Survey Best Practices

Regularly sending surveys can help you get the pulse of people’s experiences with your organization, and can give you a fuller picture of what they think.

Before Getting Started with Surveys

Regularly sending surveys can help you get the pulse of people’s experiences with your organization, and can give you a fuller picture of what they think and feel about you. Think of surveys as sensors that are continually monitoring customer and patient experiences and reporting back to you. 

Consequently, it’s important to identify key experiences that you want to learn more about before crafting your surveys. 

Map out your customer or patient journey

Before getting started with surveys, we recommend taking some time to map out the experiences that people have with your organization. What are all of the touchpoints that the average person has when interacting with your organization? What are the high and low points of those experiences? What are the areas that you wish you knew more about?

Start with the experiences you want to learn more about

We recommend that the first surveys you make be geared toward helping you understand more about customer experiences that you feel could be better or that you don’t know much about. 

Crafting the Survey

Minimize the number of questions you’re asking

The #1 mistake people make with surveys is trying to learn everything they want to know all at once. This can be overwhelming to survey participants, and you’re likely to see them abandon the survey before completing it. Surveys work best (and are most likely to be completed) when they only include a few questions. We recommend 10  or fewer questions when you can manage it. 

If you need to send out lengthier surveys, we recommend only sending that to once or twice a year. 

Minimize the number of response options

Hick's Law, named after psychologist William Edmund Hick, states that the more options are available to a person, the longer it will take to decide which option is best. In other words, the more options you offer to someone, the harder it will be for them to make a choice. And the harder it is for someone to pick a response, the more likely it is that they will abandon the survey before completing it. 

Save more difficult questions for the end

‘Follow the rule “easy before difficult” and place in-depth questions last. This eases users into the process; they will be more likely to answer complex questions once they’ve become committed to completing the survey. When people take a small action or step towards something, they feel more compelled to finish.

Test your survey before sending

It’s always best to test your survey with someone who hasn’t been involved with its creation. While the questions you’re asking and the options you’re offering to users may seem very clear to you when you’re creating the survey, it’s important to check for potential points of misunderstanding and confusion before sending to a wide audience. Many surveys suffer from unreliable data because participants misunderstand the intent of the questions. 

  • Do a quick hallway test. Share the survey with someone in the office who is unfamiliar with it. This lack of familiarity is important, as it will help them to respond in a similar way to how a patient would respond. Hand them a copy of the survey and ask them to “think out loud” as they fill it out, talking about how they understand the question and which option they would select and why. Avoid the temptation to provide guidance and clarify the questions for them. 
  • Send to a small group of participants first. Send to a small test group first and watch their responses. This will help you understand if they understand the questions and response options before you send the survey to a larger group. 
  • Share with a friend or family member. Like the hallway test, the goal is to show the survey to someone who is unfamiliar with it and ask them to think aloud as they fill it out. Be sure to explain the context around the survey and why someone would receive it (for example, “you would receive this if you recently visited one of our clinics.”) 

Sending surveys

When you send a survey largely depends on what you’re trying to learn and how you’re pairing surveys with other communications such as appointment reminders and review requests. There isn’t just one way to do things, but here are some general good rules of thumb. 

Send surveys when experiences are still fresh 

You can learn a lot from sending a survey at any time, but people are more likely to respond and to provide key details back to you when their experience is still fresh in their mind. 

Send surveys after key events throughout the patient or customer journey  

Sending surveys after key customer interactions gives you a constant pulse of data across the full customer journey. This will help you understand when key experiences are getting better or worse.

After sending your survey

Regularly review your datapoints across the journey

It’s important that you regularly review survey results as they come in. At a bare minimum you should review your results once a week, but we recommend checking results 2-3 times a week. As an organization, Swell reviews survey responses daily. 

Don’t fixate on early results

While it’s exciting to get your first survey results in, it will take a little while to gather enough data to get a reliable read on customer and patient opinion. 

Dig into anomalies and problem areas

If you see that customers aren’t completing your entire survey, review your data to determine which question customers are typically dropping off at. You may want to simplify or reword the question, reduce the number of response options, or reorder your questions. 

If you get negative feedback, look for recurring themes or responses that can provide insight into how you can improve experiences. You may wish to reach out to key respondents directly to follow up and get additional information. 

But don’t forget to recognize the positive

If you see consistently positive feedback and trends around key experiences, don’t forget to praise and reward the staff that make those experiences what they are!