A red, fluorescent question mark

Surveys are a key tool in a small business owner’s toolbox. They are one of the most effective ways to gather thoughts and feedback from customers. And with the rise of social media, disseminating survey questions is simpler than ever. But how do you know what questions to ask? And how do you get customers to actually take the survey? That is the focus of today’s post.

Survey Structure

Before you begin generating questions, it’s important to have an idea of how you want your survey to be presented. This largely depends on knowing what will be most effective for your target audience.

Digital vs. Physical Surveys

The first step in determining the layout of your survey is to decide if it will be appearing on your website/social media or if you will be distributing it in person. If you have a strong social media following and users tend to be responsive to your content, a digital route might be better. A link could even be featured in your email newsletter.

A physical survey is also a possibility. They have waned in popularity since many customers prefer to take surveys on their own time, but are still a viable option if you know you will get more responses this way. It is still a good goal to continuously work toward a stronger digital presence, though.


A survey should take no more than five minutes of your customer’s time. According to a study by Survey Monkey, a survey that takes longer than seven to eight minutes had a drop in completion rates from 5% to 20%.

Therefore, if you can avoid asking short-answer and essay questions, be sure to skip them. Or, only ask one or two that will be quick and easy to respond to. There is no ideal number of questions to include, since needs will vary from business to business and survey to survey. However, try to be as concise as possible, and always limit multiple choice questions if you are adding short answer questions.

Here are a few common formats of survey questions:

  • Multiple choice
  • Short answer
  • Likert scale
  • Open-ended
  • Ranking


This may seem like a secondary concern, but design is an important consideration when putting a survey together.

First and foremost, the design should reflect your business’s brand in its color scheme, fonts, and any graphics and logos. The tone of the questions should reflect the tone used on your website, on social media, and any other written materials associated with your business.

Don’t go overboard (you don’t want to risk distracting survey-takers), but adding your own flair to the survey can intrigue your target audience and possibly make them more interested in taking it.

What To Ask and How

Deciding on survey questions is as simple as deciding on what you want to know and flipping it. Still, it’s important to make sure that you are formatting questions in a way that is easy to understand. The wording should always be neutral, and try not to use any jargon that someone outside your industry wouldn’t understand.

It’s also important to be as clear as possible. A general rule of thumb to help with this is to avoid double negatives and double-barreled questions.

An example of a double negative survey question might be “do you oppose not using cash to pay at our store?” The wording is confusing and may potentially skew the data if people don’t understand what you’re asking.

A double-barreled question involves asking a survey-taker two things in the same question. For example, “In your experience, is our customer service helpful and polite?” Not only is this a biased question, but when you get a response, you won’t know if they are saying whether the customer service representative is helpful or polite.

It’s always a good idea to get an unbiased party’s opinion of your survey. They can provide feedback as to whether or not the questions make sense and if the survey is the appropriate length.

Gaining Interest in Your Survey

It’s great to have a survey and have a plan for implementing any new feedback, but the whole process only works if you can get people to actually take and complete it.

The best way to accomplish this is, as we discussed, keep the survey short and simple, and take it online if possible. Offering rewards can also be an effective method, such as a 20% off coupon or a free trial. Whatever you can offer, customers are more likely to take the time to answer your questions if they know they can benefit from it.

Also, don’t be afraid to follow up. Show customers how you are implementing their changes by sharing survey answers, your plans to incorporate the feedback, and benchmarks as you go through the process. This will make respondents more likely to take more surveys in the future, since they know you are listening.

Surveys are a straight-forward way of getting to know your audience and building a reputation with them. Don’t miss out on the feedback your customers have for you. In order to know their thoughts, all you have to do is ask.