We can spend hours poring over data in Google Analytics or dissecting our Instagram Insights, but sometimes it’s more effective to pose direct questions to our strongest base of supporters: our customers. Asking precise questions of our customers is a great way to learn how to improve their experience and inform your business priorities.

Who should I survey?

Deciding who to survey depends on what insights you hope to learn. If you’re not sure what product to launch next, surveying your repeat customers on their preferences and interests may offer clarity. If you want to increase the average order total in your shop, you can survey your biggest spenders to discover their common traits. If you want to learn how to reach new customers in a certain city, you can survey your existing customer base in that location for ideas about where they would like to see your products.

By targeting a specific, relevant segment of your customers, you’ll gain richer insights and have stronger statistics to inform your decisions.

Creating a survey

If you have an existing business and/or a mailing list of your customers and prospects, you can easily collect data with Google Forms or Survey Monkey. If you’re just getting started and you don’t have a mailing list with customers’ contact info, you can partner with Google Customer Surveys to collect general market research data from people in your target demographic.

Next, it’s time to craft the questions in your survey. Close-ended questions offer a rigid system of responses: yes or no, true or false, etc. They can allow for a range of responses on a scale, but the answers will be guided by a structure of your choosing. Open-ended questions require participants to write a response in their own words, which can vary depending on the strength of their opinions, how much time they have to complete the survey, and their ability to articulate their experience. Generally, open-ended survey questions take longer to complete and have a lower completion rate than close-ended questions.

As your survey results come in, you’ll need to process the answers to get statistical data that’s useful for your business. Open-ended questions will have a variety of responses which need to be evaluated individually, slowing down your analysis.

If you use close-ended questions, carefully consider the range of options to offer as answers. Survey Monkey cites that “academic scholarship has demonstrated that scales are most reliable when constructed with five and seven scale points.” Questions with a range of set responses with a neutral middle, called Likert scales, offer more nuanced options than a simple yes or no.

Survey length

A survey with a very short list of clear, unambiguous questions will be as painless as possible to finish and will see the highest possible completion rate. Ideally, your survey should take less than 5-10 minutes to complete, and contain no more than 10 questions, according to SurveyGizmo. Asking too much of your respondents leaves them feeling fatigued and alienated — don’t take advantage of their goodwill.

Test your survey to make sure that the flow is smooth — SurveyGizmo offers a tool that estimates survey length. Mention the estimated completion time in the intro to your survey, and consider adding a progress bar on each page to show how close your respondent is to completing their survey.

Should you offer incentives?

In the intro, briefly mention why you’ve created your survey, and how the data collected will be used. This is often enough encouragement for respondents, but offering a product incentive may encourage participation, especially for a lengthy survey. However, offering an incentive can impact the data you’re collecting, or even deter participation in some cases. A customer may not be enticed by a giveaway for a product that doesn’t appeal to them.

Collecting contact info for a product giveaway or other incentive might impact your data in unexpected ways. Some survey participants may worry about posting negative feedback without the protection of anonymity. If a respondent might be shy about answering honestly, consider offering a coupon code at the end of the survey, instead. Of course, it’s important to always protect your respondents’ privacy when sharing the outcomes of your survey.

Survey bias

Survey bias can dramatically impact the accuracy of your results and can occur due to very slight mistakes in creating a survey, or by surveying a small group that doesn’t accurately represent the population you’re attempting to study. Academic research shows that the order of your questions matter, and can lead a respondent to an answer that might not be accurate. Leading questions subtly influence the participant to select one option over another. Take care to order your questions to be as clear and unbiased as possible.

Leading Question: How large of a scoop of ice cream would you like?
Better Option: What portion size do you prefer?

Leading Question: Did you have any problems at our creative event?
Better Option: Tell us about your experience attending our creative event.

Leading Question: Do you want to support American businesses by shopping at a local yarn store?
Better Option: Where do you typically shop for craft supplies?

As you write each survey question, think about how you can use neutral language, encouraging neither a positive nor a negative response. Ask one question at a time — using compound questions can confuse respondents, and skew your data.

It’s also important to consider social desirability — respondents will often select an answer that paints themselves in a positive light, rather than a true answer that might be unflattering. Questions that deal with societal norms and uncomfortable topics may see this type of bias creep in.

Consider how some in your potential pool of survey participants may not be able or willing to finish the survey, and how that could skew your results. Missing out on responses from meaningful parts of the population can impact the accuracy of your data, so work to create a simple survey that will get the maximum response.

Opportunities to survey

There are many opportunities to use a survey in your interactions with your customers. Some of my favorites are:

  • Website functionality survey after a purchase
  • Customer service survey after receipt of an order
  • Product development feedback between seasonal product releases
  • Lifestyle/demographic survey of past customers whose orders are higher than average
  • Attendee feedback after an event or workshop
  • Feedback after a customer service interaction
  • Gauge PR efforts by surveying where customers discover your brand

Polls are a faster way to ask questions of your audience and may be a good way to supplement your larger survey efforts. For example, using a two-option Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook poll about a new product offering or potential dates for a workshop or event can offer quick feedback about how to best adapt to your audience’s needs, without overwhelming them. Save your surveys for more in-depth questions that will inform long-term planning for your business.

Next steps

I’m curious: do you use surveys or polls to learn about your customers’ preferences? What are some questions you’d like to ask them in the future?

A few related stories from Craft Industry Alliance:

Best Websites for Building a Customer Survey or Poll

Surveys and polls can help you understand your customers and followers much better than social media reactions because they allow you to target the specific information you’re interested in to grow your business and engage your community.

How to Run a Survey: Best Practices for Craft Businesses
Erin Dollar

Erin Dollar

Community Manager and Outreach Coordinator

Erin is our Community Manager and Outreach Coordinator. Erin is the textile designer and artist behind the home décor company, Cotton & Flax. She licenses her surface designs for fabric, home décor, stationery, and other clients. She’s also a teacher, writer, and enthusiastic advocate for small creative business owners. She lives in San Diego, California.

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