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6 tips for creating a strategic survey


Surveys might sound boring on the surface, but they often deliver a surprise or two.

Take Heritage Credit Union and First State Bank, for example — two very different clients with a similar task for BrownBoots: help determine whether they are serving their respective customers in the way they want to be served.

Perception surveys are an excellent research tool, especially when a business is considering a new branding strategy. Heritage Credit Union had already polled their employees, while First State Bank came to us for an internal and an external perception survey. 

In both cases, BrownBoots helped coordinate the distribution of the surveys to customers and non-customers alike. We also analyzed the data in conjunction with the findings from the internal surveys. We compiled our findings and recommendations into an easy-to-understand report.

And in both cases, the client learned that what they thought their customers wanted them to be wasn’t necessarily the case.

Those kinds of surprises can be incredibly helpful. Of course, improperly designed surveys will have surprises of their own. To make sure you end up with meaningful, actionable data, follow these six tips:

1. Identify your audiences

This might sound remedial, but it’s important to know, from the start, whom you’re talking to. Be very specific. Are you interested in the opinions of current customers only? What about past customers? Might prospective customers’ insights be useful?

Once you know how many segments you’re targeting — or, as we like to call them, “audience buckets” — you can create a survey that speaks to each of them effectively.

2. Leverage logic

If you have only one audience segment, the path from first to final question may end up being very straightforward. However, in most cases, the survey should adapt to the answers given. For example, if a survey taker says they don’t use your business banking services, don’t solicit their thoughts on your business loan options. If/then logic is a necessity.

This is especially true for surveys that target many different audiences. If you waste a person’s time with irrelevant questions, they likely won’t complete the survey.

3. Refine the timing

Tell survey takers how long the questionnaire will take to complete. Be honest.

That means you will have to do some dry runs yourself. Consider using ranges (e.g. 2 to 10 minutes), measuring how long it takes to complete the survey in a scenario where someone doesn’t qualify for most questions as well as a situation where most, if not all, questions are answered.

4. Focus on the facts

It should go without saying that the longer a survey takes to complete, the less likely a person is going to reach the end — or maybe even start it.

Streamline your survey down to the most essential questions. Don’t ask the same thing in two different ways (unless there’s a very good reason). Don’t include queries that will give you answers you can’t act on. For example, if you never plan to call the survey taker, don’t ask for their phone number.

5. Keep data comparable

You’ve plotted logical paths for your distinct audiences, but even after they diverge, try to keep your questions — and answer types — as consistent as you can from one audience bucket to the next. Despite the old adage, you’re going to need to compare those apples and oranges.

That might mean rephrasing questions so a similar approach can be taken to inquiries about both checking accounts and savings accounts.

6. Beware of bias

Coming at a perception survey with preconceived notions can ruin the experiment before you even begin. Watch out for leading questions — the kind that only have answers conforming to your suspicions. People need latitude, so give them real choices.

If a survey taker doesn’t see an answer that reflects their opinion, they might make a random pick or avoid the question altogether. When in doubt, include an “Other” option. Or, better yet, give them ability to fill in their own answer, as needed.

The key to making valuable, valid discoveries is creating a series of questions that will give you answers you can truly learn from without forcing survey takers down a road paved from self-fulfilling predictions.

An effective perception surveys is tricky and enlightening but, if done strategically, never dull!

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