13 Tips for Choosing a Tool and Crafting Thoughtful, Insights-Driven Surveys

By Features PCmag

Surveys are one of a business's most effective tools in collecting valuable customer feedback to incorporate into product development, email marketing, or social media campaigns.

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Online survey and analytics platforms have come a long way in recent years, such that even cash-strapped small to midsize businesses (SMBs) and start-ups can easily access quality consumer data through do-it-yourself (DIY) research. Toluna, a digital insights and survey technology provider, runs a worldwide social voting community that polls users on everyday topics, and offers a consumer data and automated survey platform for businesses, with customers including CVS, Orbitz, and Spotify. Toluna founder and CEO Frédéric-Charles Petit talked to PCMag about the features and factors to consider when evaluating a survey tool, and gave some recommendations.

"In the last several years, we've seen that efficiency and automation are modernizing the way market research is conducted such that you don't need to be a research expert to generate data and leverage it to your company's benefit," said Petit. "The intelligence of the researcher is now embedded in technology—with today's generation of tools leveraging a strong methodology that respects the qualitative research foundation that users want. This produces speed and cost efficiency, and means that research is increasingly accessible to the masses."

Considering the Right Buying Factors

There's a glut of online survey tools on the market. From SurveyMonkey and Zoho Survey to our Editors' Choice survey tool SurveyGizmo and dozens more, figuring out the platform best suited to your business can be overwhelming. Before getting into how to build an effective survey, Petit laid out some of the most important considerations when choosing the tool through which your business will interact with customers and users.

"As brands face ever-increasing competition for customer loyalty, it is critical to have an accurate, up-to-the-minute view of how and why consumers are making decisions," said Petit. "Further, the need to make important business decisions with reliable and actionable customer data is of paramount importance to stay relevant and grow."

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1. Cost and Speed of Results
"Toluna strongly believes that online survey should be free," said Petit. "Marketers and brands across all industries need consumer surveys to help answer any number of questions at any given time. This process should be fast, easy, and cost-effective. The process of generating actionable insights and research through online surveys needs to happen in real time for brands."

2. Quality Analysis and Insights
"It's important to leverage a tool that suits your needs well," said Petit. "Many DIY survey tools are modeled after those respected and acknowledged by market researchers, so users never have to worry that the data is erroneous. Brands need actionable information and the research experts to help ensure that the information is both credible and actionable. It's also important, in this case, to have seamless product integration between the survey tool and analysis tool."

3. Flexibility of Survey Scripting
"The process of developing a survey needs to be well thought out, and ensure the participant can think through their answers logically. Brands not well-versed in market research should choose a vendor who can help with the scripting process and a scripting platform that's easy to use," said Petit.

4. Questions and Advanced Features
"Not all questions apply to each respondent," said Petit. "Survey tools should offer more advanced features like skipping, piping, and masking, which enable users to expose only those respondents that meet a certain criteria to specific questions. This functionality provides a better respondent experience and higher quality data."

5. Panel Access and Quality
"Panels, or groups of people who have opted in to participate in surveys over time, are ideal when companies don't have a particular group they wish to survey, or for companies that want to conduct research to assess perception amongst the population at large," said Petit. "Similarly, panels are ideal for companies that wish to find a specific type of survey respondent. They should evaluate vendors based on their knowledge of panel development and management, and the vendor should have expertise in managing panel health."

6. Geographic Markets and Demographic Targets
"If the brand's target audience is global, then the survey needs access to consumers around the world," said Petit. "Likewise, when brands need to target a specific demographic, the survey tool should have a robust enough panel of participants that it can generate nationally-representative samples."

7. Customer Support and Service
"As with any vendor relationship, it's important for businesses to have a survey partner who is involved in and invested in the success of the brand, there to answer questions related to scripting, results, and insights and analysis," said Petit.

Survey Creation Tips and Best Practices

Petit identified seven universal best practices for building a survey that engages with respondents to gain valuable brand data. Across industries including consumer packaged goods (CPG), retail, and public relations (PR), Petit recommends that businesses follow these tips to generate accurate, actionable survey data.

"Businesses need to be plugged into what consumers are thinking, as consumers are the ones who fuel successful brands, and they're more vocal than ever now with social media. It's not about gathering as much data as possible; it's about gathering the right data that will help brands understand the customer, prospective customer, and the marketplace at large," said Petit.

8. Narrative Structure and Flow
"Have a narrative structure and flow within the survey in order to be able to tell a compelling story that is worth reading," said Petit. "Start with a few broad questions that not only help establish the basics of the audience's background and point of view, but also to weed out any participants who fall outside the target market. In the remaining questions, drill down deeper into the crux of the story."

9. Be Mobile-Versed
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Use a DIY survey platform with an easy-to-use mobile app to enable participants to complete surveys anywhere, anytime," said Petit. "Similarly, you can make your survey mobile-native by limiting the number of open-ended questions to one to two per survey."

10. Keep It Short and Focused
"A common pitfall to avoid is building surveys that ask too much of a respondent at one time, leading to the respondent answering in a haphazard manner, which dramatically diminishes the value of the data. A good rule of thumb is to limit the number of questions to between five and 15," said Petit.

11. Never Ask a 'Yes' or 'No' Question
"It won't result in compelling data, plain and simple," said Petit. "Consider asking the same 'golden' questions over time—across a number of surveys—to track changes and trends within the data."

12. Consider Data Quality
"As respondents move toward taking shorter, more efficient surveys, we must adapt and learn to do more with less, with an eye on continuously improving data quality," said Petit. "One way to ensure data quality is to use a survey tool that validates respondents using their email address, blocking fake or disposable IP domains. It's easy to verify this at the outset of your engagement with the platform."

13. Put Yourself in the Respondent's Shoes
"Consider taking the survey yourself as a test," said Petit. "If you wouldn't want to answer all of the questions you're asking, whether because of length or content, chances are your respondents won't want to either."

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.