How to Ask Survey Questions for Maximum Marketing Benefit A well-crafted survey of your customers is the best method businesses have for learning what they are doing well and what they can improve.

By Eric Siu

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Surveys are a great way to assess customer satisfactions, marketing channels, product potential, price ranges, website audiences, and much more. But there's a right - and a wrong - way to phrase survey questions. The way you word your survey questions has a direct impact on both the response rate and the usefulness of the responses that you get.

Getting started with business aurveys.

Most businesses use online survey tools rather than someone canvassing the mall or calling homes to ask questions. Online surveys are less intrusive than personal calls or questions, and they're easy to create. Tools like SurveyMonkey can get an online survey up and running in a matter of minutes, and a basic account is free.

Even though you can publish your survey quickly, it's better to take your time and craft effective, thoughtful questions that will generate useful answers for your business. The right survey questions can make a big impact on your business.

Related: How to Determine If There's a Market for Your Business Idea

5 types of survey questions.

Not all questions are created equal. There are five types of survey questions. Each type provides different insights into customer responses. Choosing the right type is half the battle to creating great survey questions. The five types of questions are:

1. Open-ended questions: Open-ended questions prompt responses on how someone feels about an issue. They require more than a simple "yes/no" type of response. Respondents write their answers in their own words rather than choose from a predetermined range of responses.

2. Multiple choice questions: Multiple choice questions provide a range of responses. These are useful to find out demographic information about respondents or when there is a specific, measurable set of responses to the question.

3. Ordinal scale questions: Ordinal scale questions ask respondents to rank their answers on a specific scale. A sequence of ideas is presented and people are asked to rank them in order of choice. Asking coworkers to rank their choices of chicken, steak, or seafood meals for a business meeting is an example of an ordinal scale.

4. Interval scale questions: Interval scales offer pre-set ranges from which to choose a response. Rating books or movies with star-ratings is a familiar example of an ordinal question.

5. Ratio scale questions: Ratio scales ask respondents to rank their answers according to a number. Asking someone how many hours per day they spend on a task is an example of a ratio scale question, because their answer can be converted to a percent (hours divided by 24 hours in a day, for example.)

Rules to live by for asking the right questions.

Avoid leading questions: Leading questions "lead" your customers to the answer you want to hear, not necessarily what they think about the issue. A leading question automatically assumes that the answer will lean one way or another. An example of a leading question is "How popular is Product X?" The question automatically assumes that Product X is popular. It is better to ask, "What do you think the public opinion is of Product X?"

Related: 4 Phases of Market Research to Ensure Success

Use a logical sequence: Ask survey questions in a logical sequence to help people think through their choices. If you jump around, moving from one concept to another, respondents will have difficulty making sense of your survey.

Ask only one question: It's tempting to pack two concepts into one question, but that only muddles the response. Part of asking the right survey questions is asking only one question at a time.

Clarify and then distinguish from among the answers: Many surveys suffer from a common mistake of assuming that people use a product by asking if people enjoy Product X. Instead of assuming people use Product X, ask one question to ascertain if they use it, then ask if they like it.

Choose simple language: Use common phrases, words, and expressions. Avoid jargon and confusing terminology. Ask people how fast their computer turned on, not how quickly it rebooted. Make things simple.

Let people skip a question: Forcing people to answer all questions in a survey is a surefire recipe for bad results that won't impact your business. Let people skip questions; perhaps they don't want to answer or the question doesn't apply to them.

Balance the questions: Balance the questions so there's no bias in your survey towards one particular result. Ask people outside of your company to read through your survey and provide feedback to see how well-balanced the questions are.

Ask for clarification: Scaled questions are great, but sometimes you need additional insights into why people chose a spot on the scale. Add space for people to clarify their responses.

Focus on what's important: Don't bog your survey down with feel-good questions or with information you already know. Focus on what's important for you to learn to improve your business. That will make the biggest impact.

Make contact information voluntary: If you ask for participants' contact information, make sure it is voluntary. Use their information wisely. Don't spam them or add them to lists without their permission. Do use contact information to thank people for participating in a survey and for clarification on any additional points.

Related: Market Research Is Key to Recognizing Licensing Opportunities

Lastly, be sure you don't exhaust your customers with endless surveys about their experiences, and send customer feedback surveys out within a few days after your customers received their services. Be gracious, thank people for their time, and pay attention to what your customers offer to share with you. Customer feedback is priceless, so use it wisely to make a big impact on your business.

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Eric Siu

CEO, Single Grain. Founder, Growth Everywhere.

Eric Siu is the CEO of digital marketing agency Single Grain. Single Grain has worked with companies such as Amazon, Uber and Salesforce to help them acquire more customers. He also hosts two podcasts: Marketing School with Neil Patel and Growth Everywhere, an entrepreneurial podcast where he dissects growth levers that help businesses scale. 


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