Article first published January 2016, updated June 2019
Feedback from customers is an important part of doing business. After all, you want your customers to be happy and returning to your business again and again.
In the perfect world, customer feedback would roll in automatically. You’d always know exactly what customers thought of your business, your products, and your services. In the real world, getting this feedback isn’t always easy.
That’s where online surveys come in. Today, there are tools that make it easy to create, send, track, and analyze online surveys. The trick is to make sure you’re sending out a survey that returns meaningful results.
In this post, we’ll share best practices for your online surveys, so that you can find out exactly what your customers are thinking and create effective surveys that get responses.
Online survey best practices
Results from an online survey can help you determine product roadmaps, improve customer service, and help refine marketing initiatives. But you need to know some best practices if you want to get helpful results.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Keep your surveys short. Most survey experts recommend keeping things short to ensure you get as many people to complete your survey as possible. It might be tempting to ask about everything you want to know, but you’re better off optimizing a small number of questions and making them really count. It shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes to fill out your survey.
Send surveys at optimal times. Data shows that Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are some of the best days of the week to send out surveys and that many surveys see better response rates outside of work hours. It’s a good strategy to send out a survey at the very beginning or very end of the workday, which will prevent the survey from getting mixed in with other messages.
Optimize for mobile. People open emails on their smartphones and tablets and will want to complete surveys on these devices as well. Make sure your surveys look good and function well on mobile devices. Send out test surveys and take on your own device to make sure everything functions as you want it to before sending out to your list.
Use email to promote your survey. You could post a survey on your website or encourage customers to fill it out using social media, but email has proven to be one of the most effective ways to get responses. It’s direct, and stays in a customer’s inbox, reminding them to take it when it’s convenient.
Use best-of-breed online survey tools. Tools like GetFeedback are really helpful for creating online surveys that are visually compelling, which encourages participants to respond. Plus, all surveys are completely mobile-friendly, so your busy recipients can take your survey, even when they’re on the go. And you can completely customize the look and feel of your surveys to make sure they’re a positive reflection of your brand.
Decide on survey goals
Now that you’ve got online survey best practices in your pocket, you can focus on creating a survey that gets results. The best surveys have well-defined objectives. Ask yourself:
- Why are we sending this survey?
- What do we hope to find out?
- Which areas of our services do we need feedback on? Are we trying to understand what customers think of us, enhance certain features, or understand customers so we can better market to them?
- Who should we send this survey to maximize results (i.e., new customers, prospective customers, loyal customers)?
- How will we use the data collected from this survey?
Your survey’s goals will help you define which questions to ask. Start by identifying exactly what you want to know, and work backward to come up with questions that’ll help you get the information you need.
Quick tip: Write down a strategic plan that outlines your goals before you send out the survey. A few minutes of planning can make a big difference in the quality of your survey results.
Consider question types.
When you’re coming up with survey questions, you have to think about how easy it’ll be to process the results. For example, if you ask many open-ended questions and send the survey out to thousands of people, you’re going to have to dedicate time to going through the answers to get helpful feedback, plus asking too many open-ended questions can decrease completion rates. You’re best off using multiple-choice, rating scales, rank order, and other types of questions that are easier to quantify.
GetFeedback has online survey templates that are pre-populated with starter questions right out of the box, so you don’t have to start from scratch, while also allowing you to customize and change them to your liking.
Create your online survey.
When it comes to creating your online survey, you’re going to want to make sure the questions flow together, and that you’re covering all your bases. In this stage, you need to look back at your goals.
If your goal is to find out what customers think of a new feature, then you need questions that’ll give you a firm answer. You might ask, “How likely are you to recommend this feature to a friend or colleague?” and give them a rating scale from 1 to 10. You might ask whether or not they’ve used this feature, and whether they find it easy or difficult to use. You might also ask them when they use the feature.
Check out some of the product survey examples here for inspiration.
Quick tip: Create an unbiased sequence for the topics. Make sure that the questions do not bias the results of the next questions. Make sure that you don’t provide too much information or disclose the purpose of the study in a way that can create bias.
Test your survey.
Before sending out your online survey, be sure to test it. Is there anything confusing about the questions? Is the survey length appropriate? How does it look on multiple devices (desktop, iPhone, iPad, etc.)?
Testing your survey will help you further optimize it before sending it to hundreds or thousands of recipients.
Do something with the results.
An online survey is meaningless if you don’t do anything with the results. It’ll be much easier to act on the results if you define your goals at the start.
You can gain a lot from integrating survey data with your CRM, which will allow you to learn about particular customers and their need and help your sales team.
It can also be helpful to categorize feedback into certain categories, such as:
- Things we can fix right now
- Things we can fix in the next year
- Things we can think about in the long term
That way, you’ll have some items you can act on immediately, and others you can prioritize over the coming year. You can work with your team to tackle the more long-term items, coming up with a roadmap that makes sense for all.
Reasons to send a survey
While it’s good to know customer satisfaction survey best practices, there’s another important question to consider. When should you send a customer survey? Whether it’s a customer satisfaction survey or a simple request for feedback, timing is everything.
Knowing the reasons to send a survey will get you better survey questions, more engagement, and, most importantly, better feedback. The results you get from a survey should be used to help you improve your organization and better serve your customers. So what are the best reasons to send a survey?
Let’s say you noticed a distinct change in your metrics as of late. If the metrics are lower than you expected, then it’s especially important to gather feedback on what’s happening.
Source: Campaign Monitor
If you’re seeing a dip in metrics, or even a rise, send out a customer survey to get some feedback. Ask customers about their recent experiences, any changes to those experiences, and the best/worst aspects of the brand.
What about if things haven’t changed just yet, but you think they might? Maybe you’re launching a new product line or opening up an entirely new area of service? Before you go through with it, it may be a good idea to send out a customer survey.
This could be thought of as a customer satisfaction survey, as you could ask them how content they are with the brand as it is and then follow up with how the new addition would affect their opinion. This could be a lot more effective than implementing changes and trying to refine them afterward with follow-up surveys.
Preliminary surveys give you the chance to use insight to make changes, rather than trying to adapt after those changes have already gone into effect.
Another good opportunity to send a survey is after a customer has had an unpleasant or stressful experience. These experiences should always be followed up with some type of attempt of a resolution and, after that, create a follow-up email with a survey.
Source: Campaign Monitor
When you create a survey, you’re getting valuable input from customers. Following up after a troubling experience is a great opportunity, as you can see how the relationship with that customer has been affected. This practice can also be used with segmentation. Say a certain group of users has all had a troubling experience. For example, maybe all customers in a given area have had their product deliveries delayed.
You could segment all users who’ve sent complaints or have been affected by the issue and give them each a follow-up survey. The result would be a situation where you could gauge the overall change in your relationship with the segment as a whole, and with each individual customer.
Finally, remember that customer satisfaction survey best practices include important dates. Has a customer been with the company for a year? Have they completed a dozen purchases? These special milestones can sometimes warrant surveys—just to see how you could do better.
If customers who’ve stuck around receive surveys like this, it shows them you’re still trying to improve, even though you’ve kept them around. They’ll appreciate the effort and will provide valuable insight on how you can keep them around longer.
The results of an online survey are powerful, and can provide valuable insights into many aspects of your business. The key is creating one that gets results. If you follow the advice in this post, you’ll be well on your way to creating an effective online survey.
Ready to get started with surveys? Begin with the subject line.