How to build a customer satisfaction survey

Alex Jijie


min read

We’ve talked about customer satisfaction metrics, now it is time to learn how to collect the data to measure customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction surveys are probably the most commonly used tool to find out how the company performs in the customer satisfaction area.

But why use a customer satisfaction survey in the first place? Why not apply just a rating system or take into account just the complaints received? One may think that those customers who don’t complain are perfectly satisfied, right? Not exactly.

There is quite a difference between what you assume about how good a customer experience you provide and what clients actually think. A study has revealed that:

While 80 % of companies believe their customer service to be ”superior”, only 8% of customers see it that way.Entrepreneur

What happens with dissatisfied customers? They either leave your company without a word or go on complaining in social media. None of these behaviors helps you understand much of what exactly went wrong and how you can prevent it from happening again.

This is where a satisfaction survey comes in handy: you can get direct user feedback and customer insights about what went right and what went wrong. This way, you can learn how to improve the customer journey, customer retention, and make your clients feel valued.

Let’s discover how to build a customer satisfaction survey that would provide the guidelines to take your product or services to the next level.

The first steps before building the feedback surveys

At the first glance, building a satisfaction survey may seem like a 5 minute-task to check on a coffee break. With all the satisfaction survey templates and survey tools available online, putting together a couple of questions feels like a piece of cake.

This is a trap you can easily fall into, ending up surprised by the low level of survey response rates. A good customer satisfaction questionnaire invites the respondent to a conversation that is meaningful for both him and you. The feedback questions should follow a certain logic and provide answers that you can actually put to use.

For that, you need to start with the survey objectives. Ask yourself: what do I want to learn from my clients? What assumptions do I make and need to confirm? Where do I feel stuck and I could use my clients’ insight? How can I tell if they’re happy with our company or not? Decide what you want to find out, which satisfaction metrics you want to measure and write down those objectives.

The next step in preparing customer surveys is to segment your customers. Different categories may have relevant information on different matters. Are the buyers the same persons as the users? If not, there is no point in asking the buyer about how difficult it was to use the product.

Instead, that person could give useful feedback on the customer journey from placing the order or entering the shop to product acquisition. Sometimes, it’s in this very phase of the customer experience that a client decides to return or not to your company.

A satisfaction survey shouldn’t be applied randomly. As part of a customer service strategy, the timing needs to correspond to key moments, to increase the relevance of customer feedback and the response rate.

The starting point is to relate the timing to a relevant event like sign up, purchase, subscription or unsubscribing, website or shop visit, end of the trial period, etc. Make sure that when you send the survey questions, the experience is still fresh, while you are not too intrusive.

The CEO at Qualaroo recommends that a first survey should be applied a week after the signup, followed by another one 30 days later and by follow up surveys every three months during a customer lifecycle. Hubspot

Surveying the same clients several times within a longer timeframe reveals the evolution of their satisfaction, as well as a confirmation of whether the experience you offer has improved.

One last point to consider before exploring those survey questions is the vehicle you want to use to apply the questionnaire. The first that comes to mind is the online survey. It is fast, doesn’t cost much and can reach a large public in a short time.

There are in-app surveys that can take advantage of the moment: the client is in the middle of the user experience, the feelings are fresh and the answers – more accurate. The downside of the in-app surveys is that they can’t be longer than 3 or 4 questions. The user is there for a specific purpose and any distractions can cause frustration.

A few short questions where he just needs to check some boxes are acceptable. It can give you a first measurable idea on which to build a further extended survey to follow up.

For this purpose, e-mail surveys are better. They are either inserted in the e-mail or as an external link to another platform, like Google Forms. This type of customer survey allows you to ask a larger number of questions of various types. The user feedback obtained this way can prove more insightful. However, the disadvantage of e-mail surveys is a low response rate of only 10 % to 15 %.

Another way to obtain online feedback from clients is the live chat, especially following an online purchase or a visit on the website. The survey questions may be asked as coming from a member of your team through a chat window.

The similarity to a real conversation can increase the chances to obtain genuine, open feedback. This kind of surveying opens the possibility for deeper exploration: sentiment analysis with a help of a customer happiness software that can identify how a customer feels about your product or service from the words he uses in the conversation.

Although the online is the preferred medium, you shouldn’t dismiss the offline surveys. Some people may be more comfortable with classic pen and paper writing or by answering over the phone. Paper surveys may be applied in your store or company office, referring to the recent experience lived in that space.

Also, elderly people may favor over the phone surveys as they fill their need to talking to people and having their opinions listened to by an actual person. They may not be as tech-savvy as to fill in an online survey or even access email, which is no reason to ignore their feedback.

How to find the right questions

Now that you learned how to plan your survey, let’s go a step further and explore the actual satisfaction survey questions. The starting point is the objectives you set. The questions need to provide answers that will help you reach the goals.

Further, there are a few general types of questions: choice questions (single or multiple choice), scale questions (the answer is a value on a scale) and open-ended questions. The customer satisfaction survey questions should cover all these types, as they reveal different dimensions of the customer experience.

The types of questions also depend on what they explore: measurement of the general satisfaction, product perception, use cases and customer effort, brand experience, getting to know the customers. Let’s see each of these types:

Questions for customer satisfaction metrics

There are some key indicators that, combined, measure customer satisfaction. Three metrics are the most used: Net Promoter Score (NPS) that measures how willing customers are to recommend the product or service; Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) that indicates the general degree of satisfaction with the company; Customer Effort Score (CES) that shows how much effort customers need to pay when interacting with your company.

To measure the net promoter score, the usual question is “How likely are you to recommend the product/ service/ company?” The answer comes as a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 indicating “not at all” and 10 – “very likely”.

For the customer satisfaction score, the question asked is about how satisfied the customer was with the product, service or company, in general. The answer also uses a scale from 1 to 5 or 10, from extremely unsatisfied to extremely satisfied. To make the answering simpler, some choose to use smiley faces instead of values.

Customer effort is measured with the help of a similar question. The respondent is asked to rate how much he agrees with a statement about how easy it was to have their issue solved: “The company made it easy for me to get my problem solved/ find the product I wanted/ get to speak to a consultant, etc.)?” The scale ranges from strongly disagree, scored with 1 to strongly agree, scored with 7. It is what in specialty terms is called a Likert scale.

These questions can be used in an extended survey or separately, after specific moments in the customer journey, right after a purchase, for instance.

Questions about the product

If you are interested in improving the product or discovering which features are preferred and which you can drop out from the next version, a customer satisfaction survey is a good opportunity to investigate this. Here you can ask about the frequency of use, favorite part of the product or service, what the customer would improve, whether it helps to achieve the client’s goals or not.

Questions about the use case and customer effort

The main question about customer effort is the one that helps to measure the Customer Effort Score, but you can investigate even further. You can ask about the ease of navigating the website, which aspects of the product/ service were more accessible, where he required assistance, how fast a feature was found or a result was achieved with the help of your product or service.

Questions about the experience with the company

If you want to get an even broader view, you can continue investigating the interaction with the company, in general. You can ask questions about the visit to your offices, the attitude of the personnel, the general feeling, the customer support, and so on.


General questions about age, place of residence or work, education, job title, marital status are very useful to draw a clearer picture of your customers’ segments. As long as these questions are kept general an anonymous, you are safe from privacy-related issues. You can even use value intervals for age or revenue, in case people are reluctant to divulge an exact number.

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Best practices to build a good survey

Once the survey questions established, putting them into an actual survey becomes easy. Here, too, are some coordinates to keep in mind, to increase chances for more relevant answers.

State the purpose from the beginning

Customers are more likely to offer their honest opinion if they know it will be used to improve a product or a service. In a short introduction to the satisfaction survey tell them why their feedback is important to you and how they can contribute.  

Combine multiple choice with open text

Giving people answering choices makes their work easier, increasing the response rate. Still, you may not anticipate all the possible answers, thus missing important clues. That’s why a good approach is to also introduce open text questions, to allow your clients to freely express their opinion.

Allow people to skip questions

To keep the survey as short and less annoying as possible, set only the essential questions as compulsory. Allow your clients to skip those questions that may not apply to them. For instance: “If you answered NO, got straight to question no.” You can add a Skip button for questions like “How did the personnel in the shop treat you?” if your client might have made the purchase online and never visited the brick and mortar place.  

Avoid words that influence

Try to resist the urge to introduce in your questions attributes that refer to the quality of your services, product or staff, such as “How did our amazing team treat you on your visit?” or “Which of our product’s great features did you enjoy the most?” At best, it will bias the answer and in the worst case, it will make the respondent feel manipulated.

Choose the right timing

The moment when you send the satisfaction survey is also important: too soon or too late becomes irrelevant, too often – gets annoying. 24 hours following a purchase is considered good timing. The minute after a subscription is canceled is also the right moment to ask for the reason, while it is still fresh in the customer’s mind. 7 to 10 days after a first sign up to your app or software installation is enough time for the client to have formed an opinion about the product’s features and ease of use.

Use a familiar, friendly tone

Although the purpose is rather technical, a customer satisfaction survey should not sound like a police interrogatory, but more like a friendly conversation. Use familiar words and the tone you would use when talking to your colleague over a cup of coffee.

To conclude

Applying customer satisfaction surveys is an important aspect of both your customer service strategy and product development. No one knows better than your actual clients what works for them, what the customers expect and how they feel about your company.

Once you have your satisfaction survey objectives and the questions set, you can use survey templates that are available online. You can also go for a survey tool from the ones rated by PCMag as the best for businesses: Qualtrics, Zoho, Survey Gizmo, SoGoSurvey, SurveyMonkey, and KeySurvey.

Don’t forget that you also have the option of a more advanced tool, such as sentiment analysis software.

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Alex Jijie

Community Development at ClientZen