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Using questionnaires for data collection

Last updated

21 March 2023

Reviewed by

Tanya Williams

Questionnaires are more than just a string of questions—especially when you fine-tune them to provide insights into the needs and desires of your target audience.

As more businesses integrate customer research strategies into their core values and practices, knowing how to properly collect this valuable feedback has never been more important.

If your company wants to learn more about your customer’s experience with your brand or wants feedback on a recent service or product launch, the questionnaire method of data collection is a great place to start. 

Offering both flexibility and reliability, thoughtfully crafted questionnaires can provide your business with an endless list of customer insights to work from—something that will have a significant impact on your bottom line and ROI. 

Providing a clear-cut way to collect feedback and opinions from your customers, this article will show you the many benefits of the questionnaire method of data collection (and we will even show you how to build your own successful questionnaire, too!)

With this in mind, here’s what you need to know about collecting data using the questionnaire method.

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The questionnaire method of data collection

Chances are, you have filled out at least one questionnaire during your lifetime. Used across almost every industry, the questionnaire method of data collection is tried and true—and its overwhelming popularity is partly due to how effective of a tool it can be when used correctly.

To get a better understanding of its benefits, we first must specifically define what a questionnaire is:

Surveys vs. questionnaires

Depending on who you’re talking to, most people will use the terms survey and questionnaire interchangeably—but as it turns out, they are actually two different things.

  • Survey: The term survey refers to the entire process of collecting data, including every step from initial project planning, data analysis, and presenting the results. In many cases, a questionnaire is the data collection method used.

  • Questionnaire: Alternatively, a questionnaire is simply a data collection method. Referring strictly to a set of questions that you’ll ask a specific target group, a questionnaire is just one option for data collection that you can use throughout a research project.

When should I use a questionnaire?

As a versatile tool that you can use for a wide variety of projects, your team can implement the questionnaire method of data collection for any of the following purposes:

  • To collect customer feedback. If your team has recently released a new service or product, a questionnaire is a great tool for learning about their user experience. Do they like the changes you made? Why or why not? Are there any additional improvements that you can make to better their experience? Getting detailed answers to these questions will be incredibly helpful in guiding your business to make changes that benefit your target audience.

  • To gain demographic data. How well do you know your customers? Understanding your target audience’s needs, wants, and key demographics is a must for any business that wants to stand out from the crowd. A questionnaire is a helpful tool that you can use to collect this important data so you can begin to get a deeper understanding of who you’re serving.

  • To monitor customer satisfaction. Keeping your target audience happy and engaged with your brand is essential for success. To stay on top of customer expectations (and to stay on top of any changes in the public opinion of your brand), your team can collect valuable feedback by using customer satisfaction questionnaires. 

  • To conduct marketing analysis. Are you unsure how to move forward with a new product design or change to your existing services? To prevent your team from taking a stab in the dark as to what your customers actually want, you can use the questionnaire method of data collection to gain insights into what your target market is looking for. 

  • To improve business practices. Successful brands know that integrating customer research into every business level is the best way to produce high-quality products and services. Improve your team’s internal practices and processes by integrating customer feedback into your daily routines and systems to better align your brand with your target audience.

Questionnaire methods and types

Depending on the type of data your team is looking to collect, it is important to note that you can use different styles of questionnaires:

Self-administered questionnaires

Questionnaires are often given to participants as a set of questions that they will fill out on their own. Capable of being sent through email, asked on social media, or provided on paper to in-person customers, the self-administered method of questionnaires is incredibly common. 

Offering the benefit of flexibility and autonomy, many companies opt for this style of questionnaire because it’s cost and resource efficient—though it does often offer less in-depth and detailed results than those conducted as an interview.

Researcher-led questionnaires

If your team wants to gain a more nuanced understanding of a smaller group of customers, conducting a researcher-led questionnaire is the way to go. Hosted like a structured interview, the benefit of a researcher-led questionnaire is that your team has someone to directly drive conversation and ask questions—which in turn digs up more detailed information and feedback. 

While this questionnaire style can be incredibly valuable, hosting individual or group researcher-led questionnaires is more costly and doesn’t translate well to large-scale research projects on a tight timeline.

Our top tips for building successful questionnaires

As your team get ready to build its own customer research questionnaire, there are a few key aspects to consider before you jump right in:

  • The type of questionnaire you make matters. As an essential first step, your team needs to clearly identify the type of data you are looking to collect. A customer satisfaction questionnaire will ask different questions than one designed to collect customer demographic information, so be sure to clearly identify the research questions you’re asking before building your list of questions.

  • You can use different question types for different results. The way you ask a question will strongly impact the type of data your questionnaire collects. If you’re looking to collect direct feedback and customer opinions, you should use open-ended written questions to allow your customers to share their experiences. If you’re looking for numerical statistics and demographics, closed-ended or multiple-choice questions can prevent confusion and keep your data set clean and easy to analyze. 

  • The flow of your questionnaire has an impact on the data. The way you order and organize the questions within your questionnaire will play a significant role in the accuracy and quality of the data you receive. Questionnaire burnout is a real thing—so ensure that the questions you want the more detailed answers to are within the first few questions of your questionnaire.

How to create a successful questionnaire

With all of this considered, it is now time to take these important lessons and convert them into beautiful, effective, and compelling questionnaires. 

If you and your team are looking to build a new questionnaire for your next customer research project, here is our step-by-step guide to ensuring you get the most out of your efforts:

Select the type of research you plan to conduct

The success or failure of your questionnaire truly starts at the very beginning. If you don’t clearly decide on a research question that you want answers to, your participants will fill in the questionnaire with vague and non-specific questions that won’t give you the results you want.

Do you want to collect stats, numbers, and demographics? If so, you want to plan your project around a quantitative research question. 

What if you want to learn about customer experience, their preferences, and their most common pain points with your products and services? In this case, you need to select a qualitative research question to ensure you collect the correct type of data. 

Before moving on to the next step of this process, we recommend hosting a brainstorming session with your team to answer the following questions:

  • What information do we want answers to?

  • How do we want to use this information once we collect it?

  • What type of data do we want to collect (quantitative, qualitative, or both?)

Narrow in on a specific target audience

Once you have a clear understanding of the research question you want to answer, your team needs to identify your target audience. 

Whenever possible, being specific in your selection can help ensure you ask the right people the right questions. Whether you go for a larger population size or opt to niche down to a few key stakeholders, your entire team should be on board with who you’re planning to send your questionnaire to before you spend any time writing questions.

If you’re in a situation where you don’t have direct access to your target audience, you may need to take an additional step to set up a screener. By doing this, you’ll be able to collect some rudimentary data (like which people use which particular products or which customers exhibit particular behaviors) so you can better approach your research with a set group of people in mind.

In order to connect with your target audience (or to recruit potential participants with a screener), your team may use any of the following methods of data collection:

  • Email previous customers for feedback

  • Ask questions of your social media following

  • Hold virtual or in-person 1-1 interviews

  • Organize small focus groups for questioning

  • Embed a questionnaire link on your website

  • Hand out paper questionnaires

Brainstorm a broad list of potential questions

Next, ideally during one or a few group sessions with your team, you should write out as many potential questions as possible. Do your best not to edit yourself during this process—instead, write lots of options for each question and try different wording and phrasing based on past customer research

During this process, whenever possible, include a wide spread of question types (open-ended, close-ended, multiple choice, rating scales, etc.) to provide variety. 

The goal of this phase of the process is to create a bulk database of possible questions that you will later edit and reduce to get the best possible options to send.

Edit, edit, and edit some more!

After you’ve written your list of potential questions, you now get to go through and select the best of the best. 

During this stage, it’s very helpful to have your team members provide input, as they can add their expertise to select the winning questions from the list. Ideally, at the end of this process, you should end up with 5–10 high-quality questions that cover the key pieces of information you want to collect from your customers. 

If done correctly, the final questions you land on should cover the key research points you are looking to collect data for, and they should be clear, understandable, and easy to read.

Optimize for the best possible order

Often, the order of your questions in your questionnaire is equally as important as the actual question content. 

As we mentioned above, questionnaire fatigue is a real phenomenon that impacts the quality of answers you’ll receive for questions that appear later in your questionnaire. To ensure you get data points for your most important questions, be sure to place them at the top of your questionnaire (and wherever possible, cut out any unneeded questions to reduce confusion and burnout).

Send your questionnaire to collect high-quality customer data

It is finally time—after all of your hard work, your team is ready to share your questionnaire with your target audience to begin to collect data. Hooray!

Once your questionnaire is out in the world, you finally get to rest (but only for a short while, of course.) As the data begins to pour in, your team can get ready for the next essential phase of a successful questionnaire—actually using the insights to improve your brand.

Using questionnaires to improve your business

Detailed and well-executed customer research has become the not-so-secret key to building a successful brand. Offering a wealth of data and acting as a guiding light for future product and service updates and launches, you need to be listening to your customers to grow—and one of the best ways to collect customer insights is by creating targeted questionnaires.

Interested in getting the most out of your next customer questionnaire? By using an insights hub like Dovetail, you can easily bring your customers into every conversation with software that translates your data into insights you can use for your next big project.

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