How to conduct a customer survey

Customer surveys are a great way to get feedback on how your business is doing and what customers would like. But how do you structure a survey to get the most responses?

Why is a customer survey essential?

Today’s world is driven by data. A customer survey is a great method to gather data in order to get feedback on what your business is doing and what customers want to see, to gather opinions to help you make the right decisions for your business, and generally to ensure you’re better informed all round.

Many of you may wonder how to get started with this, so here are our top tips for survey success at Zoho.

#1 – What’s the purpose of your customer survey?

There could be a variety of reasons for someone to send a customer survey. Figuring out your goal early on will help you focus on your questions better and get the right results to help you achieve it.

Some of the most common reasons for sending out a customer survey are as follows:

  • Getting information
  • Identifying your target market
  • Getting a better idea of how people perceive your product
  • Identifying gaps in your customer support or in what you are offering to customers
  • Understanding more of what resonates with your customers or prospects
  • Getting feedback on any aspect of your business in order to make positive change
  • Understanding what people think about your organisation itself

‘Keep your survey clear, simple, and in a non-biased language’

#2 – Research: find the right survey tool and vendor

Most businesses now opt for online surveys over paper or telephone-based surveys, due to the ease with which you can create, send and analyse the surveys – not to mention the cost reduction. There are many online survey tools in the market. The key is to find the best one suited to your needs. Many of the SaaS survey vendors also provide free trials. Sign-up for these trials, it will help in making the right decision. During the free trial, don’t just look for the features, but also look at the quality of support, integrations with third party tools and of course how the costs will add up as you progress in the project.

You should also assess how safe and secure the customer survey provider is. What safeguards does it offer and how does it ring-fence the information it gathers on your behalf? Is it compliant with any industry regulations you need to follow? If you are using the tool in the European region, then compliance with GDPR is a must.

>See also: Getting customer feedback

#3 – Plan: prepare the questions

Chart out the questions you would like to ask in your customer survey before you actually get around to creating it. You must remember that the respondent’s time is precious, so try to keep questions to a minimum and avoid asking similar questions multiple times. Depending on the purpose of the survey, the number of questions and response times can vary.

Here are some points to keep in mind when creating questions:

  1. Keep survey questions neutral and to the point
  2. Try to keep open-ended questions to a minimum, unless you’re aiming for a completely qualitative survey, but this takes much longer to analyse and draw decisions in many cases
  3. Keep a balanced answer/option set
  4. Pay attention to the order of your questions
  5. Let some questions be optional
  6. Consider using supplementary questions
  7. Run a test survey in multiple popular browsers to make sure all the conditions are working well

#4 – Be practical: use display and skip logic to ask relevant questions

It’s not necessary that all the questions in a customer survey should be applicable to every respondent. Using question display logic you can navigate your respondents to questions that are relevant to them. For example, if you are running a research survey on the usage of two different brands “X1 Vs X2” you may have different sets of questions for each brand. You can show the relevant questions based on the brand they choose. This not only saves respondents time but improves the quality of the responses you receive as respondents won’t fill in answers to questions that are not relevant to them. Only make those questions mandatory, without which would make your surveys useless.

#5 – Design: customise your survey

After adding the questions to your survey, you have the option to enhance it visually by choosing various themes and colours. You can customise a theme according to your organisation’s corporate identity. Customising the survey URL, adding your company logo and brand colour schemes into your survey will help with brand recall and for those who already resonate with your brand, bring instant familiarity.

#6 – Promote: send out your surveys through multiple channels

There are multiple ways to send out your surveys to your target audience.

The key question is – how do you get the maximum response rate?

Sending out your survey through more than one method will ensure that it reaches more people, but you must exercise considered thought about the target audience you are trying to reach and choose the best channels for that.

Here are some of the popular methods you can use to increase survey responses:


One of the most promising mediums to gather customer feedback about your product or service is through emails. You can send an email campaign to your contact list or reach out to relevant respondents individually. Remember to keep your emails sleek and streamlined. We suggest the “inverted pyramid” style of writing, where you mention the purpose of the email and the outcome you’re expecting from this interaction, followed by information about why you need the feedback.

Rewarded feedback

Offering incentives to customers for providing feedback can help you get more detailed information on their thoughts about your business. Especially if your survey is going to be an extensive one which requires a good chunk of the customer’s time, offering rewards can keep them going.

A reward doesn’t have to be limited to cash or gift cards. It can be anything from a free trial, to credit or a discount towards a future purchase with you, to free product training. However, the best reward is to provide a better product or service based on customer feedback.

Using research panels

If you are looking for a specific audience to which you personally don’t have access to, you can try buying responses from research panels. You’ll be supplied responses specifically tailor-made for the demographics you are targeting.

Social media platforms

Post your surveys on your social media platforms and encourage your followers to participate in them. There is always a chance that if you’re doing a feedback survey, a lot of your followers may not be your customers, so be sure to use a few pre-screening questions in your surveys to eliminate respondents that are not relevant to your survey.

Creating short polls on social media will help you get a quick idea of your brand image and user sentiments.

SMS your surveys

With 98 per cent of the world’s population owning a mobile phone, an SMS is hard to miss. Often an underestimated medium, SMSes are a highly effective way to conduct surveys. To ensure the likelihood of a response, make sure you send the surveys immediately after a customer has interacted with your brand. If you are looking to draw information this way, you must consider the design carefully to align with this channel.

#7 – Analysis: draw out information

The benefit of online surveys is that you can view the responses in real-time. The data collected through the customer survey will be automated into charts, from which you can identify and analyse certain trends to make better business decisions. You have options to filter the responses based on conditions. For example, if you only want to view the responses of those who gave you a low rating, you can create a report of just those responses. The long text-based responses can be easily deciphered using sentiment analysis.

Optimise your customer survey

Overall, we advise you to keep your survey clear, simple, and in a non-biased language. Making it as short as possible and including the right combination of questions will go a long way towards ensuring the survey is easy to complete and respondents will give clear, honest, and truthful answers. Remember, the better the answers, the better the data.

Suvish Viswanathan is European technology evangelist at Zoho

Further reading

The best free online survey platforms for small businesses

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