Supercharging your surveys

It can be difficult to get people to answer surveys, so when they do take the time, you want to make sure that what you get back is going to be useful. In this post I’ll share a few things that have helped improve the responses I’ve gotten back.

1. Don’t give a middle or neutral option

You’ll have seen questions before that ask you to rate your satisfaction of something between 1 and 5 where 1 is lowest and 5 is highest satisfaction, or similar. I find people shortcut this question by choosing 3 as the ‘easy’ route – they don’t need to think too hard about whether they were or weren’t satisfied, it was just “middling”. Instead, use a score between 1 and 6. This forces the people who go straight to 3 to think whether they drop slightly on the negative side or slightly on the positive side. If we get 3’s back in this model, we know there was at least 1 small thing that wasn’t quite right for the survey-taker – which brings me onto my next point…

2. Add an optional free-text follow-up question

It’s painful enough to try and get people to fill in a survey so we try to cut them as short as possible. But, if we really want to get useful feedback, we need to give the respondent space to leave their thoughts. A well structured follow-up question which is optional to fill out gives respondents space to say something that’s on their mind without forcing those that don’t feel particularly strongly about the subject to spend time filling it with “no comment”. Try to make follow-up questions specific to reduce the mental load for the respondent. As an example, suppose a question asked respondents to rate their satisfaction of a service between 1 and 6, we might add a follow-up question reading “What is one thing we could have done to improve your experience?”. Those that answered 1-3 now have space to share what went wrong for them and those that answered 4-6 may feel the task to mention one thing isn’t too much effort. If it is too much effort or they don’t have anything useful to share, they can move on!

3. Add a final catch-all question

Try as we might, there may be something really valuable the respondent has to say that we haven’t considered in the survey design. We can try and mitigate losing this information by adding a generic question at the end along the lines of “Is there anything else you think we should know?”. This give the respondent space to share anything on their mind that we might not have thought to ask about but which was important for them.

It’s really worth spending time to get the survey right before sending it out – if you realise you’ve missed something after it’s gone then your respondents won’t be too happy at receiving a second one shortly after. Hopefully these quick tips might help you as much as they’ve helped me!

Do you have any survey design tips that have helped you?

Image: Survey Vectors by Vecteezy

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