Writing Survey Questions? Here are 9 Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make

in Business by Martha Brooke

Writing Survey Questions? Here are 9 Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make

Warren Buffet said, “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”

Unfortunately, many companies don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to writing survey questions. The risk? Losing out on valuable customer feedback.

Great customer and employee surveys have a tried-and-true formula: write engaging survey questions. Then, package them with persuasive survey invites. Yep, that’s the secret.

Thanks to software like SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics, and Medallia, you can build your survey. But these survey platforms won’t write questions for you. While they may offer suggestions, these are often bland and generic. Writing survey questions that your customers will find relevant and interesting is your job.

Before You Start

Customers respond to question order, tone, and context, so keep these aspects in mind as you plan your questions. And make sure there’s a balance between open text and simple rating questions to keep your respondents engaged. On to the 9 survey mistakes you should avoid when writing survey questions.

Mistake 1: When You Force Customers to Identify Themselves

Every survey should offer customers (or employees) the option to take it anonymously. Of course, it’s natural to want to know who’s behind the ratings. But when you give respondents the choice, usually around half will want to take your survey anonymously. That’s because people fear invasive follow-ups and possible retaliation for bad reviews. But all feedback is valuable, and you don’t want to lose any of it.

Mistake 2: When You Don’t Link CRM Data

Companies often assume that embedding operations data like incident numbers and product information into surveys undermines its anonymity. That’s not true. You can add this information to your survey without customers seeing it. And embedded data is helpful for teams that interact with customers, like tech support or consumer affairs, to get a sense of how specific representatives or teams rank.

Mistake 3: When You Ignore Response Rates

How is your survey going to stand out from the crowd in your customers’ email inbox? High survey response rates matter because you need to get a representative sample of your customers. There are proven ways to increase survey response rates, like offering gift cards or priority codes for completing the survey. And be sure to use persuasive phrases and power words in your email invites.

Mistake 4: When You Send Irrelevant Surveys

Your customers should only answer survey questions that apply to them. Logic gating ensures that customers see different questions based on their customer experiences. This ensures your survey stays short, and it results in accurate data because customers aren’t forced to answer irrelevant questions. And don’t send a customer a survey while they still have a ticket open with your company or the product is still in transit. If you want relevant data, send surveys after the interaction has concluded fully, not in the middle of it.

Mistake 5: When You Annoy Your Customers

While you should send surveys after interactions have concluded, don’t send them after every interaction! Barraging your customers with multiple surveys is a no-no. Use suppression files to ensure that surveys are evenly distributed among different customer groups.

Mistake 6: When You Collect Feedback Only from Your Survey

Some customers may have feedback but don’t want to take your survey, instead preferring to email their comments or to give you a phone call. Give them a communication channel, too. The whole purpose of a survey is to connect with customers and hear their thoughts. But when you send a survey from a no-reply email address, your invitation is insincere and cold. Instead, let customers respond to your email directly. All feedback is valuable feedback!

Mistake 7: When You Treat All Issues as Equally Important

Multiple elements in each customer interaction impact the customers’ overall opinion. But these elements aren’t all equally important. If you treat them as if they are, your analysis will be wrong. The remedy? Give your customers a list of departments or aspects of their experience and ask them to rank them in order of importance. Weight your survey data accordingly. 


Mistake 8: When You Let Your Valuable Data Gather Dust

Put your data to use to gather actionable insights. Use real-time dashboards to analyze data, including text analysis, and identify areas for improvement. And use your data to identify the root cause of your scores. Why is your Net Promoter Score the way it is? The answer is in your data.

Mistake 9: When You Ask Leading Questions

Good surveys follow the same principles of good science. That is, keep your survey questions neutral and unbiased. So, make sure you don’t push your customers into leaving stellar reviews, like when they’re still in the car with their Uber driver or still on the phone with their customer service representative. Instead, send the survey later to make sure your customers have the freedom to be honest.

Surveys Are the Start, Not the Finish

These nine mistakes to avoid will help you write a survey that gets to the heart of your customers’ honest thoughts. If you want to dig deeper, read our guide to 20 common survey flaws you should avoid when writing survey questions. Americans’ overall customer satisfaction is just 74.1, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. A solid survey is the first step toward increasing your customers’ satisfaction. If you don’t want to risk losing out on your customers’ thoughts, know what you’re doing when it comes to writing survey questions.

Want to discuss how to write the best survey questions? Get in touch! 

About the Author

Martha Brooke

To test, measure, and improve the customer experience, Martha founded Interaction Metrics in 2004. Interaction Metrics works with clients that need to pinpoint their experience gaps and opportunities – and value an independent, scientific approach. Methods: text analytics, customer service evaluations, and a wide array of surveys. A sought-after speaker, Martha has been featured at numerous conferences and events, including ASCRS, Project Management Institute (PMI), HDI, American Marketing Association and much more! She’s been quoted by the LA Times for her alternative views on customer surveys. And she’s frequently interviewed on topics such as the pros and cons of Net Promoter Score. Martha is certified in Customer Experience (CCXP) and holds a Blackbelt in Six Sigma.

Full Biography

Related Business Articles