Market data and customer feedback are essential for product and service development, which explains why service providers and brands often provide digital (i.e., email, web page form, social media survey) and paper questionnaires to customers. The tricky part is getting the right kind and the right volume of answers for them to be useful in future business plans.
When survey data seems to fall short despite a lengthy and far-reaching data gathering campaign, there might be a problem with the questionnaire’s verbiage.
The Power of Word Choice
Words can trigger a visceral response and inspire a corresponding action. In market research, questionnaires must be put together with considerable thought: poor word choice can tilt survey results one way or another.
Ideally, surveys and client satisfaction questionnaires should be able to:
- Provide an accurate measure of preferences, experiences, behaviors, etc.
- Extract honest, unbiased opinions
- Encourage respondents to give detailed feedback
Questionnaires for market research must also be accessible, whether printed on sheets of paper or distributed electronically using an online survey program. Lastly, these questions must be written with the target market in mind. Focusing on the target respondents should reveal what must and must not be done when writing the survey questions.
The Roadblocks to Getting Honest Answers
Surveys are created for specific audiences, so what works for one demographic may not work for another. That being said, there are a few things the research community acknowledges are better left out of the sheet.
- “Fancy” questions – The simpler and more straightforward the question, the better. It reduces the risk of misinterpretation, ensuring that the answers are as honest and accurate as possible from a respondent’s point of view.
- Polar questions – “Yes or no” and “this or that” questions reduce the possible answers to only two.
- Close-ended questions – These are questions that don’t explicitly ask for yes and no answers, but neither do they leave room for other responses. Multiple-choice questions are also close-ended because even though they offer other possible answers, they don’t allow the respondents to go beyond the available choices. Additionally, the very presence of certain “options” could skew the results in favor of a pre-determined outcome. This “top issue” became evident when Pew Research Center reviewed the results of its 2008 post-presidential election surveys.
- Asking multiple questions at once – Phrasing questions this way is distracting. With each successive question, the respondents’ eagerness to give detailed answers decreases accordingly.
- Awkward or vague wording – Lack of clarity leads survey respondents to misunderstand the meaning of the question. Any answers they give might as well become void.
These methods of questioning either limit answers (which reduces business-relevant insights) or produce biased replies from people.
There are better ways to get accurate information from survey questionnaires, and those are what research teams need to focus on.
The Best Questions to Ask
So, how can brands extract satisfying answers from survey respondents?
- Use terms that are part of the target market’s daily vernacular. This instantly makes the questionnaire more engaging and less generic (nothing gets people to give bland, one-word answers more than generic questions).
- When asking multiple choice questions, provide an “Other” option to give respondents the freedom to give a different answer.
- Ask open-ended questions that invite essay-type answers. When surveying online, a text box encourages respondents to write what is on their mind.
- Ask one question at a time.
- Ask respondents about their most burning questions. It could open a whole new territory for researchers and reveal insights that might not have occurred on the team before.
- Ask questions about the respondents: their background, interests, expertise, etc.
Market research can take up a lot of money and resources, so make the most of each campaign by getting honest, no-holds-barred answers from target audiences. Brands and companies should keep these in mind when crafting surveys.