable in terms of improving what you have to offer.  Some of the following will help you engage with your audience:

  • Make the survey relevant.  Explain why you are asking certain questions
  • Tell them something interesting and informative about your product or service
  • Personalise your online survey e.g. ‘dear John’ rather than ‘dear customer’.  This will lead to a higher response than anonymous introduction
  • Offer incentives for completion if possible.  Discount vouchers are a commonly used technique.

Look and feel is important to ensure surveys are engaging.  Ensure a stylish professional template.  Consider corporate branding such as colours and images.  We use Smart Survey to deliver professional looking online surveys.

How to boost response rates?

Our attention is constantly been pulled one way or another with distractions like social media for example.  Consider why people should respond to your survey?  Some of the following techniques will help boost response rates and avoid survey fatigue:

  • Avoid over surveying your customers.  If you have a customer panel you consult – communicate a regular survey timetable to manage expectations
  • Communicate the value of the survey.  Feedback on what will happen as a result of the results
  • Thank respondents for taking time to complete
  • Send out reminders.  Target non responses from your sample.  Use gentle language to remind of the benefits of completion.

Test the survey

Test the survey using the online preview mode – more than once!  How would it read to a potential respondent?  Iterate to ensure the right length, structure and flow.  Are the questions easy to understand?  Send out a trial version to a critical friend who can give honest feedback.  Once you are happy it will deliver that balance of detail and ease, it’s good to go out externally.

Creating insightful and engaging surveys

Plan your survey for success.  Define your goals, who your audience is and when they are most likely to respond.  Appropriate questions lead to an effective survey which provides accurate customer insights.  Easy to complete questionnaires lead to higher response rates.   To achieve this balance, consider length, structure and flow.  Ensure your questions are easy to understand and avoid bias.  Consider strategies to engage with your target audience to boost response rates and avoid survey fatigue.  Test your survey until you are happy it is going to yield accurate results and people will want to fill it in.