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How to Create a Customer Survey

“How to Create a Customer Survey”

How satisfied are your customers? Use these tips on question phrasing and layout to maximize the response rate and the value of the results when you prepare and apply a written customer survey.


There are four steps in conducting a successful survey. They are:

  • Define Your Objectives
  • Determine Who Completes the Survey
  • Develop the Content
  • Analyze the Results

Step 1: Define Your Objectives

What do you want to know from the survey? Your objectives will shape your survey questions.

If you try to include too much, the survey will grow too long. Customers may disregard it. Or they may invest the time to complete it and tell you more than you can handle! If you can’t respond to their input and show you treat their feedback seriously, relations will sour.

Step 2: Determine Who Completes the Survey

Identify those customers whose satisfaction you want to measure. If your business caters to vastly different customer groups, you may want to focus on one category of buyers at a time. To avoid what marketers refer to as "sampling error," send the survey to a random sample of people who represent the customer base you seek to measure. Use the survey to reach customers whom you would otherwise miss. For example, don’t just survey the handful of people who represent your largest accounts or whom you see most often. Distribute the questionnaire to customers you tend to ignore or not interact with as frequently. They may have ideas or problems that you would never otherwise hear about.

Step 3: Develop the Content

The questions you ask flow from the objective you identified in Step 1. Resist the temptation to stray from the core issues to include topics you’re merely curious about. Follow these steps:

  • Draft the questions. Make sure every question relates clearly to your objective. Keep them simple and concise. Long questions force respondents to work too hard to understand what you want. Eliminate unnecessary words.

      Instead of: Did the clerk provide personal service when you asked to be helped with your selection?

      Ask: Did the clerk provide caring service?

  • Avoid ambiguous, vague and leading questions. For example, loading your question with positives can create "language bias" that influences how people respond.

      Instead of: Were you delighted with our service?

      Ask: How would you rate our service?

      Instead of: Did the phone rep give you an acceptable level of attention?

      Ask: How long were you on hold? Did the customer-service representative speak clearly? Were your questions answered? Please describe the representative’s tone?

  • Limit each question to one point. Otherwise, you may confuse a customer who wants to respond positively to one thought and negatively to another.

      Instead of: Was the clerk pleasant and did she handle the transaction quickly?

      Ask: Was the clerk pleasant?
      Did the clerk handle the transaction quickly?

Develop your questions for the survey:

  • Choose the right order. Survey designers often warn about "order effect," or the sequence with which you ask questions. Where you place certain questions within the survey can influence what kind of answers you get. For instance, asking for overall impressions at the outset might give you a different answer than if you ask it at the end of the form-after the customer has been responding to specific questions and remembering all the minor problems associated with your product or service.
  • Choose a response format. There are two common options for respondents to give answers — checklist and Likert scale.

    For checklists, the customer will be able to respond "yes" or "no." For the other format, developed by R.A. Likert in 1932, scales are used. Examples:

      Strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree

      Very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, indifferent, satisfied, very satisfied

      Very poor, poor, average, good, very good

    Note: You may want to add NR (not relevant) or NA (not appropriate) to indicate a customer isn’t a valid respondent for that question.

    The Likert scale allows the customer to express degrees of opinion and thus offers a higher level of reliability than a two-choice checklist.

    Reliability appears to level off after five responses so while a five-point scale is better than just two options, ten is not necessarily better than five.

  • Weigh the importance of each question. Isolate what you can and cannot improve, and focus on questions that you can act on. Consider what counts most to your customer, and prune away "I’d just like to know" questions that don’t truly measure satisfaction.
  • Use open-ended questions sparingly. Using a checklist or Likert scale makes it easy to tabulate the responses consistently, but answers to broad questions such as "How can we improve our service?" are less conducive to making comparisons and measuring differences over time.
  • Leave room for comments at the end of the survey. If a customer has a specific problem, that’s the place to describe it.
  • Test the questions. Ask a pilot group of employees or customers to complete the survey before you finalize it. They’ll help you flag any confusing or unnecessary questions.
  • Keep it short. Long surveys reduce the number of responses you’ll get.

    Ideally, keep it to two pages, front and back for a total of four pages.

  • Limit it to 30 questions, including some opportunities for customers to compare your product or service to the competition. And leave lots of white space so that the layout doesn’t intimidate or overwhelm customers.
  • Thank participants. For mailed forms, include a self-addressed stamped envelope to facilitate the return of the completed survey.

Online or written survey?

A cost-effective way to collect input from customers is to use prepackaged online surveys. Your customers can complete these questionnaires at their PCs and send them back to you instantaneously.

For example, ManagementCentral’s Web site includes online "Client Satisfaction Reports." You can direct your customers or employees to complete the survey and return it to ManagementCentral; it will process the results and provide a customized analysis based on your needs.

Step 4: Analyze the Results

To compile and analyze the survey results, use a computer spreadsheet program. Sort the data to draw more significant conclusions. Examples: customer’s job function, sales level or product purchased.

Whenever you collect customers’ impressions of your service, don’t interpret the results in isolation. Ideally, you should evaluate customer ratings in comparison to how they rate your competitors. That’s why a good survey includes an opportunity for respondents to rate your competition alongside your company’s performance.

Finally, share the results with your customers. This is absolutely necessary if you want to continue to receive feedback from them.

Learn More From a Fair Comparison

"…research has shown conclusively that customer satisfaction can be accurately correlated with customer loyalty only if it is measured relative to the competition. If your customer shows top-box satisfaction, obviously he is telling you he is at least no less satisfied with your firm than he is with a competitor. But the most direct way to measure customer satisfaction’s real impact on your business is to measure the competition’s customer satisfaction as well."

— from
"Enterprise One to One" by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Doubleday, 1997.


Once you’ve identified your customers’ needs, your strengths and weaknesses and the priority for improvements from the surveys, pick a few action items to produce results. Strive to concentrate your efforts on those select areas that will achieve the biggest gains in customer satisfaction. Identify key performance indicators for customer satisfaction, develop goals and measure your progress against those benchmarks.


Department (optional):
Role/Function (optional):
Address (optional):
Phone (optional):

Instructions: First evaluate the services provided by us. Next, evaluate the services provided by an alternate supplier or the competition in general. A "5" represents world-class levels, "1" is poor, "3" is average. If you feel that we or the competition perform this service in a world-class manner, then circle "5". If you feel that we or the competition perform at a poor level, then circle "1". Please use the remaining numbers to describe less extreme feelings.

In the last column indicate how important you feel this service is to you. If the statement describes a service that is important to you, please circle "H" for High. If the service is not important to you, circle "L" for Low. If you feel somewhere in between, indicate so by circling "M" for Medium.

If you wish to add information not covered by the statements or provide examples that describe your opinions about a service, please do so in the comment sections provided at the end of each question. The questions are general in nature yet comprehensive when accompanied with your specific comments. Your comments are valuable in improving our understanding of your requirements, and we appreciate each one of them.

Thank you for your time and effort in helping us become a world-class vendor!

A. Reliability — Ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately.
Competition Importance
1. Follows through with commitments in a timely manner. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
2. Shows a sincere interest in solving my problems. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
3. Performs the service right the first time. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
4. Is dependable. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
5. Insists on error-free records. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
B. Empathy — Caring, individualized attention a firm provides its customers.
1. Gives me personal attention. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
2. Has convenient service features (e.g., hours,contacts, etc.). 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
3. Has my best interests at heart. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
4. Understands my specific needs. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
C. Tangibles — Appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel and communication materials.
1. Has modern and/or appropriate facilities and equipment. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
2. Physical facilities are visually appealing. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
3. Projects a professional image. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
D. Responsiveness — Willingness to help customers and provide prompt service.
1. Employees inform me exactly when services will be performed. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
2. Employees give me prompt service. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
3. Employees are always willing to help me. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
4. Employees are never too busy to respond to my requests. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
E. Assurance — Knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to inspire trust and confidence.
1. The behavior of employees instills confidence in me. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
2. I feel safe in my transactions with employees. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
3. Employees are courteous. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H
4. Employees have the knowledge to answer my questions. 1 2 3 4 5   1 2 3 4 5 L M H

Additional Comments



Listed below are five features pertaining to suppliers and the services they offer. We would like to know how important each of these is to you when you evaluate suppliers’ service.

Please allocate a total of 100 points to the five features based on how important each is to you — the more important a feature is to you, the more points you should allocate to it.

_____ Points Appropriate facilities/equipment; professional personnel.
_____ Points Accurate and dependable service performance.
_____ Points Willingness to help customers and provide prompt service.
_____ Points Knowledgeable and courteous employees that inspire trust and confidence.
_____ Points Caring, individualized attention to customers.
100 Points



Voices Into Choices: Acting on the Voice of the Customer by Gary Burchill and Christina Hepner Brodie. (Oriel Inc., 1997).

Enterprise One to One: Tools for Competing in the Interactive Age by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers. (Doubleday, 1999).

Clicking: 17 Trends That Drive Your Business — And Your Life by Faith Popcorn and Lys Marigold. (HarperBusiness, 1998).

Customer Visits: Building a Better Market Focus by Edward F. McQuarrie. (Sage Publications, 1998).

The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers, Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema. (Addison-Wesley, 1997).

Professional Associations

American Productivity & Quality Center

Customer Measurement Satisfaction Association; a professional association run by the Benchmarking Network, a Houston-based customer measurement consulting company.

Mystery Shopping Services

Second To None


For a list of mystery shopping services, see http://www.pocket-change.com/mystery.htm


SPSS Inc.’s data mining software is widely used by businesses to measure customer satisfaction.

The SAS Institute Inc. also develops data mining tools.

Online Customer Surveys

CustomInsight offers free surveys for a limited number of respondents, with fees for larger samples.

Greenfield Online Inc.’s Web site, offers for-fee customer surveys.

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