You know you’re a good writer. You’ve written blog posts on all kinds of topics, racking up tons of views. You’ve written articles that break down complex information so well that a first-grader could understand it. You’ve written speeches and video scripts. Now you need to write questions for a customer survey. That should be easy, right?

Wrong. It’s really, really hard to write a good customer survey question. And, if you get it wrong, the information gathered from that question is worthless. There’s more to the art of writing customer survey questions than I can tackle in one blog post, so I’m going to focus on the biggest problem: questions that ask more than one thing.

Think you wouldn’t do that? Maybe, maybe not. You’re probably experienced enough not to write a question like, “Company XYZ has great products and customer service.” That’s obviously a bad question, right? What if a respondent thinks XYZ has great products but lousy service, or vice versa? How are they supposed to answer? And how would you interpret the results?

The problem is that the most dangerous double-barreled customer survey questions are subtle. For instance, “I don’t have a dog because I’m allergic to animals.” A “disagree” answer could mean three different things:

  • The respondent isn’t allergic to dogs.
  • The respondent doesn’t have a dog for some reason other than allergies.
  • The respondent is allergic but has a dog anyway.

Let’s look at another one. Say you’re analyzing the results of this survey question, “I don’t shop at ABC because they have poor customer service.” Again, a “disagree” response could mean one of three things:

  • I shop there, and I think the customer service is fine.
  • I think the customer service is OK, but I don’t shop there for some other reason.
  • I think the customer service is poor, but I shop there anyway.

Once again, useless results. A better way to write it (after first finding out that they indeed don’t shop at ABC) would be, “Please indicate all factors that influence your decision not to shop at ABC”.

The best defense against double-barreled customer survey questions is to ask yourself, “What will I know without a doubt to be true after respondents answer this question?” If the results are open to interpretation, it’s not a good question.  [tweetable] To get unambiguous data, you have to start with unambiguous questions. [/tweetable]