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5 Common Mistakes When Designing Online Customer Surveys

by Emma Borochoff on April 12, 2018

nordwood-themes-483520-unsplashAh yes surveys.  The noble beast of the market research and customer experience world, and your entry point into your customers’ minds to answer the questions that have been nagging you for eons.

Surveys can also be a bit of a drag for your customers.

Just as Eminem says, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance,” it’s vital that you not miss your chance for insightful, clean data from your customers.  If you don’t craft your online customer survey questions carefully and intentionally, you can easily generate incorrect data through measurement error (also referred to as observational error). Making business decisions off of biased customer data can lead to costly mistakes.

It’s easy to skew data with poorly written questions, so make sure you’re taking the time to craft well-thought out, unbiased questions by avoiding the below!

Leading Questions

When designing your customer survey, you want nothing but the cold, hard truth.  So when a question is leading, it is often unintentional - it can be hard to write unbiased questions when you already have a preferred outcome in mind. Be careful of the words you include in the questions- you might have words that have a more positive or negative connotation, thus already biasing your customer’s mindset when answering. Leading questions have a way of putting your answer right in your customer’s mouth.

Not the way to do it: How has Brand Co. excelled compared to agencies you’ve used in the past?

Better way to do it: How does Brand Co. compare to agencies you’ve used in the past?


Two Questions in One

This one happens so often that there’s actually a name for it: a double-barreled question.  This is when you are actually asking two questions in a way that sounds like you’re only asking one.  Your audience may have different thoughts about the two things you’re asking about but instead you’re forcing them to give a single answer that covers both.

Not the way to do it: How would you rate the speed and quality of customer service that you’ve received in the past 30 days?

Better way to do it:  1. How would you rate the speed of customer service that you’ve received in the past 30 days?

  1. How would you rate the quality of customer service that you’ve received in the past 30 days?

Using Corporate-Speak / Jargon

Sometimes, when you’re at work, writing an email or in a meeting, you start saying things like “synergy” and “paradigm shifts” despite your best judgement (it happens to us all). While corporate-speak can allow you to fit in with your colleagues, it will only distance yourself from your respondents.

When you ask questions on your online customer surveys that include this type of jargon, expect to get responses that are equally vague and formalized.  Your customers are people too so do them a favor and speak to them like it. They’ll appreciate it.

Not the way to do it: What do you feel is Brand Co.’s core competency?

Better way to do it: What do you feel is Brand Co.’s biggest strength?

Not Simplifying

This ties into the previous point about corporate-speak - simplest is best.  You need to be clear, concise, and to the point. Unnecessary complexity distorts your questions’ meaning and can lead to non-responses or responses that don’t truly represent your customer because they misunderstood you in the first place. Making sure there are as few mental hurdles as possible will lead to faster, cleaner answers.

Not the way to do it: What was your level of satisfaction of Brand Co.’s closed loop feedback process for your project?

Better way to do it: How did you feel Brand Co. did at implementing your project feedback?


Asking Too Much

In this day and age, the human attention span has become shorter than a Goldfish (no lie). You are lucky to have captured your customer’s attention long enough for them to open the email about your survey, let alone invest their time to respond to it.

When surveys are drawn out and are too long or too complicated, respondents tend to skip questions or abandon the whole survey in the first place. Take your customers’ time into account. Select only the questions that will give you the most crucial insight.  There isn’t a magic number of questions - first understand how invested your customer is in answering - are they being incentivized? Are they brand evangelists?- and the amount of effort each question demands. We’d recommend a customer survey that can be completed in around 5 minutes.


While it may seem like common sense to avoid these survey mistakes, they are incredibly easy to make when you don’t think carefully and critically about each question.  Make sure you have several different eyes on each customer survey you craft- it will also help you catch and remove bias before it’s too late.

If you’re looking for a way to capture customer feedback in a way that is more engaging and also more flexible than a typical online customer survey- perhaps an AI-based platform can help you understand customers in real-time- learn more!

In this article

Market Research, Customer Feedback

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