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Questionnaires and Focus Groups

Questionnaires and surveys are some of the best ways to gain insight into your customers, but people are generally not to fond of filling them out. To make matters worse, some people will occasionally give false or exaggerated responses to your questions. So how do you design a questionnaire that works? How do you design a questionnaire that people will be willing to complete in an honest and forthright manner?

Following are some tips for designing a better questionnaire:

  1. Sequence your questions in a logical order. A good questionnaire will take the respondent on a logical journey from one thought to the next. If your questions jump around from topic to topic, people will lose their train of thought, increasing your chances for superficial responses.

  2. Ask easy questions. People will avoid questionnaires that seem overly complex. If you must ask difficult or controversial questions, leave them to the end. Tough questions placed too early in a questionnaire will put people off before they get started. Those same questions located at the end, however, will often be answered because people tend to finish what they start.

  3. Watch the length. Making a questionnaire too long will also turn people off. If it seems long or if people complain about the length, look for the least important questions and get rid of them.

  4. Make sure every question has a purpose. People don't want to waste their time and you don't want to annoy your customers. Respect people's time and privacy by sticking to what's important.

  5. Pre-test your questionnaire. If possible, give it to a small sample of people before beginning the actual survey. This will give you a chance to gauge reactions and make changes before rolling it out to the rest of your customers.

  6. Write simply. There's very little point in a questionnaire that confuses its respondents.

  7. Be clear and precise with your questions. A question like, “How often did you go out to eat last year,” raises questions in your customer's mind such as…

“Does that include a quick bite at a mall food court?” “Does that include all meals or just dinner?” “Does that include catered meals at parties?” “Does that include take-out food?”

As a consequence, your results may be less than accurate.

  1. Phrase “sensitive” questions carefully. Questions about income, age, or family can be sensitive topics for some people and should be treated with respect. It's better to make a question optional and receive a “don't know” or “refused” response than to receive a “false” one that may skew your results.

  2. Assure confidentiality. You can often gain people's confidence by guaranteeing confidentiality. Let people know that their names and addresses will not be used for any purpose other than serving them better. It can also help if you give people the option of responding anonymously, although this is not preferred since it will limit some of your demographic and geographic information.

  3. Offer a reward. although this is not preferred since it will limit some of your demographic and geographic information. Even something as simple as entering their name into a draw for a prize can significantly increase response rates.

  4. Expect false answers. Be aware that all things being equal:

You'll get a yes answer more often than you'll get a no. People often portray themselves as they'd like to be, rather than as they are. People will often give you the answers they think you'd like to hear. People tend to overplay the positive and underplay the negative.

For example, if you ask people how many times they have driven while impaired, the answers will likely be under reported, but if you ask them how regularly they exercise, the answers will likely be over reported.

Types of Questions

  1. Open Questions — Invite your respondents to share whatever details they see fit. (i.e. Tell us about the worst experience either you or someone you know had with our company? What could we have done to keep it from happening?).

  2. Closed Questions — Encourage your respondents to give specific, often one-word answers. (i.e. Will you tell your friends about our store? What is the name of your favourite restaurant?).

  3. Multiple Choice Questions — Give your respondents a choice of several predetermined responses. (i.e. Income $30K-$40K, $40K-$50K, $50K-$60K, $60K-$70K, over $70K, declined).

  4. Scale Questions — Ask your respondents to rate some aspect of your business on a predetermined scale. (i.e. Rate your dessert for tastiness on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is awful, 5 is average, and 10 is the best I've ever tasted).

Start to design your Marketing Questionnaire in the space below, or as a Word document.

Customer Focus Groups

Pull together a small random sample of your customers and spend some time asking questions and listening to their feedback. It can be good idea to offer something of value in return for their time, such as dinner or some free samples, just be cautious that your “thank you gifts” don't influence their responses.

Also, resist the temptation to get together a group of your friendliest customers. They'll tell you what they think you want to hear, not what you need to hear. It might make you feel good, but it won't be nearly as helpful.

What useful information might you find out from a focus group? Write some sample discussion questions in the space below.

Example: How and when do your customers use your products?