Keys to Customer Experience Research Success: The Professional Art of Questionnaire Design

In a previous post we discussed the importance of research objectives in program design. A natural progression of this subject is using research objectives to design a successful questionnaire.

All too often, I find clients who have gone online, found a questionnaire and implemented it into a survey process, in effect, handing research design over to an anonymous author on the Internet who has given no consideration to their specific needs. Inexperience with both the art and science of questionnaire design, conspires to cause them to miss out on building a research tool customized to their specific need.

While questionnaire design is a professional skill fraught with many perils for the inexperienced, the following process will eliminate some common mistakes.

First, define research objectives. Do not skip this step. Defining research objectives prior to making any other decisions about the program is by far the most effective way to make sure your program stays on track, on budget, and produces results that drive business success. See the previous post regarding research objectives. Once a set of objectives has been defined questionnaire design naturally falls out of the process; simply write a survey question for each objective.

For example, consider the following objective set:

1. Determine the level of customer satisfaction and provide a reference point for other satisfaction-based analysis.
2. Identify which service attributes drive satisfaction and which investments yield the greatest improvement in customer satisfaction.
3. Identify moments of truth where the danger of customer attrition is highest.
4. Track changes in customer satisfaction over time.

For each objective write a survey question. For the first objective, (overall satisfaction) write an overall satisfaction question. For objective #2 (attribute satisfaction) develop a list of service attributes and measure satisfaction relative to each. Continue the process for each objective for which a survey question can be written.

Question order is important and the placement of every question should be considered to avoid introducing bias into the survey as a result of question order. Generally, we like to place overall satisfaction questions early in the survey to avoid biasing the results with later attribute questions.

Similarly, question phrasing needs to be carefully considered to avoid biasing the responses. Keep phrasing neutral to avoid biasing the respondents one way or the other. Sure there is a temptation to use overly positive language with your customers, but this really is a bad practice.

Finally, anticipate the analysis. As you write the questionnaire, consider how the results will be reported and analyzed. Anticipating the analysis will make sure the survey instrument captures the data needed for the desired analysis.

Research design is a professional art. If you are not sure what you are doing, seek a professional to help you rather than field poor research with a do-it-yourself tool.


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About Eric Larse

Eric Larse is co-founder of Seattle-based Kinesis CEM, LLC, which helps clients plan and execute their customer experience strategies through the intelligent use of customer satisfaction surveys and mystery shopping, linked with training and incentive programs. Visit Kinesis at: www.kinesis-cem.com

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