Customer surveys provide an honest and direct source of feedback that you can use to make important business decisions. Information gathered from surveys can affect various parts of your business, from what new product line to launch to where to open your second location or how to improve the customer experience. 

But to get the most from customer surveys, you need to have a better understanding of them— including how to write them. 

We’ve got you covered. 

What Is a Customer Survey? 

Customer surveys comprise questions that you ask your customers to get feedback about specific areas of your business you want more information on. Businesses regularly use customer surveys to learn about: 

  • Customer opinions 
  • Customer satisfaction levels
  • Issues with products or services
  • Marketing campaign effectiveness
  • Changes or improvements that customers feel are important
  • Customer preferences about cost, material choices, color, etc. 

Surveys are invaluable—they can help you get information on just about any business-related topic.  

Why Use Customer Surveys?

Why should you consider using customer surveys to gain access to the information you need? Simply put, your customers are the most important people in the world to your company. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to stay in business. This means that while your customers are beholden to your company in many ways, you are also beholden to them.

Tracking customer satisfaction and expectations helps you keep your customers happy. With surveys, you can get objective information about your business performance. You can discover what customers think you are doing well and what changes they would like to see. 

Man taking a survey

How Do Customer Surveys Work?

Thanks to technology, customer surveys are incredibly easy to administer. You don’t have to rely on printed forms or snail mail. Modern surveys are digital—many companies send surveys over email or social media. Customers can complete them instantly, and you get the results immediately. This makes it easier to get accurate information, as you can send the survey when your service or product is still fresh in the customer’s mind. 

In terms of functionality, surveys are pretty straightforward. You just create a series of questions about the topics you want customer opinions on. Then, you ask customers to answer them. It sounds easy enough, but asking the right questions can sometimes be more easily said than done. 

Are Customer Surveys Effective? 

You won’t find a consistent answer to how effective surveys are. There are varying opinions. Those who don’t think they are useful typically say that people just don’t fill them out. Some even cite completion rates of just 2%. That is not an accurate sample size. But other companies get much higher response rates of 60 to 70%. 

There are a few reasons for those varying response rates. 

Survey Fatigue

Survey fatigue is a very real issue. The fact that surveys are digital makes them easier to send and fill out, but this also increases the number of surveys customers have to deal with. Unfortunately, some companies go overboard. 

The good news is that this is mostly an issue for repeat surveys from the same company. So, as long as you don’t go overboard with surveys, you should be fine. The best practice here is to segment your customers. That way, only some of them get invitations for each survey. As a result, you can send more frequent surveys and get more relevant answers as well. 

Surveys are Too Long

Another big issue is the length of the surveys. Filling out ten questions is very doable for the average customer, but few people want to spend a half-hour filling out a survey. Simply put, if you have more questions on your survey, your customers will be less likely to complete it. Long surveys have terrible response rates. 

Surveys are Redundant

Another common problem with surveys is redundancy. Customers don’t want to answer the same question over and over again, even if you phrase it differently. But this isn’t just a matter of repeated questions. They also don’t want to answer questions you should already know the answer to. For example, they don’t want to keep entering their personal details or information about the products they bought. 

Instead, customers want to feel like individuals. It is simple to customize your survey, and this can lead to higher response rates. You can segment your audience based on who bought a given product, then send a survey about that product to those people. 

The Questions are Too Personal

Respondents also don’t want to have to answer personal questions in your surveys. In fact, a Zendesk survey found that 16% of those who said surveys were a waste of time weren’t happy about the number of personal questions in them. Take this to heart and avoid highly personal questions. 

If you can avoid all of these issues, then, yes, you should expect your surveys to be effective and provide useful information. 

How Can a Customer Survey Improve Your Business? 

As we’ve already mentioned, you can use the data from surveys to improve your business in limitless ways. It depends on your goals and the questions you ask. The following are the most common ways businesses use surveys. 

Gathering Customer Opinions

The most common reason businesses use surveys is to gather opinions from customers. This can be an opinion about nearly anything. What do customers say about your product’s durability or quality? Is your service worth the price? What do they think about your new redesign or your new product? 

Learning About the Customer Experience (and Satisfaction)

Another incredibly common use of surveys is to learn about customer satisfaction and the customer experience. This is crucial as only around 4% of unhappy customers will tell you about these. You need to reach out to your customers to hear about those bad experiences. After all, you can’t fix something if you don’t know it is broken. 


Overcoming Problems and Breakdowns

Sometimes, problems or breakdowns are inevitable in business. The good news is, they can also be learning experiences. If you can catch the issue early in a survey, you can overcome it before it turns into an even bigger problem. And if you can discover what caused it, you can prevent it from happening again in the future. 

How to Format a Customer Survey

With all of the above in mind, how do you format your customer survey to get the best possible results? Keep the following best practices in mind. 

Have a Clear Purpose

Before you start writing the survey, make sure you have a clear purpose. From there, ensure that every question on the survey ties into your purpose. 

Keep It Short

As mentioned, people are less likely to answer your survey if it is too long. As such, try to keep the survey as short as you can without sacrificing your ability to glean valuable information. There isn’t a hard and fast rule for the ideal survey length, but shorter is better. 

Ask One Question at a Time

When you format your survey, only ask one question at a time. If there is a follow-up question, ask that separately. This will improve the accuracy and level of detail of the answers people give you. For example, if you ask about a favorite product, ask which product is the customer’s favorite in one question and why in the next question. 

Include Yes and No Answers

Don’t underestimate the value of simple yes and no answers. Depending on how you craft them, these questions can give you very useful information. As a bonus, putting them at the top of the survey helps the survey seem shorter. 

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, a customer survey can be a very powerful tool, enabling you to drill down into the data you need to make informed, accurate decisions. No matter what your industry might be, or even how large or small your company is, surveys allow you to connect with the people who matter most to your success and learn more about what they want and expect.

Logan Wooden
Logan Wooden Product Marketing Manager, Retail

Logan Wooden is a Product Marketing professional at Podium, the premiere marketing and communications platform that connects local businesses with their customers.

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