How to Write Incredibly Effective Survey Questions
How often do you leap at an opportunity to do an online survey, with glee? Probably not that often – especially if you run a business.
Similarly to other people, you’re most likely trying to juggle life, work and everything in between. With the general survey response rate being 33% (typically much lower, depending on variables), it’s more probable that you’d swiftly opt out of the survey.
With that in mind, you may wonder if you really can make someone interested enough to complete a survey for your business.
This is a valid question that many business owners can struggle with; That, and how to make the survey useful enough to extract meaningful data for strategic planning.
If you’re asking yourself similar things of a similar nature, the short answer is that you need to understand what questions are right for your survey, and exactly how to write them.
WHY SURVEYS ARE IMPORTANT FOR BUSINESSES
It’s becoming clear that customers are increasingly getting fed up of surveys. Seth Godwin, former executive of dot com, stated that ‘Every [survey] question you ask is expensive (in terms of loyalty and goodwill).’
But if this is the case, what’s the point in even taking the risk to conduct a survey in the first place?
Put simply, every strategic action a business takes must be driven by what the customers want. Research reveals that for every complaint made, there are 26 other unhappy customers who stay silent. Most of which will end up leaving, never to return.
That means surveys may be one of the few ways to engage your customers and find out what they really think – before it’s too late.
Therefore, it’s important to get a clear insight into their views on your products and services.
Survey questionnaires facilitate this by collecting data in a structured way, that is useful for drawing analysis and making relevant, strategic decisions in line with findings.
It also enables you to have visibility of your product’s strengths and the things that are working well; as well as its weaknesses, and your business’ potential blind spots. Ergo, you have an opportunity to create a solution.
DEFINING CUSTOMER RESPONDENT GOALS TO DETERMINE THE SURVEY TYPE
This is how you don’t waste time creating surveys for the sake of it; But rather, ones that can genuinely help you make the right strategic decisions.
It’s why Godwin also said “Don’t ask a question, unless you truly care about the answer”.
The answers you obtain must really matter. To that end, the survey questions shouldn’t be a nuisance that serve no particular purpose.
With that in mind, it’s crucial to align your survey with your customer journey.
Your research goals and the stage your customers are at in their journey, will tell you the best type of survey to use. In turn, the survey type you choose will help you understand the right questions to ask.
For instance – Are they first time visitors, long-term customers, or a group of testers? Do you want to gather intelligence on what they think about your products and services, your content or simply the checkout flow?
Define your goal to determine which type of survey is best, based on your customers and where they are in your sales cycle.
Here are a few typical examples of customer touch points worth tracking, with relevant questions to ask.
Open ended questions:
- Describe yourself in one sentence.
- Why do you use our product/service? What problem does it help you resolve and how?
- What made you buy [the product]? What convinced you that it was a good decision?
- Did you hesitate before choosing us as a supplier? If so, why?
- Which other companies were the top-runners for you before deciding to opt with us?
- Did you encounter a particular frustration or problem when visiting our site?
- Anything else you would like to tell us?
David Darmanin, CEO of HotJar, highlighted this handful of open ended questions as also being particularly insightful:
- Where did you hear about our service?
- If a friend were to ask you about us, what would you say/how would you describe us?
- If for some reason you were unable to continue using our products/services, what would you miss the most?
- If you could choose one thing to add to our service, what would it be? What’s that crucial thing you think we’re missing?
- What challenges do you handle everyday?
Time is an important commodity that you’re asking people to give for your surveys.
If you want them to answer more than three open ended questions, make sure you offer them some sort of incentive to make it worth their while.
HotJar, for example, gave out an iPad as part of one of their incentives. Customers will be more responsive if you can offer some sort of gift card, or the chance to win something in a competition.
How do you feel about our organisation?
- I’m super happy with the service and would absolutely recommend it to a friend.
- It’s more or less sufficient for what I need, but I’d still be open to alternative suppliers.
- I’m not satisfied with my experience at all.
The responses elicited at this stage will help you solidify your brand identity and value proposition. What’s more, as customers would eventually tire of having to write several paragraphs, this form of question can be beneficial in keeping them engaged.
- What initially led you to use our service?
(Here, you would include a list of statements about your products or services that describe specific values they provide, for the customers to select all that apply to them.)
You’ve managed to create a pool of potential customers who have demonstrated an interest in choosing your products and services. How can you use your survey questionnaire to get them to bite?
In a podcast with Rand Fishkin – CEO and Co-Founder of SEOmoz, Fishkin reveals his technique. His goal isn’t so much to automatically land the win, but rather, to gradually ingratiate prospects into the community. “I want them to get educated, I want them to have a great experience with Moz.”
According to Rand, achieving this is a big win in the long run, because of the positive effect it will have on the overall customer lifetime value.
Using this method, you warm up the potential customer with an array of free webinars, or other valuable content in the form of blogs or articles, etc.
Then, the perfect opportunity has arisen to guide engaged prospects to a survey question, which will help them take the final steps toward your service:
- Has it crossed your mind to become our customer? Is there anything stopping you?
The answers you receive at this stage of the pre-customer journey, will serve to better the pre-conversion on-boarding experience; Which in turn, will create more loyal customers.
You’ve won the customer. They took those final steps through your business’ proverbial door. Having just purchased from you, there’s now some positive momentum you can use with your new customer.
You have an opportunity to squeeze in a few questions that will help polish your value proposition, and discover new ways to improve problem areas.
Turnbull, CEO of Groove, gives a great demonstration of how to do this.
Subject: You’re in 🙂 PLUS, a quick question…
I really appreciate you joining us at [company], and I know you’ll love it when you see how easy it is to [do the job your product was hired to do].
We built [product] to help businesses [reach a goal], and I hope that we can achieve that for you.
If you wouldn’t mind, I’d love it if you answered one quick question: why did you sign up for [product]?
I’m asking because knowing what made you sign up is really helpful for us in making sure that we’re delivering on what our users want. Just hit “reply” and let me know.
[Your name and company]
Including a survey on your thank you page is also a great way to go, and is recommended by Brian Massey, founder of Conversion Sciences.
According to Massey, because the customer would have just finished buying from you, they should still have a positive feeling towards your business. It’s in this position that they are most likely to help.
Based on his experience, Massey also suggested analysis drawn at this stage of the customer journey, will enable you to discover ways to leverage your service and maximize business.
One question in particular that worked for him, was centred on why the customer had chosen one of their products (a Lite automobile), over another (a Pro automobile). Asking this enabled him to identify that they needed to improve their messaging, in terms of highlighting the benefits of their products.
A few other examples of good questions to ask at this point are:
- Why did you decide to sign up/purchase from us today?
- Was there something that nearly prevented you from signing up with us?
- Could you list the top three things about us or our products that made you decide to join?
- Could you list the top three things about us or our product that almost prevented you from joining?
- If there was something we could have done to help make your decision-making process easier, what would that be?
Although user testing is typically used to understand user behaviour, there is also a lot of valuable insight you can gleam through running post-test surveys.
Once the participant has completed the desired actions on your website, follow up with a few questions while their impressions are still fresh:
- What was the worst thing about your experience?
- Which aspects of the experience could be improved?
- What did you like about the website?
- What other comments do you have?
Inevitably, businesses won’t be able to retain all their customers and there will be some degree of churn. However, even in failure there’s still useful insights to be taken away. As churn is usually a big obstacle to business’ growth, getting to the roots of what causes it, is invaluable.
Turnbull has another email template specifically for this scenario, which gets almost a 14% response rate, accompanied with a remarkable quality of feedback.
I noticed that you didn’t upgrade your account. I completely understand that [the product] isn’t the best fit for everyone, and there are no hard feelings on my end 🙂
But if you’re willing to answer, I have a quick question: what could we have done better to keep you as a customer?
Just hit “reply” and let me know.
Thanks! [Your name]
It’s easy to predominantly focus on investigating data for past and current customers, but what about finding out about site visitors in real-time, through on-site surveys?
According to Avinash Kaushik – author, public speaker and entrepreneur – there are the ‘three greatest ever questions’ for your visitors:
What is the purpose of your visit to our website today?
Alternative ways to phrase this could be:
- What led to you to be on our site today?
- What goal do you want to achieve on our site?
- Why have you visited us today?
- Were you able to complete your task today?
If they weren’t able to complete their task, you can ask why this was the case. A few ways to phrase this could be:
- If you didn’t successfully complete your task, please tell us what happened.
- What problem did you experience which stopped you from completing your task?
- Is there anything we can do better to help you with your task on your next visit?
A couple of additional questions are suggested by the founder of CXL, Peep Laja:
- What is stopping you from completing your purchase today?
- Are there any questions you’re not finding the answers to? (If they say “Yes,” ask which ones.)
Experiment to see which one gets a better response rate for you.
FORMULATING PRECISE AND ACCURATE QUESTIONS
Regardless of the form of survey you choose, utilise the following techniques to write a simple and effective survey.
Using these tips, you’ll be able to generate clear feedback which can then be turned into actionable steps for your business.
Keep your language clear and straightforward.
This will make it easier for respondents to understand quickly. Using convoluted words which may have multiple meanings, could confuse customers and require them to spend more time figuring out exactly what your question is. Additionally, ensure each question corresponds to just one thing.
Ask precise questions to get precise answers.
There may be several ways to interpret an idea, so making sure your questions are clearly defined will enable customers to answer you as such.
For example “how many days a week do you eat take-out?” would work better than “do you often get take-out?”
Breakdown broad areas you want to explore, into bite size chunks.
Take for instance, topics such as customer satisfaction, customer journey, etc. It’ll be much easier to navigate these by segmenting them into smaller questions which respondents can easily answer, in a way that’s useful for you.
Create unbiased, non-leading questions.
Essentially, the goal here is to not elicit a particular response.
Our own biases and points of view can accidentally filter into the questions we write in a survey.
Inevitably, there would therefore be a strong chance of respondents’ answers being influenced by this.
It may subtly goad the respondents into answering the question in a particular way, consequently undermining the survey results.
By way of illustration, take the following question:
“Should the school employ crossing guards to protect our children?”
This could elicit a very different response, as opposed to the one you may get from a similar, yet more carefully worded question:
“Do you think the school should cut the gym budget to pay crossing guards?”
Asking someone who knows you to take a look at your survey, is a good way of detecting whether there are any questions that subtly indicate the answers you want.
If they’re able to predict what answers you’re looking for, it probably means you need to rephrase the question.
KEEPING THE RESPONDENT ENGAGED
Once you’ve taken these steps to build a survey packed with effective, insightful questions, you’ll obviously want people to actually participate in it.
The following methods will help ensure a high-response rate for your survey.
Double check that your survey is short enough – a survey which is too long will deter people from completing it.
Offer some sort of incentive to entice people into spending their time on the survey. 3 reasons people usually complete surveys tend to be because they want to be helpful, they’re particularly interested in the survey subject, or they want to receive an incentive.
Research indicates that cash is particularly effective in this respect. Whilst it is not the only option, it is proven to have higher response rates than non-monetary incentives.
That said, although money may increase the response rates, it’s worth noting that incentives are just one of many factors needed to engage respondents.
Not taking this into account could lead to using an incentive which might not necessarily bear much difference on response rates. What’s more, it could alter the validity of your results.
E.g. If a person only does a survey purely for the money, there’s a chance they might just complete it without actually giving the questions any thought.
Show a progress bar, so respondents have an idea of how much longer it will take for them to complete. Giving your customers an approximation the time required to fill your survey, will have a considerably positive impact on your research. Their answers will be more accurate and will have had more thought put into them.
Brand your survey. Research shows that third-party emails will most likely lower a survey’s response rate. Instead, customers may interpret them to be spam or phishing emails.
But if a customer knows and trusts the brand sending them an email, they’ll be more inclined to open it and do the survey.
Whether or not the customer chooses to do the survey, at the very least, they will have a sense that the company cares about what the customer thinks. (Although, this is only if you act on the feedback received.)
The brand would have demonstrated this by engaging with their customers to listen to their feedback; which in turn, builds more of a connection with them.
Maintaining this connection is a great way to strengthen your brand, when the time arrives for the customer to decide whether to purchase from you.
Consider offering anonymity to your respondents. People can be hesitant to state their true opinions – especially if they’re negative.
Although most companies doing these surveys are probably relatively professional, respondents can feel unease at the prospect of there being some sort of consequence if they speak their minds candidly.
This can especially be the case for employees doing surveys for the workplace; or indeed, any situation where the nature of the survey and feedback can be considered as delicate.
It’s in these instances, that giving respondents anonymity would be a useful tool to prevent them from being deterred by fear.
In fact, it’s also a convenient way of ensuring you get frank and truthful responses. It will show you how your customers really feel about your business, and ultimately, what changes you need to make to improve your proposition.
Writing an effective survey question goes beyond simply using the right language. It’s actually a combination of several different factors:
Segmenting the customers you have as well as site visitors, understanding their needs and typical behavior, defining your business goals in order to clarify your research focus, etc.
The area that you feel is best to dedicate the most energy to, is dependent on your business.
However, the underlying theme here is that simply asking the first questions which pop into your mind won’t suffice. It’s important to take the time to craft well thought out, engaging questions with a clear purpose.
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