Over my career, I’ve designed a lot of surveys—as a management consultant at Bain & Company, it was everything from a pricing survey for a large entertainment venue, to a customer satisfaction survey for one of the world’s largest fast food chains, to a process design survey for employees at a major engineering firm. And at Lucid, I’ve sent surveys to literally millions of users to help gather product feedback, develop customer understanding, and more.
Yet, I’m still a bit nervous every time I’m about to click “Send.” Are we asking the right questions? Does the user flow make sense? Have we tested the skip logic and other questions enough?
With that in mind, here are seven tips that have helped me along the way.
1. Establish the goals of the survey and be focused.
This seems obvious. But you’d be amazed at what happens when you share that you are designing a survey. People and opinions come out of the woodwork. The product team would love feedback on the latest feature. The marketing team wants to know how customers first heard about the product. The customer success team wants to know how often the customer is using the product.
And all of a sudden, there’s a risk that your survey becomes a random compilation of questions with no driving theme. Set the scope and stick to it.
2. Know *exactly* how you plan to use the data.
At Bain, we created a lot of PowerPoint presentations for our clients. Part of the process there was to “blank slides." In other words, you designed the PowerPoint presentation before you ever sent out a survey. You knew what every slide would look like with exactly what type of information you needed to fill it.
This is a powerful forcing function. By completing this step, you often realize that the way you have framed a question will result in data which doesn’t cleanly fit what you hope to convey or learn from it. And you can also realize where the gaps in your potential story or learnings will be, often prompting an additional question or two to be added to the survey.
3. Map out the survey before coding it.
Create a draft of the survey questions and the flow before ever touching survey software. For simple surveys with no skip logic or other intricacies, Google Docs is a likely candidate to draft the questions for your survey.
Most surveys, however, do include skip logic that will jump users to different questions depending on their answers. In this case, a more visual application like Lucidchart can be perfect to make it immediately obvious how the answers lead to different paths.
4. Gather feedback from the relevant team members.
Both Google Docs and Lucidchart allow easy collaboration. First, decide which types of permissions to provide to team members. For core team members, consider ‘editing’ privileges to allow them to make changes directly. For other stakeholders, consider ‘comment-only’ privileges to allow them to make suggestions but no changes. And for those whose feedback or approval is needed but who are relatively aloof from the project, ‘view-only’ access may be most appropriate.
Next, send an email to your colleagues requesting feedback. Be sure to state the purpose of your survey so that suggestions are relevant and constructive. You may want to consider asking a series of questions to help your collaborators focus their critiques. Once key stakeholders have had an opportunity to contribute their thoughts and provide necessary approvals, the content of your survey is finalized and you are ready to proceed.
5. Jump into the survey software.
Using the draft created above, enter each survey question and its pertinent answer choices into your survey software of choice. Be sure to add relevant skip patterns and survey logic. This is a great time to refer to the visual flowchart you created to help ensure you’re setting things up properly (as most survey software tends to be very text-based).
6. Test, test, test.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, but unlike Robert Frost, you must take them both. Make sure that you test every possible survey route to ensure that all questions and skip logic have been entered correctly. If need be, print off the flowchart or Google Doc you made in step three and follow along with your finger or a pen as you start from question one and work your way to the end of the survey.
Once you have tested the entire survey yourself and have corrected any bugs, you may wish to consider sending it to a few colleagues or helpful interns to perform the same test with a fresh pair of eyes. I often see emails go out to colleagues saying, “Please test this survey for me! Want to make sure I didn’t miss anything.” Unfortunately, that email is typically unaccompanied by the documentation explaining the various paths, so colleagues end up randomly clicking through. Share the flowchart—or at least the text draft.
7. Send out to a small group first and check the data.
Even though your format and flow are now pristine, it’s not time to push the big red button yet. Send out your survey to a small group of customers and monitor the data that is returned. Sometimes a question that seems obvious to you and your coworkers may be misunderstood by your client base and result in poor data. Or if you’re asking a question like, “Why did you cancel your account?” and 90% of respondents pick the same answer, there’s likely an opportunity to split that answer into several so that you reach deeper insight. Make any needed adjustments and retry your test with a new small sample. Once you are satisfied that your results will be an accurate representation of your clientele, you are ready.
Push the button.
And take it from me, your heart will likely still be racing if you’re sending it to important customers (or a million users!). But take a breath—you’ve followed the right steps—now’s the fun part when you start seeing the data and learning!