customer feedback survey

9 Rules for a Successful Customer Feedback Survey

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I know, because I’ve designed, programmed, fielded, and analyzed thousands. And I’ve seen firsthand that when surveys are the least bit confusing, respondents drop like flies. They leave. Bounce. Bail.

Whatever you want to call it. The fact is, asking busy people to take your survey and figure out how to take your survey is pointless and rude. It’s like getting a meeting with a potential investor, then asking her to drive two hours to your office.

We’ve worked with some folks who have high expectations from every customer feedback survey. They ask question after question, trying to gather a cloud of data that, they hope, will guide them. In our opinion, this is not the right approach. Not only can bad surveys hurt your brand, but they can yield misleading data from frustrated customers.

That said, here are nine rules (internally, we like to call them the Nina “nine-ah” rules – cause she’s the boss 😉 for keeping your survey questions simple and straightforward. We use these at Resolution Research — they lower drop-off rates and enhance our survey data, and we believe they’ll have the same effects for you.

1) Keep surveys short.

There’s nothing worse than a survey that never ends. A rule of thumb is (more Nina rules) nine questions. More is acceptable for specific audiences, or if respondents receive compensation. But in general, nine questions are about as long as you’d want a general feedback survey.

2) Don’t ask a single unnecessary question.

You only have a few minutes of your customers’ time. Please don’t waste it, asking unimportant or overlapping questions. For example, if someone hasn’t heard of your app, they probably haven’t used it — no need to ask both questions.

3) Use short, clear sentences.

Again, your customers shouldn’t have to think about how to give you their opinion. The meaning of survey questions should be obvious and intuitive. Answering should be instinctual.

4) Require all questions, except for ones that ask for personally identifiable information (PII). 

If respondents can skip questions, they will. Plus, this makes it easier for respondents too — without the option to skip, they don’t have to consider that when deciding how to answer.

5) Stick to single-select, multi-select, and rank-order question types.

While survey platforms often add shiny new question types, these often confuse respondents and rarely gain any more useful data than these three familiar question types yield.

6) Use scales wherever possible.

Everyone is different. Scales allow your customers to express themselves with a bit more nuanced than if asked simple yes or no questions. So less, “Were you satisfied?” (Yes or No) — and more “How satisfied were you?” (Using a 5-point scale, where is 1 extremely dissatisfied to 5 being extremely satisfied).

7) Make logical and consistent scales.

Either end of your scales should be exact, polar opposites. And the direction or size of scales should not change in a single survey, as respondents move quickly, and some may not notice if a scale’s labels or approach has changed.

8) Fully-label all scales (not just numbers).

It may seem odd, but numerical scales aren’t intuitive in all cultures and languages. So rather than only numerical scales, use short (5- or 7-point) scales and label each answer choice, such as 1) Strongly disagree, 2) Somewhat disagree, 3) Unsure, 4) Somewhat agree, 5) Strongly agree. This makes your question text shorter, too — no need to explain the meaning of a label-less scale.

9.) Choose question types and scales strategically, not arbitrarily.

From agreement to understanding, scales should align perfectly to the question asked and the answers sought.

The goal here is to nudge — to account for survey takers’ subconscious biases and minimize the amount of thinking and decision-making required to give opinions for a quick customer feedback survey. These rules don’t necessarily hold for more in-depth surveys or compensated surveys as paid surveys can be dozens of questions long and dive deep into consumers’ thoughts and feelings about a host of topics.

But, for a general customer feedback survey — to quickly gauge your customers’ feelings about their experience with your brand — stick to these nine rules. Once you see just how useful your survey data can be, you’ll be glad you did!


Written By: Nick Freiling


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