How to structure your questionnaire – the importance of positioning

How to structure your questionnaire – the importance of positioning

With research budgets and project turnaround times becoming ever tighter, opportunities to think about the structure and flow of a market research questionnaire can easily be forgotten. Making sure those final extra questions from research stakeholders are squeezed in often takes key precedence when getting a project into field.

Whether it be an online, telephone, or face-to-face methodology, where you actually position questions can have a big impact on survey responses.  This is especially important when considering headline business metrics such as customer satisfaction or net promotor questions.

To give a real-life example, a major UK business brand wanted to test whether the positioning of their customer satisfaction measurement question (“On a scale of 1-7, how satisfied or dissatisfied were you with”) had an effect on the responses within their 15 minute monthly telephone tracking research.

Over a period of three months, half of the monthly sample size of 250 were asked to give their customer satisfaction score at the very start of the survey, the other half at the very end. The results were quite staggering – in one of the fieldwork months, the scores for customers giving their rating at the end of the survey was 12% lower than for those asked at the start.

It is natural human nature to give a different reaction to something spontaneously, as opposed to when you are given thinking time, especially for particularly positive or negative experiences. Asking a question at the start of the survey is more likely to get a gut feel or spontaneous reaction.  Asking the question at the end however will allow more thought about the particular topic, perhaps allowing influence from other questions in the survey where more details about an experience are recalled. This is especially important if there is a time lag between the experience with the brand and the survey itself.

In the example quoted above, placing the customer satisfaction score at the end of the survey appeared to have the result of making the respondent more disengaged with their experience with the brand, as shown by the 12% drop in score. Where major brands rely on the voices of their customers to inform wider decision making and make business improvements, such a drop in score could have big consequences.

So next time you are designing a questionnaire, do give some thought to not only what questions you are asking your audience, but how you will actually ask them. It could have more of an effect than you think!

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