10 Tips for Writing an Effective Client Survey

Regardless of whether you are embarking on a redesign project or a new website, one of the most important documents is the client survey or questionnaire.  Many client surveys found online are derived at least in part from Web ReDesign, by Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler.  This is one of the most helpful books that I have found for web project management and I’ve been using it in the classroom for years, starting with the first edition (I also recommend the CD version and Lynda videos).

However, my biggest complaint about the common format of client surveys is that they are written from the project manager’s perspective, with little thought given to the client and sometimes even the developer/designer. It does not matter if the client has paid or not—clients are busy—that’s one of the reasons why they’ve hired you instead of trying to build a website themselves. A poorly constructed client survey will likely get pushed to the bottom of a pile of paperwork, especially when it cannot be completed quickly. Hopefully you can utilize the following tips to help simplify the planning of your next web project.

  1. Get the entire team involved

    If you divide project duties among two or more team members, find out what information everyone needs to do their job. Better yet, have everyone participate in writing client survey questions.

  2. Put yourself in their shoes

    Most people hate surveys of any kind and are reluctant to take the time to complete them.

    Look at each question from the client’s viewpoint. If you were the client, how would you answer each question? Write each question as if you had to fill it out. In addition, have a friend review the survey and provide feedback.

  3. Evaluate each question for relevancy

    A long survey can be a daunting task. Review each question to determine if you really need to know the information. How will the information be used? Is the information valuable? Limit questions to what you REALLY need to know. For instance, if you don’t care about marketing plans, don’t ask about it. This is also a good time to make your form more intuitive by grouping related questions.

  4. Provide different questions based on the project type

    You may need different information for a new brochure site versus a makeover of an existing e-commerce site.  One way to avoid the visual impact of a long form is by tailoring questions based on project type. This is easy to accomplish programmatically using a web-based form but you will need to be a little more creative in a printed document. A simple “If no skip to section X” should suffice.

    Of course, you may opt to have separate surveys but be careful not to miss an opportunity to upsell your project.

  5. Avoid lengthy questions

    Wordy, two-part questions can be confusing and lead to incomplete answers.  Something like “Why or why not?” or “Please explain:” added to the end of a question is fine but you should otherwise avoid compound questions.

    You should also limit use of open-ended questions.  Be concise and to the point—if you want a simple answer, ask a simple question. Your goal here is to make it quick and easy for your client to complete and at the same time get the exact information that you need.

  6. Avoid confusing and industry specific terminology

    Do not expect clients to know the difference between a domain name and a hosting account. This is sometimes even true for redesign projects; many people, even very intelligent people, just don’t get it. But that’s ok because it keeps us employed.

    When using common acronyms, spell out the name followed by the acronym in parenthesis like Internet Service Provider (ISP).  Reason being is that some people may recognize ISP but have no clue as to what it stands for and others may be the exact opposite.

    You may want to instruct clients to skip questions that they do not understand. And be sure to evaluate unanswered questions to see if they should be rewritten for future surveys.

  7. Provide examples of the info that you’re requesting

    Show your client how you expect them to answer a question or provide answers for them to choose from. Consider using tables with appropriate headings and examples in the first row, such as the following:

    Website Analysis of Major Competitors
    Website URL Likes Dislikes
    http://example.com Widgets are easy to find.
    Nice color scheme and layout.
    Text is hard to read.
    Animation is distracting.
  8. Answer what you can ahead of time

    Chances are you have probably already spoken to or corresponded with the client prior to distributing the client survey. Therefore, you should already know the answers to at least a few of your questions. Go ahead and leave these questions in place, but include the answers as you perceive them to be. Doing so will provide good customer service by adding a personal touch to their survey and showing your client that you are listening to them. We all want to feel special every now and then.

  9. Always, always, always check spelling and grammar

    It’s true, web people aren’t the best spellers—that’s what spell check is for and we tend to rely on this feature a bit too much. Typos and grammatical errors look very unprofessional and could result in loss of income.  Check, check, recheck, have a friend check, have your momma check, and then check some more.

    Do not overdo it with thesaurus soup; use simple language—words that you would actually say in conversation.

  10. Complete the survey with your client

    Whether in person or over the phone, this is the absolute best way to get the information that you need. This tip solves most of the aforementioned issues. I guarantee that you will save time in the long run.

    You can also use this as an opportunity to tell your clients why you are valuable. They need to know that you may charge more than Uncle Bubba The Web Developer, but your lean, mean, sexy code will save them money in the long run.

    Remember to always have your client sign the survey even when it is done this way. Send it to them via snail mail if you have to (web folks tend to forget about the USPS).

Let me know if you find this information useful or have something to add. Also, I would love to see your client surveys!!!

5 thoughts on “10 Tips for Writing an Effective Client Survey

  1. Supernatural says:

    Great post! I like the blog!

  2. tessuti vetro teflon says:

    Brilliant article, thanks for sharing!

  3. robots.txt says:

    Nice article Sadie. I generated my own client survey after reading that same article a number of years back while adding my own thoughts. In my experience I have been asked to help with re-designs where the online and offline world were not connected. Often, you will see the brand experience has been eroded and or never existed. in my surveys I try to gather as much information about the clients offline advertising efforts, collateral materials, branding and customers as I do for online. When dealing with small mom and pop or international corporations, a client’s online and offline customers are generally the same. So, building a profile of their offline customer is an important step in developing a web site that meets the needs and expectations of the potential customer. As designers/developers we rarely get the opportunity to work for the Amazons of the world where there is no brick and mortar storefront. Our clients, more often than not, have a physical presence that generates the majority of the revenue. BY asking a few questions about the customers coming into the store we can build a better experience online that will turn into additional sales.

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