You know you need to know your customers. Check. You also know that surveys can be a great way to get information. Check. You know how to create an effective survey. Not-so-much-of-a-check? Don’t be intimidated. Creating an effective survey is pretty simple, just keep these things mind and you’ll be rich with customer insights in no time.

What’s my goal?

You’re thinking about creating a survey because you want information about, or from your customers. But, have you thought about what specific pieces of information you want?

Are you just trying to get to know your customers or prospects better? Do you want specific information (like, “Do you plan to shop for a new car in the next 6 months?”) that will allow you to take action? Do you want feedback on your existing products or services? Determining your ultimate goal will help hone your survey.

What should I ask?

This is an art unto itself. The possibilities of what to ask in your survey are virtually endless, and specific to your business and goal. Think about what information will help you reach your goal, and ask questions that will elicit that information. For example, if my goal is to choose a new flavor of coffee for my café, income level is probably irrelevant.

To get objective information, there are a few things you need to keep in mind when creating your questions.

Good questions:

  • Ask non-leading questions: “How would you rate our customer service?” is much more objective than, “We have award-winning customer service. How would you rate us?”
  • Ask for only one piece of information: “Are you satisfied with our price and quality?” is really two questions.
  • Don’t presume facts: “What don’t you like about your current gym?” assumes the respondent is a gym member.

Check out more great advice for crafting a good survey at our help site.

I also like to add a couple of demographic questions when I create surveys for VerticalResponse, such as “how many employees do you have?” and “what industry are you in?” While it may not relate to your specific goal, it’s helpful in creating a total picture of you customers and prospects.

You also need to decide what type of questions you want to ask.  The two most basic types are multiple choice and open-ended.

If there are a limited number of possible answers to a question (“What day of the week do you shop for groceries?”), or you believe you know most of the likely responses (“What is your favorite flavor of our ice cream?”), multiple choice makes it quick and easy for the survey-taker.

Of course, there are many additional question types, such as rank order and differential scales, that are a bit more complex but can yield more detailed insights. has good review of different types of questions and pitfalls to avoid.

An important, often overlooked aspect of creating a useful question is, make sure your response options are not overlapping. Using the example of shopping for a car from above, if I want to know when you plan to buy a new car, giving options of 0-3 months, 3-6 months, and 6 months-12 months can lead to poor data. Someone planning to shop in 6 months could choose either 3-6 months or 6-12 months. Your plan for communicating with someone making a purchase within 3 months (the low end of one option) should be very different than someone who won’t be ready for a year (the high end of the other option).

How will I administer the survey?

You have a goal, and you’re armed with relevant questions. Now what? There’s always the good, old-fashioned paper survey you hand out or send in the mail. It’s simple to create and administer, but you have to tabulate all the data by hand and may get a low response due to folks having to mail it back.

An easier way to get your customers’ insights is through an online survey tool like the VerticalResponse survey tool or SurveyMonkey. Most survey products will guide you through creating your survey and give you a web link you can share through email or on your Facebook page. Best of all, you get built in reporting, so your data is right at your fingertips.

What do the results mean?

It’s tempting to get your results and think, “Woo hoo – I’m done!” After all, you now should have a better understanding of your customers. But don’t stop there – this is where the rubber meets the road. What actions can you take based on what you’ve learned?

Have you learned that your customers are time-crunched? Your marketing message can highlight how your product or service saves time. Do they want a wider selection of products? Follow up to find out specifically what they want. Did someone mention a bad customer service experience? Make it right for them. Take your new-found insights and take action with them.

What’s the most helpful piece of information you’ve gleaned from a survey?

© 2013 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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