Customer surveys constitute an invaluable solution for businesses seeking to deliver better customer service, better understand problem areas and breakdowns in service delivery or product design and development, and improve your profitability and success. While some pundits have proclaimed the customer survey dead due to low completion rates, others swear by the right customer survey. In truth, customer surveys remain one of the more powerful tools available to business owners and decision-makers, but it’s vital that you go about creating them the right way. What should you know about creating a customer survey?

Critical Issues to Avoid When Creating a Customer Survey

While customer surveys can be tremendously valuable, they must be constructed in the right way in order for you to attain that value. Done the wrong way, your customers will be disinterested and likely not engage at all. This is largely what is responsible for the proclamations that surveys offer little to no value any longer. Those surveys were simply flawed to begin with. So, what should you avoid?

Is Your Customer Survey Too Long?

Is your customer survey too long

If there is one sin more commonly committed when creating a customer survey than any other, it is the sin of length. Don’t be afraid to be brief. If your survey is too long, your customers are going to take one look at it and think to themselves, “I don’t have time for this.” That will be the end of it. Take your customers’ time seriously, and show that you do by committing to brevity.

You can best accomplish that through in-depth planning and preparation. Focus on key questions that matter the most to your company. Consider splitting up some of your questions into separate surveys and grouping related questions together. Note that survey length does not have any impact on the amount of information that you might gather from a customer completing the survey.

For instance, a customer who receives a 30-question survey is likely to ignore it completely. However, that same customer might receive an open-ended email that asks, “You backed us on Kickstarter, and we wanted to check if you had ideas on improving our product,” and spend a full 10 minutes providing a well-thought-out, informative answer, despite the fact that they would spend roughly the same amount of time completing each of survey.

If all else fails, remember the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid). Be clear. Be concise. Eliminate questions that really don’t matter to anything other than your ego or pride.

Is Your Customer Survey Connected to the Customer Experience?

Another reason that customer surveys fail is that they are just too disconnected from the actual customer experience. Think of it this way: A customer comes into your establishment, or you provide them with service (cable setup, high-speed internet connection, or something similar).

However, the survey you send does not go out until 10 days after the appointment was completed. By that point, the customer has largely forgotten about the specifics of the experience. Yes, they recall what happened. Yes, they recall the technician, customer support person, or sales individual they dealt with. However, they do not catch the customer in the moment.

For instance, Virgin Media started a campaign called Voice of the Customer in 2016 that surveyed customers immediately after an appointment with a service technician. They expected a 10% response rate but received closer to 60%. They caught the customer when the experience was fresh in their minds, and this not only engendered better survey response rates but allowed them to home in on key errors and problems in those experiences where something went sideways.

Is Your Customer Survey Tied to Your Ultimate Goal?

People don’t like to complete surveys if they feel that the questions are pointless. Superfluous questions are an immediate turn-off, and will lead to reduced response rates. You need to ensure that you’re only including questions that pertain to your ultimate goal, no matter how much you might want the answer to those unnecessary questions.

For each question, make sure that you know:

  • Why it is included
  • The purpose of the question
  • How that question ties into your ultimate goal

For instance, if you’re sending out a survey asking about a customer’s experience during a recent in-home appointment, there’s not much point in asking how they learned about your company. If you already have the customer’s phone number, name or address, there’s no point in asking them to provide it again. These questions waste the customer’s time, and that’s an affront you cannot afford to make.

Customer Surveys with the Wrong Question Format

What type of questions are you using in your surveys? The right format can encourage your customers to respond and share their thoughts and experiences. The wrong format will shut them down and shut them out. The questions in your survey should be intelligent, and they should be open-ended. They should not be close-ended, or obvious.

For instance, rather than, “Would you be willing to recommend our company to a friend or family member?”, which elicits a response of yes or no and nothing more, you might decide to ask if they would recommend your company, and in the next question, ask what makes them feel that way.

This provides them with a sense of making progress but also allows you to drill down into the truly important information. You really don’t care about whether or not someone would recommend your company – you care about WHY they would or wouldn’t do so. This is actionable information that you can take and use to improve your business, while as yes or no answer gives you nothing.

Don’t Ask Too Many Questions at Once

It can be tempting to bundle questions together. After all, it feels more concise and organized, right? And it allows you to get another question in there without going over your self-imposed limit. Here’s the thing – asking too many questions at once can feel like an interrogation, but it also prohibits your customer from giving you answers that contain truly valuable information.

Let’s go back to the example in the previous section. You asked two questions – would the customer recommend your company to a friend or family member, and why they feel that way. Those are related questions, and it can seem like they should be on the same line. Avoid that temptation. Stand strong and resist the urge. Giving in can lead you to keep combining questions into a massive series that prevents your customers from giving you decent answers, or makes them avoid filling out the survey in the first place.

With Customer Surveys, Specificity Matters

Too many surveys seem to make the assumption that customers will be specific without asking them to be. Let’s be clear here – specificity is your best friend. It helps you avoid ambiguity and ensures accuracy. It helps with quantifying answers to questions and even qualify customers.

If you want detailed information in response to a question, go ahead and make the ask. Spell it out (quite literally), otherwise, you will find that most of your respondents simply give you vague answers, or fail to answer at all.

What’s the Hook?

What’s the impetus for your customer to complete the survey? Do you expect them to do so just because you asked nicely? Some will, but most won’t. Do you expect them to do it out of some altruistic notion, or because they want to tell you about a negative experience? Again, those will work in some instances, but they’re few and far between.

You need to give your customers a hook – an incentive to complete the survey and turn it in, whether it’s digital or physical. What sort of incentive? That should vary with the length of the survey and other factors, but it should always fit the situation. If you’re asking them to complete a 10-minute survey, offer them a 5% discount on their next purchase. If you’re asking for 20 minutes of their life, offer something more.

However, make sure that you’re financially able to keep up with those incentives. You shouldn’t have to break the bank to get access to the information you need.


Creating a customer survey might seem like a relatively easy feat, but as you can surmise from the list of mistakes to avoid we covered previously, there’s a lot more to it than many people think. Thankfully, getting started only requires that you follow a few general steps, which makes it simpler to get off on the right foot.

1. Know Thyself: The first and single most important thing to do to create a customer survey is this – know what your goal is. Why are you creating the survey? What do you hope to learn? What sort of information are you looking for? How will that information be used by your company? If it helps, write down the goal. Use three to four sentences to sum it up so that you have something like a mission statement. Stick to that reason, and let it be the guiding principle behind the questions that you ask.

2. Create Your Survey Questions: Once you know your goal, you can take the next step. Outline the questions you want to ask. Write down as many as you can think of at first, and then take a step back. Take a few minutes away from that list. During that time, figure out how many questions you should really have on there. How many are too many? How many would give you the information you need? How many will your customers be happy to answer? Then, come back to it with a clear mind and focus on winnowing it down. Make sure that all questions remaining on the survey tie directly to your overall goal.

3. Choose a Survey Platform: Today, most surveys are delivered over the Internet. The days of handing out surveys to customers in the store, or having them mailed to customers at their homes are over. Digital technology has enabled quite a few beneficial tools. Once you have nailed down the questions that you want to ask, it’s time to decide how you’ll deliver those questions to your customers. You have a number of different survey platforms available online, including:

  • Podium Surveys
  • SurveyMonkey
  • SurveyPlanet
  • Zoho Survey
  • Checkbox Survey
  • GetFeedback
  • FluidSurveys
  • SurveyGizmo
  • Blue Enterprise Surveys
  • Typeform
  • Qualtrics Research Core
  • Snap Surveys

Each of the platforms offers something slightly different, whether it’s free functionality, the ability to drill down into data and connect the dots more easily, or something else. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but some of them do come close. For instance, SurveyMonkey is one of the most popular survey platforms available today, although it may not be the right choice for your specific needs.

4. Review, Revise, Tweak and Adjust: Once you’ve got your list of questions narrowed down, it’s time to take things further. Find a coworker or someone else you trust to look over your list of questions. If necessary, share the survey with the marketing team. If you’re a small business owner and lack a marketing department, you can find help in employees or managers within your business, or other stakeholders. The point is that you still have adjustments to make. Be brief. Be concise. Use your questions strategically to zero in on the information that matters most to your business. Your questions should encourage customers to be specific and as detailed as they need to be.

5. Send Out Survey: Now that you’ve created your top-notch survey, send it out to your target audience. It’s important that you send your survey in an easy-to-access delivery. Customers are much more willing to fill out a survey if they feel that the delivery is customized for them. Make sure your customers know how long the survey will take them before they click on the survey link.

In the end, creating a customer survey does not have to be as difficult as it seems. Approach it with a firm understanding of your purpose, and know what sort of information you need from your customers. Keep your questions concise and relevant to the survey’s purpose, and keep your survey from being too long.

Matt Boyce
Matt Boyce Head of SMB Marketing

Matt Boyce is a marketing and business professional at Podium, the premiere messaging platform that connects local businesses with their customers.

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