Nine Rules for a Successful Customer Feedback Survey

Customer feedback surveys should be easy to take.

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. Fact is, asking busy people not just to take your survey, but also to 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.

Nevertheless, I work with too many entrepreneurs who seem to want the world, plus some, from every customer feedback survey. They ask question after question, trying to gather a cloud of data that, they hope, will guide them toward a million-dollar exit.

This is a bad approach. Not only can bad surveys hurt your brand, but they yield misleading data from frustrated customers.

So here are nine rules for keeping your survey questions simple and straightforward. We use these at Haven Insights — they lower our drop-off rates and dramatically enhance our survey data, and 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 eight questions. More is fine for certain audiences, or if respondents are being compensated. But in general, eight questions is as long as you ever want a general feedback survey to be.
  2. Don’t ask a single unnecessary question. You only have a few minutes of your customers’ time. Don’t waste it asking unimportant or overlapping questions. If someone hasn’t heard of your app, for example, 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. If respondents can skip questions, they will. Require all questions in your survey, except for ones that ask for personally identifiable information. This makes it easier for respondents, too — without the option to skip, they don’t have to consider that, too, when deciding how to answer.
  5. Stick to single-select, multi-select, and rank-order question types. While survey platforms add shiny new question types all the time, these often just confuse respondents and rarely yield data that’s any more useful than what can be done with these three familiar question types.
  6. Use scales wherever possible. Everyone is different. Scales give your customers the opportunity to express themselves with a bit more nuance than if they were asked simple yes or no questions. So less Were you satisfied? (yes/no) and more How satisfied were you? (Not at all to 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 over the course of a single survey, as respondents move quickly and some will not notice if a scale’s labels or direction has changed.
  8. Fully-label all scales (no numbers). It may seem odd, but numerical scale aren’t intuitive in all cultures and languages. So rather than numerical scales, use short (5- or 7-point) scales and label all points. Strongly disagree, Somewhat disagree, Unsure, Somewhat agree, 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 affinity to understanding, scales should align perfectly to the question being asked, and the answers being sought. Make sure your survey questions yield the exact findings you want.

The goal here is to nudge — to account for survey takers’ subconscious biases, and to minimize the amount of thinking and decision-making required to give you their opinions.

Now, these rules don’t necessarily hold for more in-depth surveys, or surveys where respondents are being compensated for their time. Detailed willingness-to-pay surveys, for example, 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 gauge your customers’ feelings about their experience with your brand — stick to these rules. Once you see just how useful your survey data can be, you’ll be glad you did.