How to Design Customer Satisfaction Surveys that Get Results

Designing customer satisfaction surveys that get results isn’t only about writing questions. It is about engaging with your customer in a thoughtful and deliberate way to understand their experiences, understand where you are doing well and identify areas where you can improve.  The information collected through these surveys can be a valuable tool to help improve your products and services to better meet customer needs, compete effectively in the marketplace, and understand changes taking place in your customer’s business environment.

Why Do We Do Customer Satisfaction Surveys?

Customer satisfaction surveys aren’t just meant to give your company or your staff a “pat on the back” and make them feel good. They also aren’t something you should do simply because other companies do it and you think you must as a means of “checking the box”.  Satisfaction surveys are intended to provide critical and constructive feedback, helping you understand your strengths and weaknesses so you can improve company performance. Companies conduct surveys for a lot of different reasons, some of the most common are:

Measuring Sentiment

This is the most common reason companies conduct satisfaction surveys.  They want to try and quantify how happy (or unhappy) their customers are.  This information is often used as a part of performance management and rewards programs for customer service and sales staff.

Capturing Feedback

Sentiment gives you a measure of how your customers feel about their interactions with you but often fail to give you actionable insight into why they feel that way.  Customer satisfaction surveys that include open ended questions enable customers to provide comments, context and explanation to qualify their sentiment ratings. These comments can be helpful in both enabling customers to feel like they are being heard and in giving your staff more specific and actionable feedback.

Continuing the Customer Engagement

For many companies, the customer engagement ends when the sale is made, and product or service is delivered.  From a customer perspective, once you are out of sight, your company is no longer on their mind. Customer satisfaction surveys enable you to extend the customer engagement after the initial interaction and have a second chance to influence the customer’s perception about you.

Capturing Ideas for Improved Products and Services

Your company exists to provide products and/or services that fill a customer’s needs.  Satisfaction surveys are an effective way to measure how well those needs are being met and identify opportunities and ideas for new offerings and/or changes to your existing products and services to better serve your customers.

Prompting Future Sales/Engagement

Customer satisfaction surveys aren’t always purely an information collection vehicle, they can also be used to share information about other products and services that your customers might be interested in.  Often, capturing a follow-on sale is as simple as asking for it.

Conduct Surveys with Purpose

When designing a customer satisfaction survey, the first step is to determine your goal and purpose for the effort. Start with the end in mind and figure out what you really want to learn from your audience and how you will use the information. Having a clear purpose will enable you to be direct and concise in your survey questions and generate data that is not only informative but actionable as well.

There are three scenarios where customer satisfaction surveys are often used as a tool for customer engagement.  The purpose, content and format of the surveys is significantly different for each of these along with the approach companies use to generate quality and actionable results.

After a Support Engagement or Sale  

This is the most common scenario in use by most companies that conduct surveys.  Shortly following the completion of a customer interaction, a survey is sent to capture specific feedback on that specific interaction.  These surveys often focus on agent effectiveness, quality of service and whether the specific need was addressed. Transaction based surveys are a great tool for capturing a point in time snapshot of the most recent interaction, which is great if you are seeking to understand customer service effectiveness.  These surveys don’t always do a good job of measuring the health of the relationship between your company and the customer or satisfaction with your products and services.


Customer satisfaction surveys conducted periodically (as compared to feedback on a single interaction) can provide a more holistic view of the health of the customer relationship and their satisfaction with your products and services.  Transaction based surveys often reflect short-term emotional responses to an interaction with a single agent or a specific experience (sale, question, problem) with your products and services. Over time, short-term emotional responses are tempered leading to a more objective view of individual situations in the context of the overall interaction with your company.  In addition to measuring broader satisfaction trends, periodic surveys can also be conducted with multiple customers simultaneously, enabling the use of statistical analysis techniques to understand the bigger picture of how your company is doing.

Process Improvement Projects

Satisfaction surveys can also be used as “virtual focus groups” capturing specific and detailed feedback in support of a process or product improvement effort.  Customer input can be a valuable tool to validate ideas generated by your internal staff as well as identify new opportunities that your company might pursue. These surveys are often created to “drill-down” on themes and feedback captured from post-engagement and periodic customer satisfaction surveys.

Once you understand the purpose and type of survey that you want to conduct, you will be able to begin formulating the questions, the context and the approach for conducting the survey.  There is no “one size fits all” survey that will meet all o your needs, you will need to tailor your content and approach to the purpose that you’ve identified.

Creating the Survey

In the digital age, creating effective customer satisfaction surveys doesn’t have to be difficult and companies don’t need to start from scratch.  Start by figuring out what survey tool you are going to use (like the capabilities offered in Freshdesk) and understand the capabilities that it has to offer you.  Survey templates can help you structure the experience for the respondent so you can focus on asking the right questions that will prompt the feedback and insights that your company is looking for.  

Make it Uniquely Yours

Be sure to apply your company’s branding to the survey. A customer satisfaction survey is one of the many interactions your company has with the customer. It is important that they feel a continuity between this interaction and other experiences doing business with you.  Consider the format, look, feel, tone of the messaging and use of your company’s logo. Do they match your company’s culture and the image you are trying to portray?

Be Clear and Concise

Once you have the structure and template figured out, you can start writing the questions.  Create clear questions. Focus on one topic at a time. Don’t try to sway the audience or guide them to certain answers – you want the feedback to be un-biased. It is important to be specific enough that the customer understands what they are responding to but open enough to prompt the customer to think, reflect and respond to the question.   

Don’t Overdo It

Keep your survey to 5-10 questions. It is best to pick a couple of question types (Best fit, multiple choice, assess on a scale, free form text, etc.) to make it easier for respondents to understand how they need to answer the questions. Too may question formats can be confusing. For multiple choice questions, make sure there are answers for all possible options.  If customers don’t see an answer that applies to them, they are likely to either provide false data or abandon the survey and not complete it. For questions that ask respondents to assess their feelings on a scale, be consistent. (0 – 10, 1 – 5, low/medium/high, etc.) and use the same scale across your survey.

Add a Summary Question

It is important that your survey have a strong concluding question that serves as the last thought on the customer’s mind when they have completed the survey.  The final question will determine whether the customer feels like you are truly interested in what they have to say and whether completing the survey was a good use of their time.  Here are 3 examples of summary questions that achieve this objective:

Net Promotor Score

This index ranging from -100 to 100 measures how likely are you to refer this company’s products or services to a friend or family member. It is widely used as a proxy for gauging your customer’s overall satisfaction with your company’s product or service and the customer’s loyalty to your brand.  Studies have shown that this one question provides the strongest single indicator of customer satisfaction.  Keep in mind that for post-transaction surveys (such as the completion of a support ticket) the score given to this question will have more to do with the most recent interaction than the overall satisfaction of your products/services or the perception of your company.

Rate Your Experience

“Overall, how happy are you with the service provided in this interaction?”  If what your survey is trying to capture is feedback on a single customer interaction, ask them for that feedback directly.  It will give you better point-in-time data that you can use for things like staff training.

Open-ended Feedback

“What could we have done to make your experience even better?”  Give an opportunity for open feedback/ verbatim comments and to request a follow-up.  Often customers will be very direct with describing where their experience fell short and by framing it in the context of “what could we do better” the customer is left feeling like they have input into making things better. This makes them more likely to engage in the future.

Before you send out your survey, be sure to test it out and make sure everything works. Broken links, spelling, grammar and readability issues on different screen types WILL be noticed by your customers and can undermine their perceptions about your company and the quality of products and services you provide. Be aware of cultural nuances for your specific audience as well – including gender references and potentially offensive statements.

The Invitation

Customers will decide whether to complete your survey (or not) before they ever see the first question.  The introductory message that invites them to participate in the survey is critical to generating the results that you are seeking.  All too often, companies overlook this critical element of the survey experience and wonder why their survey response rates are low. They are failing to understand that is the invitation that customers use to determine if completing the survey is worth their time and effort.  Here are 4 tips for creating an invitation that will get your customer’s attention:

Create an Enticing Subject Line

Use concise and active language that will get their attention.  Your subject line should be no more than 30-50 characters long and explain why the customer should want to take your survey.  Keep in mind that many customers read email on smartphones and other mobile devices and all it takes is a swipe of their finger to send your survey invitation to the trash.  If you can’t get their attention with the message subject, you will never get them to the actual survey.

Offer an Effective and Concise Invitation

The key is to explain why you are contacting them for the survey (completed transaction, periodic survey, improvement effort) what you are asking them to do, why it is a good use of their time and set expectations for how much of a time commitment you are requesting.  You can refer to your survey purpose for clarity on the content of the survey but in the invitation, be sure to explain “why” from the perspective of the customer. (why is it a valuable use of their time?) Include some indication of how many questions will be asked, how long it should take to complete, what the information is being collected for.  If you are offering an incentive, be sure to make that clear. Incentives can be a successful tool for increasing response rates.


Customers understand that you are using a form letter but using first names and personalizing the message with references to past purchases, how long they have been a customer and other available data can give customers the impression that you care about them as an individual and aren’t just blasting the message to a big contact list.  

Keep it Short

Your customers’ time is valuable and time spent reading an invitation takes away time that they could be spending providing you valuable insight.  A few lines in the message and a call to action is ideal.

Like the survey itself, be sure to test out your invitation message and make sure everything looks okay before you send it to customers.  View it in both HTML and Text formats and on different screen sizes to make sure the invitation represents your company in a positive way. Broken links, weird formatting or mis-spelling is a good way to have your invitation end up in the trash.

Measuring Results

How do you know if your survey is successful?  Sending a blast email with a generic invitation to a long survey or one with poorly worded questions isn’t likely to give you the insightful and actionable information that your company needs.  By monitoring survey performance metrics and analyzing the data that surveys are producing, you will have a much clearer picture of the results your survey is producing. Keep in mind that at the end of the day, the real value comes from how you use the information to drive change and make your business better.  Here are the top measurements to benchmark the performance of your survey and your technique.

Response Rates

Don’t be surprised to see single or low double-digit response rates early on, with practice and refinement of your content and approach, response rates should get better.


Some customers will stop part way through the survey and not complete it.  This is often due to a survey that is too long, confusing, or formatted in a way that requires more effort than respondents are willing to provide.

Time to Complete

You could also measure this as the number of clicks to complete the survey starting with the receipt of the invitation.  The more concise and refined your survey questions and format are, the quicker customers will be able to complete the activity and more likely they are to provide you with the information you seek.

Acquiring the data is on the first part of measuring the results of your customer satisfaction survey.  The quality of data collected, and usefulness is also important to consider.

Statistical Analysis of Results

There are many statistical methods that can be used to analyze your survey data and help you understand accuracy, trends and interpret what the survey data means to your business.  Correlating survey data with other operational data (sales records, past surveys and referrals) can also be a helpful way of qualifying survey responses.

Survey Confidence

Did you get a good enough sample to give you confidence in the results?  Small sample sizes, bi-modal distributions (really happy and really upset with not much in the middle) and low response rates can all impact the meaningfulness of data that is collected from your survey activities.  The key is understanding how much data you have and what its quality (and deficiencies) are so you can confidently use the data for making business decisions.

Achieving the Survey Purpose

You initiated the customer satisfaction survey with a purpose in mind and some questions that you were hoping to answer.  Did you achieve that goal and obtain the desired clarity? A positive survey result is not the same as positive scores on the survey questions.  Your customer satisfaction survey should seek to accurately capture and represent customer sentiment and perceptions. Negative scores and critical feedback provide valuable insight to drive improvements.

Refining Your Technique

Improving Response Rate

Response rate is often one of the most frustrating metrics that you will encounter when conducting satisfaction surveys.  There are a lot of factors that play into determining whether a respondent completes the survey including: timing on when the invitation is sent, content of the invitation message, length of survey, incentives and the distribution list the survey was sent to.  Of these, timing is the factor most easily improved. Response rates are highest on Mondays and Tuesdays and for invitations sent in the morning.  These are times during the normal business week when respondents are likely to have fewer pressing deadlines and less distractions.

Improving Questions to Get Better Insights

If you are getting decent response rates but finding that the data that your survey isn’t giving you meaningful and actionable information, consider refining the content of your survey.  Simplify the wording of your questions to be more concise and direct. Try different types of questions (such as multiple choice or ranking). You might also consider making topics more specific to areas you are seeking insights or use open-ended vs rating questions that provide customers more opportunity to provide qualitative feedback and expanded explanations.

Expanding Your Definition of Satisfaction

Sentiment is an emotional concept that goes beyond degrees of happiness and sadness.  Consider adapting your questions to capture other emotions as well – consider emotions like: excitement, frustration, boredom, weariness, delight, comfort, relief.  The way you phrase and structure your questions can elicit a wide range of insightful responses. Understanding some of these other sentiments can help you better understand the causes and triggers of the emotions so you can work on influencing them in ways that benefit your business.

Designing customer satisfaction surveys that get results is about understanding and engaging with your customer in a thoughtful and deliberate way to understand their experiences, understand where you are doing well and identify areas where you can improve.  The effectiveness of your survey will depend on what you are trying to achieve and how well you execute. A clearly defined purpose, a well thought out survey, a compelling invitation and a little bit of practice are all it takes to use this tool to help provide the processes, products and services that delight your customers. 

P.S: Watch this webinar to understand the importance of tracking the right metrics and setting the desired benchmarks for your support team. Our Customer Success Lead takes you through highlights from the Customer Happiness Benchmark report. 

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