As a small business owner, you always need feedback. Without it, you’d never know how you were faring, nor how you could improve your organization. One of the best ways to obtain this information is through surveys. In a simple question and answer format, you can get insight into anything from concept testing and customer satisfaction to employee exit interviews and focus group consensus. If you want exceptional analysis, you will need to build your survey in the smartest way possible from design to implementation.
Think strategically: don’t lose sight of the survey details
Before you begin creating your survey by jotting down some top-of-mind questions, take a deep breath, and start slowly. The last thing you want is to realize – once the survey is already live and in people’s inbox – is that you should have asked just “one more question”.
Begin by asking yourself what information do you really need? If what you seek is a bigger picture concept, you can’t just ask one large and open-ended question. Instead, you will need to break down the concept into several small chunks that measure slightly different components of your question. Once your questions are separated into tangible and measurable bite-sized pieces, you will start to acquire very distinct and actionable pieces of information.
Since putting together a survey is so much harder than it seems at initial glance, it’s good to bear in mind some common pitfalls that are easy to fall into. Based off
Qualtrics’ “Survey Questions 101: Do You Make any of These 7 Question Writing Mistakes?”, here are some key tips summarized and generalized below:
Avoid leading words and questions. Did you know that very slight wording differences (i.e. could, should) may produce a 20% difference in agreement to a question? It’s true! Another example of “leading” the answer and potentially creating biased results is using strong words like “force” or opinion-based words like “amazing” or “legendary.” Instead, make your statements simple and use neutral language.
Provide mutually exclusive choices. Your survey respondents need clear choices for your questions, so make sure to steer clear of any grey areas. For instance, if you are asking for the age of a participant don’t have two categories with the same number like “20-30” and “30-40.”
Ask direct questions. If you ask a vague question, not only you will receive an unusable answer, you will frustrate your participants. For instance, if you want to know how to improve the taste of your product, but ask for “suggestions on improvement,” you may get feedback on your packaging design. While that information may help your company, it’s not what you were looking for. Stay focused on the direct point.
Provide a privacy option. Some requested information (income, family life, medical information) may feel too personal for some respondents, so be sure to include a “Prefer Not to Answer” option. Not including this non-disclosure choice may even be a deal-breaker for some who will choose not to continue with the survey, so be sure to include it if you are asking for sensitive material.
Always remember the “other”. Even if you think you’ve provided all the answer options, there may be something you’re overlooking. Include “other” as an option just in case.
Use balanced scales. Ensure that you avoid biased responses by keeping your scales balanced. If you are conducting a customer satisfaction survey, make sure you include answers that run the gamut from excellent to poor. You can’t have “fair” or “moderate” as the lowest satisfaction point. You also need to keep your options evenly balanced as well (i.e. the strongly disagree–disagree–neutral–agree–strongly agree scale).
Ask ONE question at a time! This is an easy trap to fall into. Let’s say that you want to know why people buy your product. If you ask them to rate the importance of your “price and quality,” you are asking two completely separate things with only one available answer option. Read through your questions carefully, and make sure words like “and” and “or” aren’t included.
Choose a survey provider. Once you have your survey questions finalized, it’s time to put them into a vehicle. The choice you make is completely dependent on your needs. Either use a free and basic platform like Survey Monkey (that can also be upgraded in functionality through payment), or rely on paid resources like Google Consumer Surveys that allow customization of target audience demographics through varying pricing options. Incorporate screening options into your survey if necessary. And, if you think you need experts on board for a more complex exploration, hire a consulting firm that specializes in surveys and focus groups.
Finishing up: getting the most from your survey results
Once you start receiving survey results, you’ll quickly get an idea of how successful your survey is. For example, if you have 80% of respondents that select “other” as an answer for a particular question, chances are that you missed a very obvious and critical option in the survey. Not to worry – information like this will help improve future surveys.
If your survey can benefit from follow-up discussions with participants, be sure to include this option for people. Of course, if you really need a high volume of answers, add some reasonable incentives. After all, it’s your company that will benefit the most from this survey.
Finally, the survey results should be thoroughly analyzed before they are presented to the entire team, especially to key stakeholders. Context is just as important as statistical results, so be sure that you have all pieces of the story before you tell it.
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