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What You Need to Know to Design Quality Surveys

Keep them clear, concise, and quick.
By Vicki Broman and Georgios Tserdanelis - Posted Nov 10, 2014
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Consumers are inundated with customer satisfaction surveys on a daily basis—on the Web, at the bottom of receipts, and on the phone. Our company conducted a few surveys of its own to learn more about surveys and the people who take them.

Based on eLoyalty's findings, 88 percent of participants received at least one survey per week, with more than 20 percent receiving more than five! So what are companies doing with all these surveys, and what makes people want to take them? Our research team set out to find the answers to these questions and more.

The most important aspect of designing a customer-friendly survey is the eLoyalty CCQ Rule: Keep it clear, concise, and quick. By offering surveys with no more than seven questions with five answer options for each question, you will increase the number of surveys completed. Consumers who begin a survey described as "brief" only to find that it takes five minutes or longer to complete are likely to become irritated.

A poorly designed survey can quickly turn a positive customer experience into a negative one. Demographics play an important role in determining what incentives will be the most effective in gaining survey participation. Our research shows that 46 percent of consumers between the ages of 18 and 24 will take a survey if there is a gift offered; however, only 27 percent will take it without an added incentive when they receive excellent or poor customer service.

In contrast, gifts only motivate 33 percent of the 55-to-64 age bracket, whereas negative or positive experiences garner a combined survey completion rate of 51 percent. There is little difference in completion rates between companies that always offer or never offer gifts. Companies that on occasion provide gifts have markedly decreased participation when the incentive is removed.

When offered a survey on an interactive voice system, the caller should not be asked to make the decision to take it before ever speaking to an agent. Since most consumers are motivated to take a survey based on the level of customer service they receive, we recommend that every caller targeted for feedback be asked to remain on the line once the call is completed, then be automatically transferred to the survey.

Further motivating consumer survey participation is the channel used to elicit a response. Fifty-five percent of consumers prefer email surveys, choosing this more frequently than all other survey-taking channels combined. The least popular channels are text messages (5 percent), callbacks (3 percent), and unsolicited surveys (less than 1 percent). Despite these findings, we discovered that companies use email surveys only 36 percent of the time, with callbacks the next most common choice, at 16 percent, and unsolicited surveys third, at a frequency as high as 11 percent, seemingly oblivious to the fact that these two methods are the least preferred by customers. Companies offering surveys through channels that customers prefer will be rewarded by an increase in participation rates.

For the most meaningful results, companies also need to rethink their survey formats. Providing instructions at the start of each section and grouping similar questions together makes surveys easier to follow. When asking ratings questions, consistency is key: Avoid confusion by maintaining the same rating scale throughout. We've found that offering a range of between one and seven questions provides the sweet spot between too little and too much granularity, in addition to allowing equal placement for positive and negative feedback. Yes/no questions are recommended when a rating scale answer is not appropriate.

When discussing surveys, one cannot ignore the Net Promoter Score (NPS). The NPS is marketed as a methodology to determine growth potential with a single question: "How likely are you to recommend to a friend or colleague?" While discovering whether or not a consumer would recommend your business/product/service does have merit, it does not reveal why a person would or would not make the recommendation. If a company uses the NPS, we suggest follow-up questions be asked to pinpoint the reason for the customer's satisfaction or discontent.

By remaining mindful of changing consumer preferences, utilizing the information obtained by surveys to make changes and upgrades to customer service or products, and evolving from business-centric to customer-centric models, companies will become more successful in gaining consumers' trust and goodwill...and, ultimately, their business.


Vicki Broman is the manager of the voice user interface (VUI) design team at eLoyalty, the technology division of Teletech. Georgios Tserdanelis is a VUI designer for eLoyalty.


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