Value My Opinion! The Basics of Customer Surveys

By Michelle M. Wicmandy, CMO of Collective Changes

Regardless of satisfaction level, many customers are happy to discuss their purchases.

Often, however, a brand never asks and when they do, they're not making the most of who they are asking, what they are asking and when they are asking.


Who a company asks for feedback might be just as important as what they ask and when they ask. This is because according to a 2014 PowerReviews study, 95 percent of consumers consult product reviews before making a purchase, yet less than half of consumers actually contribute to product reviews themselves.

Since customers are investing their time to provide feedback, brands may want to encourage participation by offering an incentive, which will vary based on budget, respondents, research topic, time commitment and how the company will deliver the reward. Companies may need to offer higher incentives, for example, to improve response rates when gathering data from people, like CEOs or doctors, who might not respond quickly or at all. Incentives typically come in two forms:

Monetary incentives: Checks, money orders, gift cards and coupons can show appreciation, but avoid treating the incentive as compensation - doing so might offend respondents who then might not complete the survey.

Non-monetary incentives: Tokens of appreciation can include merchandise, sales promotion items, donations to charity and even access to information, such as survey results or whitepapers.

Survey Incentives in the Real World

See how three enterprises are incentivizing customers to respond to surveys at

Also, researchers must decide whether to give the reward before or after the survey. Giving it afterward might yield higher response rates but make the incentive more difficult to deliver (especially online), according to Bennett Porter, vice president of marketing communications at SurveyMonkey.

In any case, the purpose of the incentive must be clear. It should always be a sincere thank you. An incentive offered on any other condition than completing the survey may appear unethical, according to Sue Frost, senior vice president of Truth Consulting.


No magic formula exists for survey design. Each business must determine how many questions to ask and which type to use. Respondents should, however, be able to answer the survey in 5-7 minutes. Give the survey to a few closely held customers and take it yourself first, suggested Dominique Shu, director of market research at Unleaded Communications. Porter of SurveyMonkey agrees. "If you think it's too long, your customer will think it's too long and abandon the survey."

To extract meaningful insights, survey designers often use qualitative and quantitative questions. Qualitative research uses open-ended questions to get in-depth answers. This information is trickier to analyze than answers from quantitative questions, which express data in numbers such as rating satisfaction on a scale of 1-5 for example.

Some surveys focus on gathering detailed opinions on how customers use a product and whether they like it, according to Shu of Unleaded Communications. Surveys of this nature would contain more qualitative questions. An annual customer satisfaction survey, however, might lean heavier on the quantitative research.


Customer surveys are an important communication tool as they allow a company to track trends, address problems and show customers their opinions matter. There's a fine line, however, between pestering customers by surveying them too often and not surveying them enough. Brands can track open rates (as survey responses are often solicited through email) and completion rates to determine the right frequency.

Porter of SurveyMonkey recommends marketers survey customers at least once every six months, but advised following their instincts to determine the right frequency. A marketer will know, for example, that a product release might be reason for a new survey, even if the same people were surveyed on a different topic just a couple months earlier.

Get Started Today

It's never too late to use surveys to clarify customer motivations, attitudes and preferences to improve their experience and a company's bottom line. For a list of today's top survey solutions, visit