Get the most out of surveys without frustrating customers

Posted on April 3, 2019
4 min read


In today’s Experience Economy, it’s nearly impossible to make it through an experience—whether it’s buying paper towels in bulk, registering for an online course, or managing a customer database—without being asked to fill out a survey and “tell us what you think!” Most companies recognize the power of customer insight and are pushing to gather as much feedback as possible. The result? Just about every company you interact with is likely to ask you to complete a survey about your experience with the brand. Given so many of us spend a large portion of our days immersed in digital interactions, that adds up to a lot of surveys. Not surprisingly, surveys are at risk of becoming more noise than an opportunity to connect with a brand. According to a study conducted by Opinionlab, 80% of customers have abandoned a survey halfway through. This makes sense if you agree with Forrester analyst Maxie Schmidt, who says that we’re now past the peak effectiveness of surveys, given customers have been inundated with surveys at nearly every touchpoint in an experience. So are surveys dead? A bit overused, sure, but surveys can still provide a ton of value—if executed properly. UserTesting’s Chief Insights Officer, Janelle Estes notes in an article for Media Post,

Used properly, surveys can be an efficient method to connect with customers and gain a snapshot of their successes or struggles with a product or service.

Here are a few things to consider before launching your next survey:

Who’s the survey for, really?

One key to making surveys more valuable is to make sure that your priorities are in line with your CX goals and initiatives. In other words, are you asking these questions for your company’s benefit, or the customer’s? While it’s tempting to send out surveys to collect a lot of data, you’re far more likely to uncover valuable insights if you’re empathetic and keep the customer at the center of your survey. For example, instead of asking “How can we improve?” consider asking something a bit more focused on the customer, “How did you feel about this experience?” or, a UserTesting favorite, “If you had a magic wand, what would you change about this experience?” Shifting the focus from gathering data to gathering insight and giving customers an opportunity to connect with you is an important strategy for using surveys effectively. Giving feedback used to be considered a privilege—not everyone had a platform to share their thoughts with companies. But those days are long over and consumers have multiple outlets to share their experiences—good and bad. Surveys that genuinely solicit a customer’s perspective and give customers a voice will most likely return more usable data that ultimately will help you improve your CX.

Treat your surveys like a conversation

Estes points out that many companies take too much of a standardized approach to soliciting feedback, making surveys feel canned and insincere. Instead, when designing your surveys, think of them as an extension of your customer research or discovery interviews. What would you ask the customer if they were sitting in front of you? Chances are you wouldn’t ask them to rate their experience on a scale of one to five. (Scaled questions still have value, as long as they’re used in moderation and combined with more human-centered or emotionally-based questions.) Treating surveys as solely a vehicle for collecting data can lead companies into this trap of asking the same questions everyone else is asking, and not getting meaningful insight that can drive improvements. By looking at surveys as another way to talk to your customers, you’ll open things up to a more conversational interaction that feels genuine to customers, and will likely provide more insightful feedback.

Get to the point

There’s a lot you want to learn from your customers, we get it. A long survey, however, isn’t always the best way to capture those insights. Estes notes that, according to research by Customer Thermometer, only 9% of people will thoughtfully answer a long survey, and 70% will give up before finishing the survey. The lesson? If you need to rely on a survey, make sure that you get to the point quickly. Consumers’ lives are busy and distracted. If you want to capture their attention and elicit genuine feedback, you’ll have precious few moments to do that. Determine a few key questions that you’d like to ask and keep your surveys brief. If you’d like to follow up, that’s a perfect opportunity to schedule customer interviews to dig deeper into specific responses—yet another great way to better connect with customers.

Surveys can be a pain or powerful—use them wisely

Despite their ubiquity, surveys probably aren’t going away anytime soon and that’s a good thing! They can give us valuable information while giving customers a voice and a direct line to the brands they interact with. Be mindful with the surveys you create and keep these tips in mind to get actionable data that can drive additional customer research and ultimately help create better experiences.

Want to learn more?

If you’d like to learn how UserTesting can help you understand your customers through on-demand human insight, contact us here.

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