5 Tips to Make the Most of Your Client Surveys

Surveys used to be something we dreaded. The question writing, the sending, the sorting through results... Blegh. But after bracing ourselves and honing our strategy, they're now manageable AND extremely useful for our business.

Make the most of your client surveys with these 5 tips that have helped us time and time again.



1. All questions should be geared toward changes you can make

The reason customer surveys are so valuable is because they provide concrete feedback you can use to improve your service. And improve is the key word here – to improve you have to take stock of your performance so far and then make changes that can help you do even better. 

So if you're not sure what you'd do with the feedback you're asking for, don't ask the question! Here's an example: If you set out wanting to know how happy your customers are with your service, what you should really be looking to determine is how you can change your service to make it better. You'll want to find out how satisfied they are so far, what's adding to their positive experience and what's detracting from it. It can be tempting to reach further to find out what could be affecting those responses – is this their first time here? Is someone else in town serving them better? 

BUT! Unless you also plan to cross-correlate your customers' levels of satisfaction with how often they come to you and where else they shop and use this information to make positive changes in your business, don't waste your customers' time (and your own!) with those extra questions.

A good rule of thumb:

If you don't have a plan in place for what a customer's response will mean for your business, skip the question.

2. Make your responders choose

It can be difficult to condense all possible responses down to a concrete list, but swallowing the pill will make your life SO much easier. Why? 

Forcing yourself to break possible answers down to a few options will allow you to collect information you can quantitatively draw conclusions from. Here's a good example of how this plays out:

We wanted to know what was most helpful and least helpful to our students in our recent ecourse Shape a Brand that Sells. It was tempting to ask "What part of this course was most helpful to you?" and leave a space for students to write in their own answers. After all, maybe a combination of two or more elements was what students found the most helpful, or maybe it was something we didn't expect 

This is what our question ended up looking like.

This is what our question ended up looking like.

BUT we stopped ourselves. Instead of leaving an open-ended question, we re-evaluated. What was it we really wanted to know that would help us improve our product? We needed to know if ONE area was outshining all the rest (or if ONE area was lagging behind) and focus our attention on those areas.

So we narrowed down possible responses to just five options. Collecting the data as a set of choices allowed us to quickly see that the majority of responses selected worksheets as the least beneficial part of the course. Instead of reading every single response to pull out the content by hand, we were able to glance at the numbers and see what our students were saying.

By forcing ourselves to narrow our options down instead of leaving a blank space, we were able to get quantitative information that was telling and actionable. MUCH more helpful!

3. Use clear language

There's a reason survey questions always sound pretty boring. Because they need to be readily understood!

It's essential that your questions are straightforward and easy to comprehend. Avoid words that could be misinterpreted and sentence structure that is convoluted or confusing. This goes for your questions, answers, and even scales or rating systems you use. If you ask people to rate something using a 1-10 scale, you must define what 1 means and what 10 means.

If respondents can't understand your question, it's on you!
It's tempting to blame the respondents, but in all likelihood it's YOUR communication that's lacking. If your respondents don't understand what you're asking, don't blame them! Take another look at your phrasing and structure.

It's tempting to blame the respondents, but in all likelihood it's YOUR communication that's lacking. If your respondents don't understand what you're asking, don't blame them! Take another look at your phrasing and structure.


4. only Give respondents open space for what you really care about

There are some questions you really DO want involved, unique answers to. Save open-ended answers for them!

There are some questions you really DO want involved, unique answers to. Save open-ended answers for them!

If there was only ONE question you could ask for an in-depth response, what would it be? 

Alright, that's your ONE open-ended response.

Give that one question the attention it deserves by streamlining all other responses. This makes it easier for YOU (you'll only have one qualitative, in-depth answer per respondent to read) AND your respondents (who are encouraged to focus their qualitative thoughts here).

If you REALLY care about an in-depth answer, you'll be willing to read through each and every written response. Choose ONE question to which you're willing to devote that attention.

5. For the love of all things good and rational in the world, do not use paper surveys

I had an internship once where hundreds (literally, hundreds) of multi-page surveys representing the past year were filled out by hand. BY HAND. They contained essential information that the organization needed to see if it had made progress in the past year, and information on how to change their structure in the coming year.

Me, trying to deal with all those paper surveys. And this will be YOU when you realize that you have to deal with all the papers that have piled up.

Me, trying to deal with all those paper surveys. And this will be YOU when you realize that you have to deal with all the papers that have piled up.

Why. Why. Why? Why would they think this was a good idea? WHY?!

While I wish I could say I have NO. IDEA. NONE. why the organization started collecting surveys by hand, the truth is that I DO know why they did it (or at least what I can see now, looking back): At the time, they were in a pinch. They needed to start getting feedback now and thought it would just be best to type up a paper survey for now, create a new, digital survey at the first opportunity, and then digitize the paper responses later.

No. No. NO! No no no NO NO NO NO NO NO! Bad idea.

What started as a stopgap measure to get just a few responses in a quick pinch stretched inch by inch across the whole year as the mentality that... "we've already started doing it this way... it doesn't make sense to change the structure now that we've gotten responses... and we can just type them all up at once later, anyway..." spread its menacing tentacles over the entire office. 

And here's what I learned after sorting through HUNDREDS of handwritten, multi-page surveys that contained information essential to making smart business choices in the future: It will take twice as long – TWICE AS LONG – to digitize a response than it takes to create that response. 

So if your survey takes four minutes for a client to fill out, plan on spending eight minutes digitizing that analog response later down the road.

Invest an extra 20 minutes up front to create your survey digitally and reap the benefits when it comes to making the important decisions later.

Google Forms will always be my top recommendation!




Hoot Design Co. is a marketing, branding, and design agency located in Columbia, MO. We specialize in creating a custom and comprehensive marketing strategy centered around your business's unique strengths and educating you with the tools you need from day one. From logo design to brand identity, website design and execution, and social media marketing strategies in-person and through online courseswe're focused on your business success every step of the way.