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Customer satisfaction surveys—what, why, how and when

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What is a customer satisfaction survey?

A customer satisfaction survey involves gathering feedback from your current or past customers. Normally, you use a customer survey or customer feedback form to ask about various aspects of your product or service. You’ll find out what your customers think and say about you. This means they’re essential for understanding where you sit—what you’re doing well and where you can improve.

Why is measuring customer satisfaction important?

Even large multinationals can no longer rest on their laurels, secure in the knowledge that brand loyalty will bring in a steady stream of income. Today’s business landscape is more competitive than ever. This makes customer feedback vital.

You need to understand what your customers think of you. That includes both what they’re happy with and where you fall short. And you need to act on those insights, maintaining your areas of strength and working on your weaknesses.

Those are the must-dos. But, used well, customer satisfaction surveys can go much further. You can even use them to ask your one-off or former customers why they no longer shop with you. They can help you identify gaps in the market, which can lead to new product development. They can provide you with some wonderful customer testimonials to use in your marketing materials. They can give you an idea of key metrics to track and incentivise. And they can even help you build customer loyalty.


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How to create your customer satisfaction survey—6 top tips

OK, so you understand the importance of conducting customer satisfaction surveys. But how do you go about it? We’ve gathered our top six tips below, with examples, to help you understand how to put it all into practice. Also check out our customer satisfaction survey template and examples of great customer service survey questions.

1. Be clear and specific

Don’t make your customers guess what you mean. Make sure your wording is clear and unambiguous, and don’t ask about more than one thing at a time.

Let’s say you run a spa. You want to ask your customers about various aspects of their experience with you, from the customer service and the treatments through to the ambiance. You could ask “How was your experience with us?” and ask them to rate it on a scale. This can help give you a broad overview.

But it can also be ambiguous. One customer might answer the question thinking of their opinion on the price, while another is referring to the treatments and yet another your friendly staff. Also, because you haven’t defined what the standard should be, you could be comparing apples with oranges.

Make sure you ask about one aspect at a time for a clearer picture. For instance, let’s take the question “To what extent did you find the treatments enjoyable and good value for money?” This question is effectively asking two questions in one. This can be confusing for your customers. And it means you won’t know how to interpret the answers. A customer that responds with “not at all”, might have found the treatments amazing, just too expensive.

Instead you could ask questions like:

Did you find our staff friendly?

Did you find our treatment rooms relaxing?            

How would you rate the quality of treatments you received from us?

2. Combine open-ended and closed-ended questions

Closed-ended questions are those which you answer yes or no to, choose from a selection of options, or rate on a scale. Because there is a defined set of answers, they’re easy to compare and draw conclusions from. They’re the sort of questions that allow you to conclude “80% of customers are satisfied with their purchase”.  

But we recommend also including open-ended questions in your customers satisfaction surveys. They’re great for things you forgot to ask about or weren’t aware of. Let’s return to our spa example. You might ask about customer experience, the ambiance and the quality of the treatments. Then you decide to add in one of the following questions:

What else did you enjoy about your experience with us?

How can we improve?

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

If you must choose a competitor, who would it be and why?

These sorts of questions can prove enlightening. For example, it could turn out that for some of your customers, the quality of the products you use is a huge draw. Or maybe you have competitors you’d never even heard of. Or your traditional competitors might have changed what they offer. If you don’t ask, you may never know. And if you don’t know, you can’t replicate what works well and fix what doesn’t.


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3. Make it not too short, not too long

While it’s helpful to ask specific questions, be careful not to overdo it. Too many questions can make for a lengthy survey, which can negatively affect the completion rate. You need to strike a balance between gathering insightful data and having a high drop-off rate. Plus, long surveys can lead to people speeding through without taking the time to answer the questions properly. But where’s the sweet spot?

Well, it depends. The amount of time someone is willing to spend completing a survey will vary depending on the type of survey, and on how invested they are in the outcome. This needs to be balanced with the aim of the survey. Read our article on survey length and completion times to find out more.

4. Only ask what you need to know

What’s the overall goal of your survey? It can be tempting to ask all sorts of questions just in casethey come in handy. But we wouldn’t recommend that approach. Firstly, because you run the risk of making your survey too long. Secondly, if you ask too many seemingly unrelated questions, your respondents’ patience can wear thin. And in this era of heightened data privacy awareness, they may become suspicious. You could even find yourself in hot water if you’re not adhering to data privacy requirements. Our advice—carefully consider if each question you ask is necessary.

5. Use rating scales consistently

Likert scales, also known as satisfaction scales, like the example below, can be an efficient way of asking survey questions.

Overall, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with our company?

  • Very satisfied
  • Somewhat satisfied
  • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  • Somewhat dissatisfied
  • Very dissatisfied

You can also group together questions on the same topic in a matrix so that you only list the rating scale once. But make sure you’re consistent with your scales throughout the survey. If “very satisfied” appears on the left, and then later on it switches places with “very dissatisfied”, this can cause confusion and lead to unreliable results. Find out more about how to use Likert scales.

6. Ask if you can follow up

One handy technique for delving deeper into specific topics is to ask your customers if they’re willing to answer more questions. For example, you could have a very brief initial survey. The last question could be “Would you be willing to answer some more questions about your experience?”. Those who answer yes can then be directed to a more detailed questionnaire.

Another option is to ask at the end of a survey “Are you happy for us to contact you to discuss your answers?”. This gives you the opportunity to find out more about a customer’s responses—ideal if you don’t understand what they mean or want to find out more about a specific answer. Of course, many may answer “No”, but you’re bound to have some keen beans. And it never hurts to ask.

When should you send customer satisfaction surveys?

When’s the best time to send your survey? It depends what your product or service is, and what type of question you want to ask.

Immediately is not always the best approach. For instance, when it comes to our lovely spa, you probably don’t want to disturb your customer’s post-massage bliss with the ping of an incoming satisfaction questionnaire. But you also don’t want to leave it too long, otherwise memories might have become a little hazy. In this case, a day or two after their visit is probably about right.

Then again, you might want to find out what they thought of the booking process, and their experience up to the point of walking through the door. You could go about this a few different ways. You could have a pop-up on your booking site that asks about their booking experience—just one or two questions. You could include a link to a short survey in their booking confirmation email. Or you could send a separate email after they make their booking.

What next?

Now you know what a customer satisfaction survey is, why they’re valuable, when to send them, and you’ve considered some top tips for creating them. If you’re looking for inspiration to write your questions, have a look at our customer satisfaction survey questions and templates[HL4] .

But don’t forget, it doesn’t end with sending out your survey. There’s no point having all this rich data if you’re not going to do anything with it. So make sure you take the time to look at the results in detail. Think about what they tell you—what you do well and where you can improve are good starting points. Use the feedback provided to come up with plans to continue succeeding in the former, and work on resolving the latter.

Maybe you need to make improvements to customer service or have another look at your pricing model. Look out for any opportunities your results might highlight, too. Perhaps there’s a need for a new product or service, or a gap in the market to fill. Or are there some steps you can take to tempt back former or irregular customers? And don’t make it a one-off thing either. Make sure you send out your customer feedback form regularly so you can measure if customer satisfaction has improved.

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