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Survey Design: Process, Principles, and Questions

Surveys are an effective way to gather customer feedback if you know how to ask the right questions and keep your participants engaged. This guide covers when to use a survey, examples of good and bad questions to ask, and survey design principles to keep in mind.

Chapter 1

Introduction to survey design

About the author

This guide was written by Melanie Buset, User Experience Researcher at Spotify. You can connect with Melanie on LinkedIn.

“Focus on the user and all else will follow” has been one of Google’s guiding philosophies since its inception. So it’s no surprise that Google is often cited as a company that others aspire to become. Their focus on users definitely contributes to their reputation.

If you do a quick search to understand the ROI (return on investment) of focusing on your users, you’ll quickly learn that customer-focused companies can be 60% more profitable than non-customer-focused companies. For those privy to this knowledge, it brings up the question of why every company isn’t taking an active role in hearing from their customers—you’d think this would be a no-brainer.

Yet research shows that 42% of companies don't survey their customers or collect feedback. Because you’re reading this, I presume you’d rather be part of the former group. If that’s the case, read on.

Using surveys as a customer feedback method

There are a variety of methods that you can use to become a more customer-focused company: online or in-person user interviews, shadowing your support team’s interactions, watching your customers use your product during a usability test or other research methods, and one of the most common methods, surveying your customers to gather feedback about their experience with your product(s).

We’ve all received a survey at some point in our lives, whether via email, pop-up, or paper mail 🐌. It’s easy to dislike this method when you’re on the receiving end for several reasons: the survey is too long, the pop-up is annoying, or the target participant doesn’t want to receive this type of communication. Still, surveys can be an effective way to gather feedback if you know how to ask the right questions and keep your participants engaged.

Survey design is the process of creating effective surveys that give you actionable insights and keep your participants engaged. This guide will highlight when to use a survey, some examples of good and bad questions to help you learn how to ask the right questions, and survey design principles to help increase the likelihood that your customers will complete your survey. Let’s get started!

When to use surveys to gather feedback

Surveys are a great way to learn more about your customers and how your products impact their lives. Additionally, they’re a simple and effective method that can be used at various times during the product development cycle. They’re a good candidate when you're looking to gather information in the following scenarios:

  • To get a sense of user sentiment for an existing product or shortly after launch
  • To gauge interest in a future concept or idea and determine what new products or features should be prioritized
  • To gather demographic information about your users and their needs
  • To dig deeper into a known problem area (e.g., you could create a survey as a follow-up to a quantitative study, such as an A/B test, to gather further insight about the patterns uncovered quantitatively).

As mentioned above, surveys can be used to supplement other research methods or they could be used as the primary method. Some scenarios where you might want to use a survey are:

  • As a follow-up to another moderated research method that requires additional qualitative feedback from your customers
  • During an unmoderated test to gather further feedback to complement your customers’ behavior
  • As a standalone initiative sent via email from your marketing, product, or research teams to gather feedback about an existing product or to help inform what to build
  • As an in-context pop-up within your product if you’d like to gather additional feedback on an existing product

The way a survey is administered will depend on the research questions your team is hoping to answer. In the following chapters, we’ll look at how to design an effective survey and help you understand what type of questions will be necessary.