Customer Engagement

When it comes to surveys what is the "right length"?

I often get a lot of questions about what is the right length for a survey and whether survey fatigue has an impact on response rates and data validity. These are valid concerns.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I was surprisingly disappointed by a survey I was invited to take from my gym. I was disappointed not because it was too long and tedious, but because it was too short! It asked me only ONE question! And, I had some very specific feedback to provide. If they had only asked just one more question, even a simple “anything else to add?” comment field, it would have been better.

My gym had my attention, but then squandered it, ticking me off in process. I agreed to take the survey because it was about a product/service that was important to me and I had quite a few points I wanted to make about where I thought they could improve (the locker rooms really need some help!). If a product or service is important to us, we are usually willing to take time with a survey and even expect to share more information about the relationship. But, this organization made me feel that my opinion wasn't important to them and they weren’t serious about using my feedback.

As an industry, we have heard the refrain from respondents that surveys are too long, and we've come up with lots of ways to shorten questionnaires. I’ve frequently joined in this complaint too, as I see surveys that are much too long more often than surveys that are much too short. But now I think I need to adjust my meaning – surveys should be the right length.

That one-question survey would have been the right length it had been about a recent book purchase or oil change. And I’ve happily answered 100-question surveys, which can be the right length as part of an annual account review, when I am spending a lot of money and/or time with an organization.

Here are some thoughts to start a dialogue on survey length based on the type of engagement:

    • Transactional Survey – A quick follow-up to a standard service interaction, such as a retail purchase, a customer service call or a billing inquiry, designed to provide ongoing measurement of service quality. Reasons to run a little longer than recommended: measuring conformance with a Service Level Agreement or analyzing behavior patterns to shape better experiences in the future.
      Recommended length: 2-4 questions
    • Event Evaluation – A more detailed follow-up than a transactional survey, acknowledging the respondent's investment of time and providing them an opportunity to rate speakers, venue and logistics. To be used to guide future event planning.
      Recommended length: 5-10 questions
    • Customer Satisfaction – An automated follow-up to a purchase, after the recipient has had enough time to use the product for a while. Provides the customer the opportunity to rate the product across the broad areas that comprise the overall product experience.
      Recommended length: 10-20 questions
    • Planning – An opportunity to gather detailed feedback of possible future direction for a product or service, to help the sponsoring organization prioritize.
      Recommended length: 20-30 questions
    • Major Account Review – An annual assessment of customer satisfaction with an organization's largest customers, often with multiple individuals across multiple departments. For really long surveys, consider using an executive interviewer conducting face-to-face or telephone surveys to gather the results.
      Recommended length: 50-70 questions
    • Employee Satisfaction Review – An annual or biennial measure of employee satisfaction, designed to prioritize HR initiatives and measure employee engagement.
      Recommended length: 70-90 questions

As a unit of measure, of course, a question can be as short as a checkbox or as long as a multi-sided matrix. For practical purposes, these guidelines consider "a question" as the average single-select question. Treat that two-sided matrix with ten topics as 4 or 5 questions.

What would be the right length for your next survey now?!

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