Surveys are a great way to build relationships with your customers, but they will be put off by too many, so you need to make the ones that you do release count. And this is where open-ended questions come in!
Open-ended questions are a great way to get the most out of your surveys. Mastering the art can take time, but it’s worth it in the long term as - with a little experience - the benefits your company will derive from them will increase exponentially.
Asking the right questions will dictate the quality of the insights that you will gain about your products, services, and so forth.
By contrast, if they’re not worded properly, there’s no guarantee that you’ll receive the detailed answers you need.
This article runs through everything you need to know; feel free to scroll through the article at your leisure or alternatively click on the question below to jump to the answer you’re looking for.
In surveys and beyond, this kind of questions enable respondents to reply in any way they want. They are not restricted to a limited range of pre-set answers and are given the space (and character limit) to write as little or as much as they want - and believe me, some people have a lot to say!
With customer experience more important than ever, companies need to get feedback directly from the source to find out what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong, and asking open-ended questions is ideal for this purpose.
They enable companies to get a deeper understanding of their views on a particular subject, enable you to follow the full customer journey, and are a central component of qualitative market research.
Admittedly, there’s always the chance that respondents will go off-piste and provide answers that have no relation to the question you’ve tabled, but this issue will be mitigated if the survey is answered by enough people - 200 being the minimum, if you want accurate results.
Let’s start small with a single open-ended question to a customer that has just bought Fluffy a fancy cat hammock from you:
“What can we do to improve our cat hammocks or the service that you received?”
You can see from the above example that an open-ended question can be answered in any way that the respondent sees fit.
This provides your customers with an opportunity to let you know their thoughts regarding anything across their journey - from the quality of the product, to how easy your website is to navigate, and whether the delivery met their expectations.
However, surveys are not limited to one simple question, and you could word them in a way that will elicit replies that are more specific to whatever objectives you have behind it. Three more examples of this type of questions are:
When it comes to open-ended questions, there is no universal example that will work for every survey. Your choice will depend on the specific characteristics of your company, and what you want to get out of the survey - are you looking to learn how your products could be improved from a customer perspective, or are trying to understand why so many of them leave products in the basket but don’t complete the purchase?
That said, you could devise a list of questions that covers every aspect of the customer journey, with examples like:
What were your reasons for choosing our cat hammocks?
How can we improve our range of cat hammocks?
Why did you choose us over other cat hammock retailers
What would make you buy another of our cat hammocks?
How can we enhance our customer service?
Are you interested in buying one of our cat hammocks?
Does your pet like its cat hammock?
Are you happy with your customer service experience?
Is the cat hammock you received what you expected?
Would you buy one of our cat hammocks again?
As you can see from the table above, close-ended questions can be answered with single-word, definitive responses - eg. “yes”, or “no”. They are quick and easy to answer, and the consistency of responses across the survey makes them straightforward to analyze.
By contrast, open-ended questions prompt much longer, more detailed answers that can be useful for your marketing, sales, and product departments.
For instance, the reply to “what does your cat like about our cat hammock” could give you information about how long Fluffy spends in her hammock, where she prefers it in the house, how many of her furry friends she likes to share it with, and so forth.
This is obviously not related to survey-building, but life can’t be compartmentalized completely.
This type of questions are a great way to ensure that attendees have properly understood what you’ve presented to them, to get valuable feedback, and to ensure that what you’ve covered is actioned in a useful way.
Open-ended questions begin with the following words (written in bold below):
Why did you choose our cat hammock over competitors?
How could we improve our cat hammocks?
What other animals would you like to see a hammock for?
Tell me about your experience buying a cat hammock from us?
What do you think about rat hammocks?
Describe how we could improve your cat hammock buying experience
This kind of questions are useful when you want to get a deeper understanding of a customer’s true thoughts, options, insights, and experiences on the survey subject. Such situations include, when you want to:
Ultimately, open-ended questions can provide answers with real depth - depending on what the responder is prepared to divulge, but the information provided can be hard to work with.
But it’s important to remember that they do come with their own disadvantages.
Open-ended questions are time-consuming to answer and have a lower response rate than close-ended alternatives. You will also collect a fair amount of irrelevant information, and it can be difficult to analyze the replies or compare them given by respondents across the survey.
By contrast, close-ended questions are easier for your reporting work, and they can be done using a multiple-choice format or include numbers for quantitative research.
But, regardless of the format, the answers will be shorter than their open-ended cousins - you won’t know the responders’ reasoning and can easily jump to false conclusions, if you’re not careful.
However, close-ended questions can be very useful, particularly in the following situations:
There’s no shortage of open-ended questions you can ask customers.
In many ways, it’s a case of the more the merrier, since they know that they are under no obligation to answer all of them - and more questions mean you might stumble across information that will be super useful for you.
Open-ended questions always begin in very specific ways and use the following words - why, how, what, describe, “tell me about”, and “what do you think about”.
By starting questions in this way, you can easily stimulate in depth answers from responders, and every one will be different.
If there were only 10 open-ended questions of note, then everyone would use them - bombarding customers with boringly repetitive questions to answer.
Ultimately, when building your survey, you’ll want to devise questions that are most relevant to your company, industry, products, and objectives.
You can write them in a tone that reflects your own company’s brand, and in a way that - taken together - they cover every aspect of the customer journey.
Ultimately, your customer knowledge will drive sales, and you’ll want to know as much as you can about:
The only way to get the answers to such questions is to pull the information from them - if you don’t, all you’re doing is selling your products’ features and not the solutions that will better pull prospects towards you.
Many of your customers will be more than happy to answer your questions and, crucially, questions can make them feel valued and build trust.
It’s one area of marketing that enables you to communicate directly with them, humanize your company, and build rapport.
As you can see, open-ended questions can provide much deeper insights than what can be gleaned from close-ended ones - even if they can be a little tricker to analyze.
But for best results, you’ll want to include a combination of both in any survey you send out.
If you’re looking to up your game with regard to how your company communicates with customers and prospects, feel free to read about our own survey tool, or the other GDPR-compliant survey platforms that we recommend.
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