Customer Experience

How to Write a Really Bad Survey

There are a lot of bad surveys out there. Here are 3 surefire ways to write a really bad one... so you know what to avoid when you're writing your own!

Survey progress bar showing 3 percent complete
Sean McDade, PhD

Sean McDade, PhD

Founder & CEO, PeopleMetrics

I have been writing and taking surveys for 30+ years.
Over that time, I have taken a lot of very bad ones. And when I first started writing surveys, I wrote my fair share of bad ones too.
Today, there are more surveys sent out than ever before. And this means more bad surveys than ever are being sent out to customers, guests, patients, and employees.
In this blog post, I'm going to tell you 3 surefire ways to write a really bad survey... so you know what to avoid when you're writing your own!

Survey progress bar showing 3 percent complete

1. Make the survey too long... and then lie about it

The hallmark of a really bad survey is that it’s long (more than 3 minutes).

To really make a bad survey, you can compound it even further by lying to the respondent about the survey length... telling them it will take less time to complete than it really will.

Don’t do this!

Post-transactional surveys (i.e. surveys sent to customers after an event such as a visit to a hotel, call to a support line, or a technician visit to a home) should take no more than 3 minutes to complete, ideally more like 1 minute.

If you do need to ask more questions to get a deeper dive, you have to be up front with the customer on how long the survey will take to complete, and then incentivize them to continue with either an honorarium or sweepstakes opportunity.

Young man struggling to understand a survey

2. Make the survey questions repetitive and confusing

Repeating the same question many times, often phrased differently each time, will ensure your respondent has a poor experience taking your survey.

Confusing questions, such as asking the customer to rank 11 items in order of importance, are just as detrimental. 

Text definition of tl;dr [too long; didn't read]

3. Put so much text in the survey email invitation that the survey link or first survey question gets pushed below the fold

Survey email invitations should include very few words with a couple of key pieces of information:

  1. How long will the survey take?
  2. What does the customer get (if anything) by taking the time to fill it out?

Great surveys also have the first question of the survey (e.g. Net Promoter Score) directly embedded into the email invitation where it can be seen above the fold (i.e. above the point where a customer has to scroll to see it).

Keep these points in mind the next time you create a survey. Y
our customers will thank you for it!

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About the Author

Sean McDade, PhD is the author of Listen or Die: 40 Lessons That Turn Customer Feedback Into Gold. He founded PeopleMetrics in 2001 and is the architect of the company’s customer experience management (CEM) software platform. As CEO, he guides the company’s vision and strategy. Sean has over 20 years of experience helping companies measure and improve the customer experience. Earlier in his career, he spent five years at the Gallup Organization, where he was the practice leader of their consulting division. His company offers CEM software with advanced machine learning solutions and hands-on analytical support to help companies make sense of their CX data. Sean holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration with a specialization in marketing science from Temple University in Philadelphia. He has published eight articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and has taught over 25 marketing classes. Sean was named a 40 under 40 award recipient of the Philadelphia region. He is an active Angel Investor, including investments in Tender Greens, CloudMine and Sidecar.

Topic: Customer Experience

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