The Craft of Designing Surveys for Customers

Surveys are a cheap yet simple way to get feedback from your customers or users. A well-designed survey that delivers a good user experience can ensure not only higher response rates but also data that is both honest and accurate.

Surveys are one of the most used and ‘abused’ modes of collecting feedback from a large audience. I say abused because nowadays every other app or service wants to know what you think. But the pain they put you through to get that information is agonizing, to say the least.

You sign up for a new product, they email you a survey. You go to an event, somebody comes up to you with an iPad asking you to part take a survey. You order food through an app and you get a survey.

It is safe to say that many of you must have taken a survey, at least once in your life. Now try and remember and tell me, how many of those surveys did you leave midway because they were mentally exhausting? Plenty, I am sure. What about the ones that were fun and delightful to answer? Just a few of them.

Why were some of the surveys good and some not so good? You’d think, that’s easy! The good ones were simple, short, and fun and the bad ones were just too long, confusing, and boring.

It’s not just that!

One of the biggest mistakes we make when creating surveys is forgetting that surveys are more than just feedback forms. Surveys are also a form of conversation with your customers or users. What differentiates a good survey from a bad survey is whether this conversation is two-sided or one-sided. If the customer or user has to converse with themselves, introspect, and then respond to your survey, then you haven’t done quite well. Your understanding of this mental model when designing a survey will determine the outcome of the survey.

Surveys are also a form of conversation with your customers or users. #ux #surveys #customerfeedback Click To Tweet

Stop Creating Surveys And Start Designing Them

The difference between creating and designing a survey is that when you design a survey you think beyond just the questions you need answers for. The process of creation and design are fundamentally different because you create for your own self-satisfaction. But when you design you do it to solve someone’s problem.

When designing a survey the problem you are solving is for the customer to be able to answer it with the least amount of cognitive burden and disruption as possible while tailoring responses that can be easily interpreted for insights. Hence it is necessary for you to think about the channel and the context in which the participants will take the survey. Answer types are decided based on how you want to interpret and represent it to your stakeholders.

When a survey is designed, participants are influenced to share their thoughts and opinions with the least amount of friction. #ux #surveys #customerfeedback Click To Tweet

So how can you design an effective survey experience? Here are some key pointers for designing a survey.

Do Your Homework

Creating surveys that require customers to write essays for answers should be avoided as much as possible. Research shows that surveys with more objective questions have higher response and completion rates as compared to those with subjective questions.

This brings up another problem  — how can you provide participants with relevant answer choices?

The best way to get to this is to invest some time in doing a bit of qualitative research. After you have identified your target audience and finalized the questions, reach out to 5–6 people and engage them in qualitative interviews. Answers that you get from this set will become repetitive after you have talked to the 6th person. Apart from slight variations, you should be able to see trends in the answers. Now use these variations as answer choices to understand the pulse of the larger group.

Stop Interrogating And Start Speaking

The more natural you make this conversation, better are your chances of getting honest and accurate responses. Creating questions in this way helps you think of answers that are more relatable to the participant thereby helping them answer faster and giving you more accurate answers. For instance, let’s take the example of asking someone about how often they change their display pic. You can do it in two ways —

You can ask them how they do it. Straight and simple. Yet you can mess it all up by giving a set of nonsensical options for answers.

bad survey example

Or ask it in a manner that matches the way someone will think when asked such a question in a conversation.

good survey example

Asking questions in the first person provides participants an experience that will help them re-imagine the situation better and answer accurately.

Design Answers That Can Be Analyzed

Surveys provide quantitative outputs which when represented right can paint the right story about your customers. But to be able to do this, survey answers need to be designed to deliver meaningful and actionable insights.

Now let’s take the case where you want to understand how likely is it that a prospective customer might buy your product.

bad survey example

For starters, a customer will never think in the way the options are provided. Secondly what would be my inference if I have 30% users saying “Not so likely” and 12% saying “Not at all likely”? Is it that there is a slim chance of selling my product to the former group?

After I first posted this blog I had a lot of people asking me “How will a question like this entice an honest or rather a reliable answer from the participant? There is no need for them to remain consistent with their answer.” I agree, it is indeed unreliable but the solution for this is to not ask the customer about their opinion and ask them about 2 things.

– Their behavior in the past (in a similar context)
– Things that might influence their behavior (reviews, recommendations etc)

good survey example

Here if a customer has no intention of buying it he/she can very clearly choose the relevant answer and move forward to the next question. The benefit of this approach is that you talk in the customer’s language and help them share their answer with the least amount of friction. And when analyzing the responses there is no ambiguity for you to come to a conclusion about your audiences’ intent.

Keep It Simple, Keep It Short — Respect Your Audiences’ Time

If your survey is lengthy your audience is just filling it out, not answering it.

Understand that your customers are not obliged to give you honest answers. If you put them through a gruelling session of 30 questions in a survey, you are immensely reducing the chances of people completing the survey. And even in the completed ones the chances of people having chosen random answers will be very high. Respect the fact that your audiences have other things to do in their lives apart from answering your survey.

Ideally, surveys should not have more than 10 questions. Time and again I have seen completion rates that are way higher for surveys with less than 10 questions than otherwise.

Do your research well on the audience from whom you seek information. For instance, if they are your customers, use your CRM data to identify their name, company, and other such demographic data. Stop asking questions for which you already have answers. It will only lengthen your survey and reduce your chances of getting data on questions for which you actually need answers.

Design For The Context

Keeping in mind the context in which your audience will be taking your survey can make your completion rates go through the roof. Imagine you are selling a customer support software and you want to get your customers’ feedback on the product. Giving a popup quiz with 10 questions at their peak work time will only hinder their usual work cycle. At the same time sending it to them, at say post their lunch time, will get them to take and complete the survey without disturbing their day-to-day work cycle.

Think about what would be running in there when they take the survey. Do a bit of UX research, engage with customers, set up one-on-one interviews, talk to them about a day in their life, or ask them to explain how they execute their day-to-day tasks. Then use this information to identify when your audience will be in this state of mind on any given day. Time your surveys based on this information.


A deeper understanding of your customers will help you craft the right survey experience for them. And a well-crafted survey that matches their mental model will give you insights that will be much deeper and actionable.

Stop creating surveys and start designing them. #uxresearch #customerfeedback Click To Tweet

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