Voice of the Customer Surveys: Expert Tips for Creating Effective Surveys & Must-Ask Questions for Gaining Valuable Insights

The Voice of the Customer (VoC) represents your customers’ perceptions, needs, and requirements. Used as a research method to identify market opportunities, gauge customer sentiment, and gain insights into competitive advantages or weaknesses, VoC surveys are a valuable tool in your customer experience toolkit.

Any VoC strategy is most effective when data is collected from a multitude of sources. By leveraging a Voice of the Customer analytics solution, you’ll combine insights from surveys, email, phone, chat, and even tweets for a comprehensive picture of your customers, their needs, brand perceptions, and other insights that drive better targeting. Think about how effective your messaging could be if you knew precisely what your customers’ biggest pain points and needs are. Armed with this data, not only do you understand your customers better than ever before, but you can communicate your brand’s benefits and USP in language that’s perfectly in tune with your customers.

When developing VoC surveys, brands should include customer-centric questions carefully designed to elicit measurable responses (both qualitative and quantitative) using a variety of question formats and approaches. While there’s no single VoC survey that works for every business, there are a few best practices to keep in mind for survey design. Below, you’ll find expert tips on effective VoC survey design, as well as suggestions for effective questions that dig deeper and provide measurable, actionable insights that can inform your marketing and customer service initiatives.

Expert Tips for Creating Effective VoC Surveys

  1. Decide on a goal.

    “A single, all-encompassing survey for every one of your marketing campaigns isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to need several surveys out there for all your different projects. Before you begin thinking about which questions you’ll ask, you have to know how you’re going to use the answers you’ll obtain.

“For example, let’s say you want to know where most of your site visitors are coming from. From there, you can then start to formulate the questions. You might ask your visitors how they found your site, what other sites they like to visit, and whether or not they saw you on social media platforms.” – Kylie Ora Lobell, How to Survey Your Audience, Convince & Convert; Twitter: @kylieoralobell, @convince

  1. Consider a series of short surveys instead of one longer survey.

    “Chunk your questions into fine-tuned sections based on your goals. Rather than creating one long and involved survey, consider designing a series of short, highly focused surveys with one goal each. This method will typically provide a much better response rate and higher-quality data.” – David Hoos, The Best Customer Satisfaction Survey Questions (for Top Growth Insights), The Good

  2. Keep it simple.

    Before you delve into a VOC survey, first define what it is you want to learn. If it’s solely about the product or service, don’t include questions that aren’t relevant such as where it was bought, age of the survey taker or demographic questions, unless these questions are part of your identifier. Keep it simple by only asking things like:

    • Was the product (or service) as expected?
    • Did the product (or service) deliver as promised?
    • Were the features of the product (or service) as expected?

“Focusing on the identifier or what you hope to learn from the survey will ensure a quick and easy survey that will invite, not deter the consumer from completing it.” – Jean Scheid, Free Example of a Voice of the Customer Survey, Bright Hub Project Management; Twitter: @BrightHub_PM

  1. The first question should ask for an overall rating.

    “Ask for the customer’s overallrating first. You don’t want to influence this answer by asking smaller, more nitpicky questions before you get to the biggie; asking your customer several individual questions and only then getting around to asking for an overall rating reduces the validity of that all-important rating.” – Micah Solomon, 13 Best Practices For Designing Customer Satisfaction Surveys (CSAT), Forbes; Twitter: @micahsolomon

  2. Include both qualitative and quantitative questions.

    “While it is important for you to respect your customers’ time by keeping surveys brief it is also important to write survey questions that encourage customers to give valuable feedback.

“Surveys that only use questions with number ratings (quantitative questions) are tempting because they require your customers to spend less time on their feedback, but responses to open-ended survey questions (qualitative questions) are almost as important as the quantitative numerical responses. Responses to open-ended survey questions are the key to understanding what additional quantitative survey questions should be included on your next survey.” – Dr. Jan West, Ph.D., 5 Tips for an Effective Customer Survey, National Business Research Institute; Twitter: @NBRI

  1. Yes/no questions are easy to analyze.

    “If you want quick data that is easy to analyze, consider asking simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions in your customer satisfaction survey. The biggest benefit of this type of customer feedback question is that it’s easy for the respondent to answer. However, due to the lack of detail, you might not understand exactly why the customer said ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ It can be a useful customer satisfaction survey question to draw respondents in, but it will definitely need to be followed up with other types that we will go into shortly.

5 examples of yes or no questions

  1. Use both relationship and transactional surveys.

    “Customer experience surveys fall into one of two buckets: relationship or transactional. A relationship survey measures how your customers feel about your overall brand experience, while transactional surveys get feedback for a specific interaction (i.e. transaction).

“Think of a relationship survey as the big picture benchmark, and the transactional survey as the nitty gritty tactic that helps you accomplish your overarching customer experience goals. Of the customer experience survey types, net promoter score (NPS) surveys tend to be used as relationship surveys, while customer satisfaction (CSAT) and customer effort score (CES) surveys tend to fall into the transactional bucket.

“If you’re just starting your voice of the customer program, run a relational NPS survey to get a feel for how customers perceive your overall brand experience. When you have identified some trends in your feedback, say a product issue that keeps cropping up, or a fulfillment delay that everyone’s complaining about, use a transactional survey to dig into the details.” 7 Tips for an Effective Voice of the Customer Program, Delighted; Twitter: @delighted

  1. Keep in mind that not every customer touchpoint is equally important.

    “Not every customer touchpoint is important. Use your overall brand or benchmark surveys to establish which touchpoints customers mention as competitive advantages or disadvantages, and don’t survey anyone about any of the others. To pick a B2B example, surveying people about the friendliness, competence and efficiency of the person who handles a query about the accuracy of an invoice is certain to be a waste of resources that could better be spent elsewhere.” – Maurice Fitzgerald, When should you ask for customer feedback? And should you survey customers at all?, Customer Strategy; Twitter: @customerstrateg

  2. Be creative with wording for effective one-question surveys.

    ’Please stay on the line to answer a short, one-question survey at the end of this call.’

“That’s what I heard just before the agent picked up the phone to help me. Just a one-question survey? Sounds short enough. Sure, I’ll give them an extra minute of my time. So after the call, I stayed on the line. What came right after the call was the promised simple question. It may be one of the best feedback questions I’ve ever heard. I put it right up there with the NPS (Net Promotor Score) question, which I’ll share later. Here it is:

“’The next time you call us, would you want the same person to take care of you? Push 1 for yes and 2 for no.’

“That’s it. It’s that simple. In one quick question, the customer gets to grade the support rep that took the call. It sums up if the customer was happy and if the agent did their job. No, it doesn’t tell you if the problem was resolved or not, but that question could be for another day.” – Shep Hyken, The Best Feedback Question, ShepHyken.com; Twitter: @Hyken

  1. Avoid asking leading questions.

    “Sometimes, researchers’ opinions can seep into survey questions, subtly encouraging respondents to answer in a certain way and compromising survey results.

“For example, asking ‘Do you think the school should cut the gym budget to pay crossing guards?’ would likely prompt a different answer than asking, ‘Should the school employ crossing guards to protect our children?’ even though both questions are related to the same topic.

“To avoid leading questions, ask a friend or colleague to review your survey for any questions that seem like they have a right or wrong answer. If your friend can guess what kind of answer you’re looking for, consider rewriting the question. The answer may even be in splitting the question into multiple questions—a great option for the example question.” – Stephanie Beadell, Surveys 101: A Simple Guide to Asking Effective Questions, Zapier; Twitter: @Zapier

  1. Invite customers to elaborate on yes/no questions for further insight.

    “In general, a good strategy to use in survey design is to turn useless closed-ended questions into open-ended questions that trigger better responses. The key word here is ‘useless.’

“If you plan on doing something with the quantitative data, such as segmenting your customers via NPS, building user personas with scale-based questions, or tracking the user satisfaction during different stages of feature development, closed-ended questions are the way go.

“But if you honestly ask yourself what you plan on doing with the data and your answer is weak, attempt to tease out more qualitative insight via open-ended questions.

“An easy way to do that, if you can’t fully reform the question, is simply to ask the person to elaborate.

“’Did you find value in this process? If so, please explain further. If not, tell us how we can improve.’” – Alex Birkett, A Guide to Open-Ended Questions in Marketing Research, ConversionXL; Twitter: @conversionxl

  1. Provide mutually exclusive answer choices.

    “I see this principle violated all the time when answer choices are a range of numbers. For example, how would I answer the question below if my friend shared a Facebook Ad on social media?”

Which one of these sources did you first learn about our company from?

Effective VoC Survey Questions for Deeper Insights

Ask about product usage to gain valuable customer retention insights.

  • “When it comes to customer success and satisfaction, it’s critical that your business collects feedback about your product or service. If you don’t, then it’s more difficult to assess customer needs and provide effective solutions. Finding out how satisfied your users are with your offer provides your marketing and product teams with valuable information that can be used to improve customer retention. Some questions that you could ask in this section are:
    • How often do you use the product or service?
    • Does the product help you achieve your goals?
    • What is your favorite tool or portion of the product or service?
    • What would you improve if you could?” – Ruchika Sharma, 16 Excellent Customer Satisfaction Survey Examples, HubSpot; Twitter: @Sh_ruchika, @HubSpot
    • Solicit top-of-mind feedback. “What is the first word or phrase that comes to mind when you see or hear [Insert Organization Name]?

“Why ask this question first? It allows us to collect initial, unbiased top-of-mind feedback. Wondering why top-of-mind thoughts are so important? Think of it as the bare bones of how customers identify your brand.

“For example, let’s say you own a coffee shop and think ‘coffee’ will be the top response. But it turns out the top three words used by customers were (1) ‘Bob’ your café manager, (2) ‘quality,’ and (3) ‘price.’ This tells us a much deeper story behind your coffee shop than just what you sell.

“Don’t forget we can always ask, ‘Why?’ as a follow-up to this question to have insight on why a word or phrase was used. In the example above we may be left wondering if prices are low or high, what about the coffee shop is high quality, and whether customers think Bob provides satisfactory customer service.

“What happens if customers did overwhelming use the word ‘coffee’ to describe your coffee shop? Well that provides us insight as well! Perhaps there are opportunities to further connect with customers, or maybe that’s your niche and it really stands out in the minds of your customers.” – Emily Palermo, 5 Voice of Customer (VoC) Research Questions, Drive Research; Twitter: @DriveResearch

  1. Ask about services or products that would be useful to your customers.

    “What Product, Service, Tool, or App Do You Wish Someone Would Make?

“This is a truly gourmet ‘food for thought’ question. The way it’s phrased makes it easy for respondents to let their imagination run wild in a way that ‘what needs aren’t being met?’ just doesn’t allow. These answers can make great fodder for product development.” – Rob Steffens, 20 of the Best Customer Survey Questions You Should Be Asking, Blueleadz; Twitter: @Blueleadz

  1. Ask what your customers would change about your product or service.

    “’If you could change just one thing about our product/service, what would it be?’

“This question is awesome in terms of finding out what are your customers’ pain points. It also shows your customers that you care about their opinion and their voice is important to you (now, they like you even more!).

“In some cases, people will comment on features they would like to see on your website (and that’s great), and sometimes they provide you with ideas on how you should expand your business. Maybe you don’t need this info today, but who knows what tomorrow brings, right?

“This question is also very handy when you do a market research. You can modify this query to gather information about your competition, for example:

    • ‘What’s the single biggest challenge you have encountered with your current mobile phone?’
    • ‘What’s the single biggest frustration you have experienced with your current accounting firm?’
    • ‘What’s the single biggest thing you wish you could change about your current TV provider?’

“This way you can learn about weaknesses of your competitors and use them to your advantage.” – Justyna Polaczyk, 5 Important Questions You Should Ask in Your Customer Feedback Survey, LiveChat; Twitter: @LiveChat

  1. Ask what you need to do (or stop doing) to keep the customer’s business.

    “Your open-ended question shouldn’t be about you finding the answer to something that’s important to you. There are other, better ways to do that.

“It’s about making it easy for your customer to tell you what you need to do (or stop doing) to keep their business.

“Our favourite is: ‘What can we do to improve your experience with us?’

“It’s short, simple and completely open. As your customer, I can tell you anything that’s on my mind.

“It has the advantage that you’re giving me permission to be honest. And you’ve asked in a way that makes it easy for me to tell you without feeling awkward, and without worrying that I’m jeopardising our relationship, because I feel like you’re asking for my help.” What questions should I ask on a customer service survey?, Customer Sure; Twitter: @CustomerSure

  1. Ask how customers would describe your product.

    “What would you say to someone who asked about us?

“You have probably memorized several descriptions of your brand, which you use depending on the person you’re talking to.

“A question like that, however, allows you to find out what your customers think of you, an extremely important insight in the digital environment where perception is reality.” 29 Practical Feedback Questions to Ask to Your Customers, Unamo; Twitter: @UnamoHQ

  1. Ask how your product or service makes them feel.

    “It might sound a little vague but one of the best questions you can ask a consumer is simply this:

“How does <Brand> make you feel?

“Allow your respondents to provide open-ended answers and then go through and categorize/classify what they say.

“Why is this such a smart question? Depending on how many people you ask, you can use the results in several meaningful ways:

    • Measure true sentiment: Take all of the responses you receive and classify them as negative, neutral, or positive to see if people are overall for or against you
    • Determine salience: Neutral comments are sometimes worse than negative opinions because it means people don’t even know your brand well enough to form an opinion
    • Trending emotion: Asking this survey question regularly allows you to trend your sentiment and salience scores, which means you can then set objective goals for improving the experience.

“In addition to the tactics you can implement to quantify this question, it is also a qualitative gold mine. The anecdotes that people provide you with can completely transform your marketing strategy.” – Josh Braaten, 3 Brand Perception Survey Questions That Reveal Voice of Customer, SurveyAnyplace; Twitter: @surveyanyplace

  1. Ask what product or service features customers wish your company had.

    “What product or service features do you wish we had?

“Part of successfully delivering 5-star experience is anticipating, even forecasting, customer needs and wants.

“By asking this open-ended customer feedback question, you’re empowering the voice of the customer and letting it help build your roadmap and customize products and services based on the needs and wants of your customers.

“Remember: great businesses separate themselves from good ones by striving for continuous improvement. So, even if you already have a high Net Promoter Score, or your online reviews are all rated 5 stars, still make it part of your strategy to ask customers what you could do better (before your competitors do it first).” – Migs Bassig, 5 Examples of Customer Feedback Questions You Can Ask in Your Next Survey, ReviewTrackers; Twitter: @reviewtrackers

  1. Ask about your customers’ biggest challenges.

    “What’s your biggest challenge in___?

“Are there challenging situations that customers are facing right now in the area of your specialization? That’s what you need to find out, and your customers are the best people to tell you that.

“The answers you get by asking this question will help you understand the greatest problem your customers need help with.

“Sometimes, you may receive diverse answers from respondents; however, with the data gathered, you will be able to find out the ‘gross common challenge’ among them.” – Zoe Uwem, Survey Questions That Work: How to Unlock Your Customers’ Deepest Desires, NeilPatel.com; Twitter: @ZoeUwem, @neilpatel

  1. Ask customers to rate their experience with your employees.

    “Asking a customer to rate your employees, and to provide the reasons for their rating, may feel a little intrusive. Yet it is an important insight that you need to capture. Research has shown a strong correlation between ratings of people and overall NPS rating for the company. In fact, we’ve found if customers rate their primary contacts favorably, they can be up to three times as likely to recommend and continue to do business with the company overall. Intuitively it makes sense: the quality of the service your company provides is largely a function of the people that provide it. Whether it is your sales team, customer service, technical support, or senior management, the impression they leave on your customers will most likely be the single most important determinant if they become repeat buyers (or if they don’t).” – John Murray, 5 Key Questions to Include in Customer Satisfaction Surveys, Strategex; Twitter: @Strategex_Inc

  2. Gauge loyalty by asking how much customers trust your brand.

    “How much do you trust (your brand)?

“Questions that deal with brand image and trust address how much loyalty the average customer feels toward your brand. Are they using your services because they love who you are and what you do, or because you’re the only option? There’s a big difference between the two, and these questions can help you figure out which it is, and whether or not consumers actually want to stick with you. The ideal way to frame these questions is by asking consumers who take your survey to rate the accuracy of the statement you provide from 1 to 5, with one being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree. Additional statements for them to rate, include:

  1. Get insights into the features or perks that cultivate customer loyalty.

    “What should we never stop doing?(Open-ended response)

“This is an even better way to ask the ‘What do you like about us?’ question, because it inspires a more immediate emotional response. Customers can respond with, ‘Never stop making those spicy burritos!’ or ‘Please keep the free tax workshops coming!’” – Irena Ashcraft, Ask These 13 Survey Questions to Find Out What Customers Really Think, PaySimple; Twitter: @PaySimple

  1. Be direct when asking about competitors to gain competitive insights.

    “Why did you select our product over that of our competitor’s?

“This question can give you a peek into what your competitors are offering, how they’re marketing it, and maybe even price or terms. Use this information to make your products and support even better and tailor your marketing efforts.” – Dmitry Dragilev, 7 Must-Ask Questions to Include on Your Next Customer Feedback Survey, Sandler Training; Twitter: @SandlerTraining

What VoC survey questions have you found to be most effective?

Download the Report

The Forrester New Wave™: AI-Fueled Speech Analytics Solutions, Q2 2018

GET IT NOW