Foreword Online

Ideas, information and industry news for collegiate retailers

4 Ways to Make Your Next Survey Count

Posted by Dean Asher on 6/11/15 12:00 AM
Topics: surveys, college store customer service, college retail, Marketing to Students

Surveys are an important tool in many bookstores' toolbox. They provide direct feedback and an opportunity for your customers to be honest with you about your services and what they want.


But it's easy to make a few simple mistakes that can really limit the effectiveness of your survey. To make sure the questions you ask are effective at getting honest feedback you can use to gauge your success and improve your operations, Mimi An at Hubspot provides us with a few tips. We've pulled the ones we thought were especially applicable, but you can see the entire post here.

1) Make the survey as short as possible.

Focus on what’s really important. What data do you need to make your argument, launch your campaign, or change a product? Extraneous, "good to know" questions bog down surveys and deaden their focus. The most dangerous words you can hear when developing questions is "Wouldn’t it be interesting if …" Remember that your survey respondents don’t really care about what is interesting to you or your company -- they care about how quickly they can finish the survey.

If you’re experiencing pushback on survey length, it’s always a good idea to note that drop-offs happen more with longer surveys. What would your boss prefer: A nice and thorough survey with only 15 completed responses, or a shorter, tighter survey with 200 responses? I'm guessing the latter.

I know the reality is that sometimes your survey has to be on the longer side. If that’s the case, guide your respondents through the sections. Let them know what you’re going to ask them. Give them cues when they’re almost done (“In this last section, we’re going to ask you …”). If your survey tool allows it, show them a progress bar so they know how much of the survey is left. And always thank them for taking the time to give feedback.

2) Don’t ask "yes" or "no" questions.

Respondents have a tendency to answer yes when asked a "yes" or "no" question. It’s a psychological bias (unless you ask if they’ve done something wrong). Plus, professional survey takers (they exist!) will immediately know they should answer "yes" to move further in the survey, putting them closer to getting an incentive or prize for finishing it.

Instead of asking directly, try to get at the answer in a more roundabout way. Give them a picklist and ask if they use or know any of the items listed. Only let respondents move on if they happen to select the item(s) that you are interested in. Then, the aim of your study is hidden to professional survey takers and you can be sure the people who answer your question are more likely to know what they’re talking about.

Don't do this:


Do this:


3) Randomize your answer options.

There’s also a first choice bias in surveys, where people automatically click the first answer listed. It’s prevalent in "select all that apply" type questions. Randomizing your options helps to combat a survey taker’s tendency to check the first option they’re given.

Most survey tools will allow you to anchor options such as “Don’t know” or “None of the above” at the bottom of the list and exclude them from randomization. (Note: Please don’t randomize numerical or alphabetical lists such as age ranges or country lists. That will make the survey much harder to take.)

Not so great:




4) Try to keep your question text neutral.

You’ll influence your respondents if you ask a leading question. That could suit your needs, but be aware that if you publish your results and people see the leading question text, they may end up questioning the authority of your data. Here's an extreme example to show you what I mean: "Don’t you think product X is amazing in the following ways? Yes, it is amazing because of x. It’s amazing because of y. It’s amazing because of z."

Instead, ask: "How would you rate product X on a scale of 1 to 5?" And if you want to know what specifically they like, you can follow up with people who answer 4 or 5 on why they love it. You can do that with the people who answer the lower ratings, too. This gives you way more actionable data on what people love about your product and what you need to work on.

Leading question that is clearly pushing an agenda:


Neutral questions that will get you honest feedback:



Related articles on Foreword Online

Article comments

Subscribe for updates

Share your experience

Contact our editorial team to set up an interview or to contribute a guest post.

Most popular posts