How to write a customer questionnaire

Questionnaires provide an excellent way of getting feedback from your customers because everyone is familiar with them and is used to filling them in. You can use the feedback from a well-designed questionnaire to improve your business procedures and your marketing. A questionnaire-based survey should be conducted on your customers at least once a year. It’s likely that over time your customer base will change, so you must keep up to date with the profile of your most common type of customer.

The value of questionnaires

The more you know about how your customers feel about your business, the better placed you are to make improvements. The feedback from questionnaires can therefore provide you with a strong competitive advantage over your competitors, allowing you to understand the real needs of your customers or clients and adapt your business appropriately.

The response to the questions you ask can often be quite unexpected and revealing and can alert you to changes you must make to keep your customers satisfied. For example, you might think that your service level is excellent, but your customers feel it is below standard.

The value of questionnaires

Your first task is to decide what information you want from the questionnaire and then design the form to make sure the questions are asked properly, and the information is accurate, relevant and useful to you.

For example, you might want answers to such questions as:

  • Would customers still use us if we increased prices?
  • Are the times we are open or available suitable to the majority?
  • Would customers use a freephone number service?
  • How do most new customers find out about us?
  • Did that advertising campaign work or not?
  • Are we as polite and courteous to our customers as we think?
  • Are there any other products or services that the customers would like us to provide, that we have not thought of yet?
  • Is there anything we can do to improve our business?

The list is endless.

General guidelines

Keep the questionnaire as brief as possible: one page if you can manage it. People will be more co-operative if the form is brief and relevant. There is no point in getting information that you won’t use.

Be as non-threatening and unobtrusive as possible. No questions about income or age (unless these are necessary), and if you do not need their name or address then don’t ask for it. Some people are more honest if the survey is anonymous. Supplying a sealed box with a slot in the top (like the voting boxes) to collect the data also helps.

When you speak to each customer, you could say something along the lines of: ‘We’re aiming to provide you with the best service we can. To do this, we need to find out how you feel about our business. If you could please spend a few minutes filling in this questionnaire, it will help us to provide even better service.’ Very few customers will refuse such an approach.

How to ask the questions

How do you ask questions that result in useful information? Start by being clear and precise. For example, consider the question:

How often do you buy our product? (please tick one of the following):

  • All the time
  • Often
  • Sometimes
  • Rarely

This question is likely to result in worthless information because it is vague, and customers would all interpret these boundaries differently. One customer thinks once a week is often, where another might consider once a week as rarely. The question does not specify a time period.

A better way of asking this question would be: ‘In a typical month, how often would you buy from our company?’ A blank space would then be left for the customer to fill in the number of times they buy from you. You can then determine the frequency of purchases yourself.

Use normal language: phrase the questions as if you were talking to your customers.
Avoid words that indicate bias. For example: What did you dislike about our service?  This automatically makes the customer think there must be something wrong. The word ‘dislike’ is biased, just as the word ‘like’ would be if it were used.

A much better way is to ask: Could you please comment on the service you receive from our company. Then leave a gap for them to answer.

A second question: Please offer suggestions to help us with our service is also useful. Suppose a customer writes ‘Service was slow’ for the first question. This doesn’t tell you how to fix the problem. What you want to find out is why it was slow.

The second question gives the customer the chance to make positive suggestions, such as: ‘Why not rotate the lunch hours of your staff so they aren’t all out at the same time?’ This is much more helpful to you.

Avoid asking two questions at once, for example: Do you think we offer fast and friendly service?
The first objection is that some people may think you are fast but not friendly, so would not be able to answer, or would skip the question. The second point is that the customer might just answer ‘no’ which is of very limited value to you. To be told that you don’t have fast or friendly service does not particularly help you. Why you lack these qualities and what you can do about it are much more relevant.

Two types of questions

In general, there are two types of questions:

  1. a) Open ended questions such as: ‘Please outline any problems you may have had in contacting us by telephone’. Here a blank space is typically left, so that the person can write whatever they want.
  2. b) Closed questions where you ask the customer to tick boxes, such as:

Did you have any problems contacting us by telephone?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Sometimes

Which type of question you choose depends upon what type of information you want to collect. As a rule of thumb, when you want feelings and opinions, then choose an open-ended question (this is also called qualitative information).

When you want hard facts and numbers then closed questions are best (also called quantitative information).

A tip on question order: choose easy, closed questions at the beginning of your questionnaire to get the customer into the swing of things.

After you construct the questions, test them on a few customers to make sure that they understand them, and that the information will be useful to you.