Before you get into the nuts and bolts of designing a survey program, spend some time sharpening up what you hope to accomplish. A good understanding of the business goals of the survey will really help figure out the right sampling, questions, channel, and reporting. A lot of the time when I hear companies say they want to do a survey for the purpose of collecting customer feedback, it really means that they haven't thought a lot about what they plan to do with the feedback once it's collected. It's like saying you want to do a survey for the purpose of conducting a survey.
The basic ingredients are straightforward. Most surveys have as their goals some combination of:
- Tracking metrics: Requires using a very consistent set of survey questions with a random sample selected to give an acceptable margin of error for calculating metrics.
- Improving the performance of individual employees: Requires targeting the survey sample to collect adequate feedback on each individual employee, asking open-ended questions about the experience, and delivering the feedback to front-line supervisors in real time. Recorded customer interviews are particularly valuable.
- Identifying customer pain points: Requires a lot of open-ended questions and potentially additional follow-ups. Customers should be invited to tell their stories.
- Testing or validating changes to the customer experience: Requires careful attention to test and control group samples, and a consistent set of metrics for the different test cases (see A/B Testing for Customer Experience).
- Persuading the organization/leadership to make a change to the customer experience: Requires collecting a valid statistical sample that supports the proposed change, as well as persuasive customer stories which will carry emotional weight with others in the organization. Recorded customer interviews are particularly valuable.
- Providing individual customers a chance to be heard: Requires offering the survey very broadly, even if that means a low response rate or far more completed surveys than would otherwise be needed. A robust closed-loop process is not optional
So for example, if you've never done any transactional feedback before, your goal is probably going to be mostly about identifying customer pain points (i.e. trying to find out what you don't know) with a dash of tracking metrics thrown in. That probably means asking a couple of tracking questions and a lot of open-ended questions, and a random sample in the range of 400 completed surveys per reporting segment (enough to get a 5-point margin of error).
But if your goal is more directed to improving employee performance, things will be different. You will want to bias the survey sample to ensure each employee gets enough feedback to be useful (which also means un-biasing the sample to calculate metrics). You will probably also want to use customer interviews rather than automated surveys, since a recorded interview with the customer is much more effective at changing behavior than written comments and statistics.
Whatever your goals are, the most important thing is to have them. Surveys done for the sake of doing surveys tend to not be very useful.