Gathering client and customer feedback is essential for making informed strategic and operational decisions for the business. Whether your business is seeking to increase turnover, commence a brand refresh or check their customer needs are being met, gathering feedback from your customers is crucial. You won’t know what they think and value about your business without asking them.

Many businesses have mechanisms to gather this feedback from clients at set points, such as a yearly feedback survey or sending a survey to customers after they have accessed key business services.

Conducting a survey is a simple, efficient and cost-effective way to gather customer feedback. It also allows you to check the pulse of your business and monitor any issues or areas for improvement so that relevant decisions can be taken as needed.

However, there are a number of common mistakes that can affect how effectively a feedback survey is able to provide meaningful data that can be used to inform decision-making. We have compiled the top 6 common mistakes, why these can be problematic and what you can to do to avoid them. Being aware of and avoiding these mistakes will help you to gather the right information to support your business.

Mistake One: Not being clear on what you want to find out through the feedback survey

It can be tempting to move straight into question-generation and then include every question that comes to mind in a feedback survey. You might think that more information will mean it’s easier to make decisions. This is not necessarily the case. You do need to gather enough information, but it is the quality, not the quantity, that matters.

A good survey needs to have clearly defined aims that it is seeking to achieve. If you are interested in finding out what clients or customers value most in accessing your services, focus questions on this area rather than on generic questions such as ‘were you happy with the service you accessed?’. Instead, you could ask ‘what did you value most in accessing our services?’

How to avoid this mistake: Determine the overall aims of the survey and the areas you require feedback on. These aims should then be used to generate questions that are tailored to gather feedback to ultimately help address these overall aims.

Mistake Two: Your questions are not clear to clients and customers

Your survey questions might seem straightforward and easy to understand to you as the survey creator. However, it is important to sense-check the questions for the target audience so that they will understand what you are asking.

It can also be hard to gather meaningful data from questions that are phrased in very vague terms. For example, asking; ‘what did you think of your experience with us?’ is a broad and vague question, when perhaps what you actually want to find out about is ‘what did you think of our waiting times and customer service staff today?’

How to avoid this mistake: Use clear terminology, simple language and define or explain key terms if you need to. Sense-check your survey questions with another person, such as a colleague, to do a ‘test’ of the survey and check they can understand it.

Mistake Three: Clients and customers are not actively encouraged to take part

As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. In the same way, you can provide clients with the survey, but you can’t make them complete it. People need a psychological nudge or incentive to shift from seeing a survey, to making the decision to actually take part.

People can be motivated by knowing what taking part means for them. How much time do they need to take part (5 minutes, 10 minutes)? Why is providing their feedback important? How will their views be used by the business and will there be any potential benefit to them? It is also important to let participants know the survey closing date, as knowing if there is a specific timeframe to take part will prompt people to complete it ‘now’ rather than ‘leave it for later’ and forget to complete it.

How to avoid this mistake: Provide information on how much time it should take customers to complete the survey, why their feedback is important, any potential benefits to them and how the feedback will be used and, if applicable, a survey closing date. This could be included in survey communications with clients and customers, such as an email, notice, or social media post.

Mistake Four: The survey has too many open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are important to gather reliable client feedback. It allows people to express their views in their own words and makes it less likely they will be guided to give certain responses. However, from a participant’s perspective, it can be hard to think in the moment of what to write, meaning that they leave response boxes blank or only provide minimal information. Or they may use the space to write about something unrelated to the question being asked. Having too little information or information from answers that cannot be related to other responses can make it difficult to analyse responses to find areas for improvement or areas of high or low client satisfaction.

How to avoid this mistake: Try to include a mix of both open-ended questions and closed-answer questions. If you already have an idea of the main types of responses for a question, include it as a closed-answer question by providing a list of options to tick with a final ‘any other comments’ option – it also takes the hassle out of coming up with an answer for your responder! If you have questions where you require more individual views, or where you don’t want to guide the direction of responses, use open-ended questions.

Mistake Five: Not putting parameters in place to be able to meaningfully measure changes/feedback

When you run a feedback survey, it is likely that following the survey completion and analysis, you will be implementing interventions or making changes in line with the feedback received. You will then want to monitor and analyse the impact of those interventions or changes. The best way to be able to check the impact of any changes is through running the feedback survey at a later date to gather feedback again, analyse that data and compare and contrast changes and trends over time between the analysis of initial survey responses (‘the baseline’) and any later survey responses. But, if you don’t put in question formats that allow for easy comparison and analysis across different datasets, doing this measurement and analysis will be difficult.

How to avoid this mistake: Include some question formats that allow for straightforward comparison, measurement and monitoring of change. For example, questions using the Likert Scale (a scale used to represent people’s attitudes) makes it easy to indicate measurable changes over time in participant attitudes.

Mistake Six: Not having any questions to help you determine and analyse your customer demographics

While you may know that you are sending the survey out to your customers and clients, it is important to be able to understand any differences or distinct segments within your customer base. No size will fit all of your customers and their needs. It is important to be able to determine if there are different segments and any significant differences in their feedback or distinct needs. Knowing key customer demographics will help you to target your services more effectively to meet the needs of different customer groups and improve your efficiency as a business.

How to avoid this mistake: At the end of the survey, include an ‘About you’ section containing a few questions to gather key demographic information, such as age, gender, occupation or location, based on the key characteristics of your customer base. Leave these questions as optional and include a choice response of ‘prefer not to say’ to ensure that customers and clients can share the information they feel comfortable with.