Conducting customer surveys is one of the most popular market research methods. But there are alternatives, and when weighing different options, it’s important to consider both the pros and cons.
Below, we’ll take a look at some of the biggest advantages of using surveys, and then examine some of the disadvantages, as well.
6 Advantages of Surveys
There are lots of reasons to use surveys, as opposed to (or in conjunction with) other research methods. Here are some of the most compelling ones.
1. A great tool for both quantitative and qualitative data
Surveys are obviously great for collecting quantitative data. Think of the U.S. Census, which helps the government count its population and understand the raw demographics of the country.
But surveys are also incredible tools for collecting qualitative feedback. A customer survey can include both multiple-choice and rating questions, as well as open-ended questions that allow participants to elaborate on how they feel—and why.
So, for example, a good customer satisfaction survey will provide you with quantitative data (such as overall satisfaction scores), as well as qualitative data (text responses in which customers explain exactly why they were satisfied or dissatisfied). Understanding the “why” behind the numbers is often the only way to truly leverage feedback data and make improvements.
2. Good for soliciting emotional feedback
On a similar note, surveys are one of the best ways to collect emotional feedback. For example, if you want to know what elements excite customers about your brand, or inspire loyalty, or frustrate them, a survey is a great way to reach the root of their feelings. You can ask them to rate their feelings about various aspects of your products or services, and ask open-ended questions that allow them to elaborate on their feelings.
3. Easier (and more complete) than only studying customer behavior
You can obviously learn a lot about your customers by studying the way they interact with your brand. Examining and analyzing their actions—their purchasing habits, clicks, time on page, call times, and so on—can tell you a lot about your customer base.
However, these methods depend on there being lots of interactions between your customers and your company, which smaller businesses and B2Bs might not have to draw upon. Also, capturing and analyzing all of these interactions requires a great deal of time and effort and technical know-how.
Surveying is an easier way to determine customer sentiment. Also, many businesses that analyze customer behavior also use surveys. After all, there are some things you can only learn by directly asking customers, not simply by studying their actions. So you should ask them—in a survey!
4. Faster than A/B testing different options
Some companies conduct market research by A/B testing different options to see which one performs better. But it’s pretty costly and time consuming to build and test different versions of your product or service. It’s easier and cheaper to use surveys to, for example, ask customers what features or offers they would prefer over others.
5. Easy to design, distribute, and collect
With the right tool, creating and implementing online surveys is a relatively easy process. For example, Sogolytics comes with customizable templates and a load of design options that allow you create effective, professional-looking surveys. Sogolytics also makes it easy to distribute surveys through automated email distribution, shareable links, QR codes, and other options. And, of course, responses to online surveys are immediately, automatically collected and easy to analyze with real-time reports.
6. Quick results
Online survey projects don’t take long to get results. On average, you’ll get 90% of your survey responses within the first 48 hours of distribution.
And, of course, you can view the results in real-time as they come in. There’s no costly or time-consuming data entry required—you can quickly analyze survey feedback with graphs, sentiment analyses, and other great reporting options.
5 Disadvantages of Surveys
In life, you always have to take the good with the bad. So after discussing the many pros of surveys, let’s take a look at some of the cons.
1. Surveys are only a sample of overall sentiment, not the whole enchilada
In most cases, feedback surveys rely on a sample size approach. That means that a small subset of the entire population, or “sampling,” completes the survey, as opposed to everyone involved. With this method, there’s bound to be some margin of error—and the fewer survey responses you receive, the larger the margin of error (meaning the less confidence you can have in the accuracy of the results).
Even if, for example, you send a customer satisfaction survey to every customer, not all of them are going to respond. If you get a reasonable proportion of them to respond, you should have a good set of data that’s representative of the entire population—though not identical to it.
Still, there aren’t a whole of ways to collect feedback that do capture the entire population. Even the U.S. census struggles to get everyone to respond! And there are many methods of acquiring feedback that are even less representative, such as one-on-one interviews or small focus groups.
As long as you take the right steps to encourage or incentivize participation, your survey data should still be reflective enough to have a lot of value.
2. Participants can fall victim to “survey fatigue”
Surveys are typically effective, but too many surveys can lead to diminishing returns. For example, if a survey questionnaire is too long, that increases the likelihood that many participants will fail to complete the survey. Similarly, if you send customer satisfaction surveys to customers after every single interaction, customers might get annoyed and start ignoring this survey requests (even though CSAT surveys tend to be very short).
Both of the scenarios described above are examples of “survey fatigue,” which is one of the potential disadvantages of surveys. However, there are strategies you can use to limit the likelihood of fatigue. For example, if you’re designing a longer online survey questionnaire, you can design it so that only certain questions are mandatory, while others can be skipped.
3. Survey responses will always be subjective
It’s important to keep in mind that surveys are basically opinion polls, not objective measures of reality. You’re asking people for their inherently subjective views—and those responses are also subject to factors outside of your control.
For example, if someone is having a bad day at work or just got into a fight with their significant other, they are more likely to be in a foul mood. And that negativity could skew the way they answer questions about satisfaction or purchasing decisions, or how they rate the importance of service and other factors. Conversely, someone who is in a good mood might be overly generous with their ratings when completing a similar customer survey.
However, customer feedback is always going to be subjective, no matter how you collect it.
4. Not everyone believes “honesty is the best policy”
In addition to being subjective, survey data can also contain dishonest answers. For example, sometimes there are gaps between what people tell political pollsters and how they actually vote, which could be attributed to some respondents lying about their true political beliefs.
Hopefully, though, your surveys won’t incentivize dishonest responses.
5. Imperfect survey designs can lead to unintentional bias
Poor survey design can lead to bad data, a phenomenon we like to call “garbage in, garbage out.” For example, sometimes surveyors make the mistake of writing leading questions, like asking a customer “how much do you enjoy our product” instead of “do you enjoy our product?” Another common design mistake is asking “double-barreled questions,” such as, “how much do you prioritize price and quality?” Instead, the survey should ask about price, and then ask about quality, since the two concerns are not mutually exclusive.
Even a fairly well-written survey can still introduce unintentional bias. For example, the order in which you ask questions will often subtly influence the way that respondents answer them.
However, there are ways to guard against this influence. For example, Sogolytics allows you to randomize the order of questions for different survey survey participants, so that the data won’t be skewed in one direction.
In fact, Sogolytics’ intuitive platform and fantastic support staff make it easy for you to sidestep any potential design flaws and flawlessly execute your next survey project.