How to create customer surveys: 8 tips and examples
Customer surveys are a great way to gather feedback—the challenge is getting people to respond. Here’s how to create engaging surveys your customers will actually complete.
Last updated October 13, 2022
Customer surveys are commonplace today. Chances are, you’ve filled out at least one in your life. Companies frequently use these questionnaires to understand what their audience likes and dislikes about their brand, products, or services.
This flood of feedback requests often leaves customers with “survey fatigue”—a feeling of boredom or resentment around taking surveys. According to Khoros research, only seven percent of customers respond to all the surveys they receive. And 41 percent say they’re less likely to participate in a survey if it’s from a brand they’ve already given feedback to.
But that doesn’t mean businesses should stop sending surveys—they’re effective tools for gathering feedback and improving customer happiness. The key is keeping the customer experience in mind.
What are customer surveys?
Customer surveys are a method of collecting consumer feedback. They help companies assess customer satisfaction, measure customer engagement, perform market research, and gauge expectations.
The responses you receive will provide valuable insights into what motivates, excites, and frustrates your customers. They’ll also help uncover the reasons why some buyers leave and others stay. Consistently collecting this feedback—and acting on it—will enable you to improve your products or services, provide positive customer experiences, and strengthen your brand image. All of which drive business success: 80 percent of companies that see year-over-year growth use customer surveys to collect customer experience data.
Surveys don’t just help your company. Customers also appreciate them, as long as you don’t overwhelm them with feedback requests.
- According to Microsoft’s 2020 Global State of Customer Service report, 89 percent of consumers want companies to ask them for input.
- Research by SurveyMonkey shows that 49 percent of buyers believe it’s “very important” to share feedback with the companies they buy from.
- In a Khoros survey, 64 percent of customers said they appreciate brands that ask for their feedback through surveys.
To customers, surveys are a sign that you’re willing to listen and learn. And clearly, the majority of consumers are eager to share their thoughts and opinions with brands that care to ask.
8 tips for creating customer surveys that get responses
While it’s beneficial to gather customer feedback, you don’t want to irritate your buyers by bombarding them with surveys. You need to strike the right balance and make it quick and easy for your audience to participate. Here are a few tips on how to make that happen.
1. Define your customer survey goal
It’s tempting to overload your survey with questions, but that’s a one-way ticket to a low response rate. No one wants to fill out long, disjointed surveys. Pinpoint exactly what you want to assess, and select the appropriate survey type. This initial step will help you get the most out of your efforts.
First, determine a goal for your survey. What customer experience metric or touchpoint do you want to evaluate? That can be anything from your customer retention rate and customer satisfaction score to your customer support or mobile app experience. The key is to be as specific as possible.
Remember to focus on only one topic. It’s much more difficult to collect and implement feedback about multiple issues at the same time.
Once you’ve identified your survey goal, pick the type of customer survey that will help you achieve your objective.
- Customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey: This survey indicates how customers feel about your product or service. For example, a ride-hailing app may ask a user to rate their driver. CSAT surveys are also used to gauge the quality of customer support experiences. In these cases, a common customer satisfaction survey question is: “How satisfied were you with the support you received?”
- Net Promoter Score℠ (NPS) survey: This type of survey measures customer loyalty by asking customers how likely they are to recommend your product or service to someone else. It helps identify how many customers are detractors (unhappy), passives (satisfied), and promoters (highly satisfied, loyal customers).
- Churn survey: This survey allows you to understand why a customer is discontinuing the use of your product or service. It can reveal areas of improvement and help you prevent future churn.
2. Write clear, unbiased customer survey questions
Vague, leading, and complicated questions ruin the experience for your respondents, decreasing the likelihood that they’ll participate in future surveys. Unclear questions may also lead to unreliable responses given in haste.
There’s no point in having a high response rate if the survey data doesn’t help you achieve your goal. To encourage reliable and helpful responses, you must write non-leading, easy-to-understand customer survey questions.
Ask yourself the following questions when building out your survey:
- Could this question be misunderstood? If the customer could potentially interpret a question in multiple ways, adjust the phrasing. Strive for straightforward questions; choose words that communicate the intended meaning.
- Does the question contain confusing terminology? Don’t expect your customers to understand technical, company-specific language. Keep your questions simple and avoid jargon. Aim to write for an eighth-grade reading level—use the free Hemingway app to check the readability score of your questions.
- What assumptions does this question make? Be aware of your own biases and how they’re expressed through writing. Avoid generalizations and use objective language.
- Are you asking for too much information? Requesting a lot of information will likely overwhelm your respondents.
- Is this a leading question? Remove non-neutral and unnecessary words. Make sure your question isn’t forcing respondents into an answer that doesn’t truly reflect their opinion.
- Could this question make customers uncomfortable? Tweak the wording of your question if there’s even a slight chance it might make your respondents feel uneasy or embarrassed. Be inclusive and avoid language that may be offensive.
3. Send customer service surveys in relevant channels
Your customers aren’t going to bend over backward to fill out your survey. Make it easy and convenient for them to send meaningful responses by placing your surveys on the right channels.
Reach your customers in places where they’re already thinking about your products and services, including but not limited to:
- In-product: If you sell physical goods, you can insert a survey invite into the packaging of the product. If you offer a digital product, you can automatically trigger a survey prompt after a certain period of usage. For example, Zoom’s post-meeting survey asks users to rate their experience (and probes further if you select “Bad”).
- Website: Find out how visitors feel about your website with a one- or two-question embedded online survey. Ask about their user experience and how you can make it better. For instance, you can gauge how satisfied customers are with your site content.
- Email: Directly reach your target audience by sending them surveys via email. As an example, Headspace emails its customer satisfaction surveys and encourages responses by reminding recipients that the feedback “will help us make Headspace even better.”
- Text: SMS surveys are a quick, convenient, and interactive way for consumers to rate their experiences. You can use various platforms to send customer surveys via text, including integrations with Zendesk. Here’s a good example by mGage (now Kaleyra)—the company sends both an NPS survey and a CSAT survey over SMS.
SMS is likely to yield higher response rates than other digital channels. According to research by EZ Texting, a customer is 134x more likely to read a text than an email.
Use a combination of survey delivery methods to increase the number of responses. Sending reminders through different channels—while keeping feedback fatigue in mind—may also be the nudge customers need to complete the survey.
4. Keep surveys short
If you want a high response rate, keep your customer surveys brief. Most surveys should take just a few minutes to complete.
A study by Survicate revealed that survey length has an inverse correlation with survey completion rate. Customer surveys with one to three questions have an average completion rate of 83 percent, while surveys with 15 or more questions have an average completion rate of 42 percent.
Respect customers’ time by letting them know how long the survey will take to finish. You can include this information in your survey invite or at the start of your survey. It also helps to provide a progress bar, so respondents can see how many questions they have left to answer.
Customer survey example: Zendesk
For customer support scenarios, stick to a one-click survey. When a ticket is closed, simply ask, “How would you rate your experience?” or something along those lines.
For instance, Zendesk users can create one-click email surveys such as the following:
This survey takes mere seconds to complete, and the customer doesn’t even have to leave their inbox to submit a response.
5. Offer incentives
Encourage responses by giving customers an incentive to take the survey. You might offer a monetary reward (such as cash, a gift card, or coupons) or a physical gift (like a free notebook or coffee mug).
Some companies even give charitable donations in exchange for survey responses. This is a powerful way to appeal to customers who have a strong desire to help others. And research shows that more and more consumers want companies to support the causes they care about: 73 percent believe companies must act for the good of the planet and society, and 54 percent prefer to buy from businesses that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in their communities.
Customer survey example: SurveyMonkey
To thank survey respondents, SurveyMonkey donates to the charities and causes that are near and dear to their hearts. Participants also get the chance to enter sweepstakes and win prizes.
If you offer donations, pick a nonprofit that aligns with your audience’s interests and your organization’s values. Or, take a page out of SurveyMonkey’s playbook and give them the option to choose from multiple organizations.
6. Include a variety of customer survey questions
Don’t base your entire survey on one type of question. Including only open-ended questions will make your survey too long to complete. On the other hand, you’ll miss out on detailed feedback and additional insights by asking only closed-ended questions.
Include a mix of both open-ended and closed-ended questions to strike the perfect balance. Try to have more of the latter so customers can move through your survey quickly. Questions with yes/no, rating-scale, and multiple-choice options all take just a few seconds to answer. Leave an optional open-ended question or two at the end of your survey so customers have the opportunity to elaborate on their answers.
Customer survey example: UNIQLO
UNIQLO’s survey has a nice balance of closed-ended and open-ended questions, allowing the brand to capture quantitative and qualitative data. Each generic customer satisfaction question is followed by a comment box, inviting the customer to explain the reason behind their rating.
In addition to Likert scale questions, include a series of open-ended questions so customers have a chance to leave comments for additional context.
7. Give your customers options
A great questionnaire gives customers control over their survey experience. They should feel confident in the accuracy of the information they’re providing.
Here’s how to make that happen:
- Allow customers to skip certain questions. Don’t make all survey questions mandatory. When forced to answer every single question, a customer might provide inaccurate responses just to finish the survey.
- In multiple-choice questions, offer an “Other” option. Empower your customers to express their opinions in their own words.
- Let customers pick where they take the survey. Some consumers may like to complete surveys through text, while others might prefer email. Give them the option to set preferences on future surveys or to opt-out of survey requests via specific channels.
- Use inclusive wording and options in demographic questions. Choose gender-neutral pronouns and allow respondents the freedom to own their identities.
Customer survey example: SurveyMonkey
In SurveyMonkey’s “Question Bank” survey, sexual orientation and gender identity questions can help ensure underrepresented groups feel included and seen.
Studies suggest that sexual and gender minorities are not sufficiently represented in research. Champion inclusivity and increase participation by giving these groups a chance to represent themselves in your surveys.
8. Always follow up
Ultimately, people take time to complete surveys because they want to help make a difference.
So, don’t just send an obligatory “thank you” email once a customer submits a survey. You should also close their curiosity loop by informing them of the changes you’ve made as a result of their feedback.
Many companies (including Zendesk) release quarterly or annual reports announcing the learnings from their customer surveys. Other organizations, like lead generation platform OptinMonster, send their results to customers via email.
“Customers feel valued when you tell them the results because they see that you heard them and acknowledged them,” says OptinMonster Co-Founder Sayed Balkhi. “Plus, if you send them the results, it increases the likelihood they’ll respond to future surveys.”
Customer survey example: Mérieux NutriSciences
The food safety firm Mérieux NutriSciences publishes its report as an infographic, illustrating its commitment to protecting consumers’ health.
Use a customer service survey template to speed things up
Creating a customer survey can be intimidating. Thinking of the right questions, choosing appropriate words, and deciding how to organize your queries takes work. Luckily, you can use a customer satisfaction survey template to speed up the process.
At Zendesk, we're big fans of customer surveys because they help us improve in many areas. The insights we gained from surveys empowered us to expand from a humble help-desk platform to a unified customer service software solution.
So, don’t be shy about asking for feedback. Surveys are a powerful resource for finding ways to enhance your customer experience and grow your brand. And if you’re considerate of your customers’ time, they’re often happy to share their input.