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GuidesCustomer researchUnlocking customer insights: maximizing surveys for actionable feedback

Unlocking customer insights: maximizing surveys for actionable feedback

Last updated

27 June 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Tanya Williams

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Customer research is all about knowing your customers by exploring their needs, preferences, attitudes, motivations, and behavior concerning your business. It helps you identify, understand and ultimately retain your client base – especially when 56% of customers are loyal to a brand that 'gets them’.

The more you understand your customers, the better you can create products that meet their needs, market to them, identify shifts in buyer behavior, gain competitive intelligence, and thus increase your chances for success.

Say hello to customer surveys

When it comes to understanding your customers, there is barely anything more effective than customer surveys. Customer surveys are a landmark tool for candid conversations with the consumer and the key to evaluating feelings and behavior.

Using customer surveys, you can identify growth opportunities, capitalize on strengths, and cultivate a more positive relationship with your customers.

Read our detailed guide on customer surveys to help you maximize them to get actionable feedback that will drive growth in your business.

What is a customer survey?

A customer survey is an instrument for collecting consumer feedback about your products or services. It gives you insight into the degree to which your solution meets the needs of your consumers.

Customer surveys measure customer engagement and satisfaction, evaluate expectations, and perform market research. The responses you get will help you understand why some customers stay while others leave.

Customer surveys may take several forms, including:

  • Paper-based documents

  • In-person surveys

  • Online surveys

  • Telephone surveys

Consistently collecting and acting on this feedback will help your company:

  • Offer better customer experiences

  • Improve products or services

  • Strengthen your brand image

At least 80% of the companies that see year-over-year growth use customer surveys to collect customer experience data.

Different types of customer survey

Four significant types of customer surveys can help you understand the voice of the customer (VoC) and follow the customer journey for real-world insights and data-driven decisions:

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): This calculates the likelihood that a customer will recommend your brand, product, or service to their colleagues or friends on a scale of 0–10

  • Customer effort score (CES): This is a type of customer survey that measures how easy it is for your customers to use a product or service, or to get the customer support they need to fix a problem—usually on a scale from "very easy" to "very difficult"

  • Customer satisfaction score (CSAT): This is a simple but valuable assessment of customers' satisfaction with your brand, products, or services on a scale of 1–10. CSAT ratings are easy to calculate for an immediate understanding of overall customer satisfaction or the level of satisfaction with a product, service, experience, or a particular feature of any of these.

  • Churn survey: This is a survey that seeks to understand why a customer is discontinuing the use of your service or product. It can highlight areas you need to improve to prevent future churn.

Benefits of customer surveys

Take a look at our top reasons why you should consider customer surveys for your business:

Gather input for product development

If your business plans to build a new product, use customer surveys to gather input from your client base. Seeking customer feedback in the product-development stage gives you insight into their needs and preferences. It is also an opportunity to rope in ambassadors for the product.

Avoid mistakes

Even for established and successful brands, product development is no mean feat. There are so many moving parts (including software and production), increasing the chances of error. In addition, even after the product launch, there are other aspects, such as delivery and customer support, that you need to carefully monitor.

Asking questions to your customers through surveys will help uncover blind spots and fix them in a timely fashion.

Understand how customers perceive your business

No two customers are the same. However, when you ask them a range of open-ended and specific questions, you can get a detailed picture of how negatively or positively clients perceive their interactions with your brand.

Identify patterns

After a series of customer surveys (followed by careful analysis of the results), you should be able to identify patterns and commonalities. Use these patterns as a framework for decision-making in your business.

Determine priorities

Customer surveys help you determine what comes first, especially when you have budgetary constraints. Feedback from customer surveys enables you to shift your business priorities, depending on the needs and preferences of the consumer.

For instance, if a certain segment of your business receives a consistently low score, there is an urgent need for improvement. On the other hand, highly rated areas warrant continued investment.

Evaluate how changes are received

After implementing changes (especially based on previous customer feedback), a customer survey will help determine whether the change resulted in a more negative or positive experience.

Retain customers

Asking customers for feedback about your products and services shows them they matter to you. It makes them feel even more valued when you implement the feedback quickly. This demonstrates your commitment to them, increasing retention.

Planning and distributing customer surveys

Contrary to popular opinion, a great customer survey does not generate a huge number of responses. A great customer survey provides actionable feedback to improve your products for your target customers.

The following steps will help you plan and design a great customer survey that will help you gather actionable feedback for your business.

1. Define research objectives

Similar to the first step of all other campaigns and initiatives you undertake within your business, you need a clear-cut goal before conducting a survey.

However, defining (and refining) your survey objectives isn’t as simple as saying you want to “know more about your customers” or “enhance your customer service.”

Using such vague objectives will, ultimately, result in vague conclusions once you have gathered information from your customers. When developing survey objectives, consider the following questions to help you narrow your focus:

  • What do you want to learn?

  • Whom will you ask?

  • What are you going to do with the information you collect?

A few examples of good customer survey objectives include:

  • To get feedback from online customers to determine whether the checkout process is streamlined or not

  • To identify the customers’ needs you are not meeting, to improve the overall customer service

  •  To determine the aspects of your service customers find most valuable

The objective of your survey can also be to use it as a benchmark survey to compare against future surveys, or after you have implemented changes based on previous feedback.

2. Choose the right survey method

Surveying your customers can be done in several ways using a variety of resources and techniques. The survey method you choose depends on several factors, including:

  • Budget

  • Timeframe

  • Customers' comfort level

  • The type of information you want to gather

To choose the right survey method, start by determining how your customers can best communicate their thoughts. For example, if you want to assess customer loyalty and advocacy, a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey will be your best bet. 

Consider a post-purchase survey (PPS) if you want to learn more about your customers' buying journey or a customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey if you are a service-based business.

3. Developing the survey questions

Now you know what information you’re looking for and have identified a suitable survey method, it is time to develop the survey questions. Start by determining whether your respondents can easily narrow down responses with multiple-choice questions or whether they need open fields to provide detailed feedback.

As a rule of thumb, when developing survey questions, have concrete, measurable, and achievable goals in mind. Each question you include must have a well-defined purpose and a strong case for being included. Also, consider diversifying question types (e.g., include both open-ended and closed-ended questions).

Interpreting survey results

Accurate interpretation of the survey data is critical. What your respondents have to say will be valuable only if you correctly analyze the survey results.

While accurate data interpretation can be quite taxing on your company (requiring significant effort, resources, and cutting-edge technology), the payoff comes when you’re finally able to shift business goals/priorities, delight your customers, and fix problems based on the insights you gain from the survey.

Take a look at the following steps for interpreting survey data.

Analyze the survey results

When you have gathered all the data you need, start analyzing the responses while keeping in mind the research objectives of the survey. Choose your analysis method according to your questions and the survey method you use. 

Analyzing quantitative data (from closed-ended questions)

Closed-ended questions give you quantifiable data (i.e., numerical data). Customers have to answer these questions in a specific way, such as selecting a 1–5 rating, giving a 'yes' or 'no' answer, or choosing from a range of options.

You can analyze this data with charts, comparison tables, or graphs to get actionable feedback. Programs like Google Sheets and Excel are excellent for quantifiable data, allowing you to easily cross-tabulate for subgroups, compare and filter data, calculate percentages, and more.

Online survey tools such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey have in-house graphs and charts, which make analyzing surveys even easier. Analyzing the feedback from closed-ended questions helps measure and compare how users feel or think about your service or product.

Analyzing qualitative data (from open-ended questions)

Open-ended questions give you qualitative data (i.e., descriptive, word-based data). Respondents can answer in any way they choose, in their own words.

While these questions give you fine-grained detail and super insightful customer feedback, they take more work to analyze. Traditionally, you had to read through all open-ended survey responses and hand-annotate, which was tedious and could lead to inaccuracies.

Fortunately, with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), there are text-analysis tools (such as MonkeyLearn, Microsoft Azure, Lexalytics, Amazon Comprehend, and IBM Watson) that automate the process of analyzing the open-ended responses in your customer surveys for immediate results and powerful insights.

If you realize you have not received the feedback you were looking for, the analysis step is the perfect opportunity to go back to the drawing board and optimize your survey for your research objectives.

Carefully examine the analyzed data to identify trends, patterns, or behavior. If you have any past data, use it to understand how things have changed and find explanations for this using the insights you have gained.

Also, study your current data and compare it to past industry insights to help you gather fresh ideas for the future or predict future trends.

Drawing conclusions from survey results

After analyzing data and discovering trends and patterns, it’s time to draw your conclusions. Think about the story your data tells, what you have learned, and what questions you now have. At the very least, your conclusion and findings should highlight areas of strength and performance challenges, and make appropriate recommendations.

Using survey results for business strategy

There are several ways you can use the results from your customer survey in your business strategy. These include:

Improving products and services

The outcome of your customer surveys will help you determine which aspects of your products and services need improvement. For example, if you find out customers are unhappy with a product feature, the design team can enhance it based on the feedback.

Further, you can track this product feature metric in your subsequent surveys to gather customers' sentiments about the feature after the changes.

Identifying new business opportunities

Customer survey results give you actionable feedback on how your brand can best serve customer needs. This could mean offering new services or product lines that your survey shows are in high demand.

A new service or product you build in response to customer feedback in the survey increases chances of success, improves customer loyalty, and encourages repeat business.

Enhancing customer experience

Customer survey results will help you find out how well your products meet customers' needs or how satisfied they are with the different aspects of your service. This feedback highlights possible bottlenecks you may not have been aware of and guides you on the best course of action to maximize customer satisfaction.

Customer survey best practices

Take a look at the following top tips for getting the most out of your customer surveys.

Keep the survey short and focused

Keep your customer surveys brief and concise if you want a high response rate. The length of the survey has an inverse correlation with the survey completion rate.

For optimal results, aim for a survey where customers will answer fewer than ten questions in under five minutes.

Offer incentives to encourage participation

Consider giving your customers incentives to encourage them to take the survey. These incentives may be monetary rewards (e.g., gift cards, cash, coupons) or physical gifts (like free coffee mugs or notebooks). Some brands tend to give charitable donations in exchange for survey responses which is a powerful way to appeal to customers with strong charitable inclinations.

Also, ensure you strike a balance between incentivizing customers enough that they are willing to take your surveys without giving away the farm.

Guarantee respondents' anonymity and privacy

Including intrusive personal questions in your survey may put off respondents. As a rule, don’t ask intrusive demographic questions such as income, gender, or age without making the responses optional.

Also, reassure respondents that they will remain anonymous and that their data is private and will be used solely for the purposes of the survey.

Use clear, concise language

Vague, leading, and complex questions ruin the experience for your customers and result in unreliable responses. Write clear, easy-to-understand customer survey questions to get reliable and helpful responses.

This isn’t about reducing the word count. It’s about cutting out any unnecessary phrases. You also need to avoid asking more than one thing in a single question.

Test and refine survey questions

Before deploying your survey, test it with your target audience. Instead of sending it to every customer at once, send it to a smaller target group and see what results you get.

Follow up with these customers and ask for their input on improving the survey experience. When you are confident you have created an effective survey, you can send it to your client base.

Challenges and limitations of customer surveys

While there are a lot of advantages to using customer surveys, this technique also comes with its own set of challenges. Let’s take a look at the main ones:

The potential for bias in survey results

One of the key challenges with customer surveys is data interpretation bias. Usually, this occurs when you have a hypothesis or theory in mind and are keen on discovering data patterns that support it while overlooking those that do not.

Since this pitfall results from subjective desires, you can overcome it by analyzing data with a team of objective members. Another way of overcoming bias is by resisting the temptation of drawing conclusions before data exploration is complete.

Limitations of sample size and representation

Another common problem with customer surveys is using a small sample size or under-representing your client base. The bigger the sample size, the more accurate and reliable the results.

In addition, if you only survey your most loyal customers, you will likely get inaccurate findings. Always ensure your data pool is big enough and your whole clientele is adequately represented before you begin to draw insights upon which to base your findings.

Respondent fatigue and low response rates

However loyal your customers are, they won't sit through a 30-minute customer survey. Others may be unable to participate, and skeptical customers may blatantly refuse. To overcome this challenge, improve your customer survey experience by keeping your surveys brief and always incentivize when you can.

Groundbreaking customer survey examples

Below are some excellent real-world customer survey examples to inspire you to use customer survey data to enhance customer experience.

Salesforce collaborates with clients to innovate

Salesforce built the IdeaExchange to collect and manage suggestions from customers about new features. After customers submit their ideas, they can search for them and vote on the features they want the company to adopt.

Once an idea gets 2,500 points (or 250 votes), it is reviewed by the product development team for consideration.

Udemy learns from their students

Udemy is a global online learning platform that offers streamable online courses. The dynamic customer demographic for Udemy requires different marketing strategies tailored to each location to achieve the best outcome.

According to Udemy, “Customer research helps them stay proactive and continue to innovate with user feedback in mind.”

Simple survey questions such as, "How did you come to find out about Udemy?" allow them to determine which advertising channels work for them and which do not.

Also, Udemy relies on customer feedback to explore the performance of its machine learning-based auto-captioning. Using metrics like rating surveys or satisfaction scores, Udemy can determine whether they need to improve auto-captioning.

Uber leverages the voice of the customer to enhance user experience

The reason behind Uber's success is not difficult to guess. Uber's secret sauce for outstanding customer service is listening to their customers. Uber uses real-time feedback about customer experience to correct issues, big or small, while ensuring only the best drivers are allowed on the road.

After a ride, an in-app survey pops up on the customer's screen, asking the customer about their riding experience, then seeks ways to enhance satisfaction.

Hyatt used customer feedback to surpass the average industry score of 75 in customer satisfaction

Hyatt has become a household name in the hospitality sector, thanks to the brand's willingness to listen to and act upon the concerns of their customers. 

The hotel chain collects customer feedback through multiple channels and then seeks to resolve complaints and improve customers' experience in every way possible. Their primary channels for collecting customer feedback are social media (Instagram and Twitter) and website surveys.

Netflix uses feedback to offer movie recommendations to customers

Netflix provides a simple, easy-to-navigate customer survey with multiple-choice and long-form response options. Using the insight from customer feedback, Netflix perfects customer experience.

The brand creates personalized experiences for its subscribers and goes as far as giving movie recommendations that resonate with customers’ interests and preferences.

Amazon has used customer feedback to become a trendsetter in the ecommerce sector

Everyone knows Amazon is a powerhouse when it comes to delivering great products and unforgettable experiences. Behind this success lies customer feedback.

Amazon continuously conducts surveys to gather feedback that helps improve customer experience. For example, if you contact Amazon's customer support team, Amazon sends you a survey to help them determine whether your issue has been resolved and what the company can do to improve customer experience.

The impact of technology on customer surveys

In a fast-paced tech world, customers expect you to listen and take action immediately when they leave feedback. It is the only way to prevent your customers from walking out the door; you can no longer rely on annual or bi-annual survey data.

You can leverage cutting-edge tech solutions to meet the demands of your customers. These allow you to quickly measure customer experience (CX) at each touchpoint along the customer journey, analyze the results in real time, and resolve problems at supersonic speeds.

The potential for personalized surveys 

It's a tough time to be involved in customer experience as expectations are rising while trust and engagement levels are declining. At such a time, your customers want more personalization, empathy, and human interactions, or they will bail out.

That's why you need to build personalized experiences when asking your customers for feedback. For instance, after rolling out a new product feature, ask users questions about their experience—based on their role, industry, age, location, etc.

Collecting this segmented feedback allows you to pinpoint where to make improvements for customers with different needs. You can adopt this trend if you want to increase the response rate and get the specific feedback you need to drive user-based decisions and product changes.

The rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning

The popularity of communicating with customers via different channels, including chatbots, live chat, customer support teams, and social media, has led to using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to help businesses collect and analyze customer feedback.

AI and ML enable you to capture feedback at critical customer journey touchpoints, like when they land on or leave your website, complete an onboarding process, or when they speak to a customer service agent.

While AI helps you to communicate with users and capture the fine-grain details of their experiences, it should not fully replace human interactions and support.


Collecting customer feedback is akin to tapping a gold mine of invaluable information—for winning customers' hearts and loyalty. However, your skills in collecting and analyzing data determine the quality of insights and how helpful they are in identifying problems and enhancing products and services.

With careful planning, a good survey format, and objective analysis of the results, you can garner enough information to improve your services, products, and overall customer experience—leading to higher revenue and more loyal customers.

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