Choosing the right survey tool
Online surveys are an effective way to better understand and connect with your customers, employees and markets, so you’ll want the best survey tools to work with, if you’re to deliver the impactful insights you need to take meaningful actions.
There are a lot of online survey tool providers out there. And while there are many similarities, particularly with regards to features, each provider will have their own mix of strengths.
It can be bewildering trying to identify the right survey platform from the many packages on offer, particularly when you’re new to online survey tools and not familiar with the key features you need to look out for. That’s why we have created this page to help guide you and provide you with information on further issues you need to consider if you’re to select the best survey tool to meet your requirements.
Essential features to look for when reviewing survey tools
From survey creation, distribution and ongoing management, to reporting and survey analysis, every stage is vital, with the features a platform provides during the process critical in determining how quick and easy it will be to get the data you need.
Every online survey provider offers a mix of packages and price plans, ranging from free to more advanced premium accounts. So, you will need to bear this in mind when thinking about your survey requirements. Although many features are common to all survey plans, some of the more sophisticated ones are only available on the highest price plans.
For the purposes of this page however, we have just concentrated on the features you need to look out for – without relating them to any particular price plans – so you can get a feel for how they will work and benefit your own survey requirements.
To make things easier we have also placed these features under the survey stages that they apply to.
Your survey questions
Whether you’re running customer surveys, inviting feedback from employees or undertaking primary market research, whatever the purpose of your survey the question types that you choose will be critical to your success in engaging respondents and encouraging them to respond in a complete and timely manner.
When you’re looking for a survey tool, it’s prudent to ensure you’ll be able to access the widest possible selection of question types. From basic, short style multiple choice and numerical questions when you need fast and definite answers to something, or free text style questions, which invite longer, more contextual feedback from respondents to get a better insight into how they’re feeling. The right mix of question types is important, so you’re not constrained and have the flexibility to meet a wide range of objectives and survey requirements.
Further benefits are available with more advanced question types. Some of the more popular include:
Respondents are asked to enter a numeric value – typically to express how much time or money they spent on a number of competing elements. These values are then summed and displayed in a separate calculated field with researchers also able to see a breakdown of values according to each element.
This is extremely useful when you’re trying to measure the separate time values spent on something, such as the time an individual took on a series of household tasks from cooking to cleaning over the course of a day.
Rather than enter a numerical value, respondents are encouraged to answer a question using the interactive slider provided. It’s ideal for rating questions, such as asking respondents how satisfied they are with a specific service, as they can move the slider from left to right to express this.
For example, you may ask customers on a scale of 0-10 (0 reflecting least satisfied and 10 the most satisfied) how happy they are with your customer service. Respondents can then move the slider from left to right (with the highest value on the right) to express this.
Also known as ‘Likert Scale’ questions ask the respondent to answer by selecting a point on a scale between words, such as ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’. By setting a question up as a matrix, so that they contain multiple rows for responses, it enables a researcher to ask and collect responses to many different things on the same subject.
For example, before introducing a new product to market, a single ‘Likert Scale’ question could reveal whether respondents found a product to be: Good Value/Poor Value, Exciting/Boring, Healthy/Unhealthy, Simple/Complex, and more.
For more detailed information on question types and when best to use them in your questionnaire you may like to read our 'Ultimate Guide to Online Survey Question Types' which you can download from our eBooks collection page.
Other valuable features for survey creation
There are a whole host of more innovative features, which you can incorporate into your survey to help keep respondents engaged and help prevent them leaving before they have completed your survey – some of the most popular include skip logic, page logic and piping.
Skip logic and page logic support you by enabling respondents to skip over certain parts or pages that are not relevant to them, while piping cleverly re-uses information that a recipient may have provided in a previous question, so they can be given a more personalised service for the rest of the survey.
For example, if a respondent mentioned they had an iPhone in one question, then a follow-up question could be personalised by using that information. A question could be phrased as, “You said you had an iPhone. What influenced that purchase?” rather than “What influenced the purchase of your phone brand?”
Custom theme branding
A survey that effectively incorporates your brand’s look and feel not only appears more professional but can have a positive impact on your response rates too, with recipients much clearer about your survey’s origin and therefore more comfortable about completing it.
From your colours, fonts and logo to your messaging and even a custom domain web address, you can tailor every aspect of your survey to match your brand. You can find out more about improving the brand look and feel of your survey, by looking at our white label survey features.
Surveys in different languages
Depending on your survey, the audiences you are trying to reach and the countries where they may be based, there may be times when you need to create a survey in multiple languages.
Whether it’s part or all aspects of your survey that you need to translate, look for user friendly software that makes this quick and simple to do.
Find out more about multilingual surveys.
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Distribution and management
Multiple ways to send your survey
To maximise the impact and response to your completed survey questionnaire, you’ll want as many options as you can for distributing it. Depending on your audience different distribution channels can also work more effectively than others due to the preferences of different demographic groups, or whether they are more consumer or B2B orientated.
From an email, SMS, a website popup, a survey link or form embedded onto your website, to QR codes, distribution via social media channels and even collecting your responses offline, there are a growing number of ways in which you can send online surveys today.
However, it’s essential to ensure the online survey tools you’re using can allow you to do this and can offer the future proofed performance to meet future innovations, so you’re able to keep up with the survey distribution demands of different audiences.
Track multiple surveys
If you run lots of surveys or use many different distribution channels to send the same survey, using ‘collector’ links can be a very effective way to check the progress of your survey invites; track open rates, views, failures and opt-outs. You can even send reminders to help boost your response rates.
For more information about this take a look at our survey distribution and data collection features.
Better manage your surveys
When you’re running a sizeable survey operation, you’ll want a platform that makes it easy to organise and manage your surveys.
From libraries and digital folders that allow you to store and reference individual surveys, to search features that make it easy to locate documents and user permission levels, that allow you to control and set different levels of staff access to surveys across your organisation. Best in class survey tools make it simple to organise and manage your surveys.
Reporting and analysis
From the ability to view, share and review responses in a myriad of ways, to the capacity to export, manipulate and analyse data across a range of different formats.
Depending on what you’re looking to do with your results, you’ll want the flexibility and performance to meet a wide range of scenarios and objectives and the best survey analysis tools will be able to support you with this.
Review and share your results
Depending on your survey and its objectives, there may be times when you need to respond immediately to results. With real-time viewing you’re able to see and act on survey responses as soon as they come in. In addition, your overall review is enhanced with respective tools such as filtering and text analysis, that enable you to isolate responses when you only want to review the answers of specific groups and then search for any correlations in their responses to open ended questions.
When you have many people involved in your survey review process, the best survey tools also enable you to share results easily with your colleagues via a simple web link. Furthermore, with password features you can protect your survey results page and set certain permissions to control what different people can and can’t see.
Export and analyse data in a range of formats
Best in class survey tools make it simple to view, manipulate and analyse your data. Including:
- Data export options including Excel, CSV, PDF and Word
- Report viewing in a range of formats from graphs and charts to cross tabulation
- Customised filter options
- Capability to review automatically calculated standard statistical information
For more information on support for survey reporting and analysis why not look at our reporting and results analysis features.
Further issues to be aware of when choosing your survey tools
While it’s important to know what features you need to be looking out for at each stage of the survey process, there are further issues you need to be thinking about, which can influence the survey tools and provider you ultimately decide to use.
Performance and functionality
From sign up and installation to ongoing usability. When reviewing a survey platform, you need to be asking yourself how easy is it to set up, use and manage? Does it provide the system availability and performance to handle a large and sudden surge in data volumes? Is there enough performance and scalability to support a growth in user numbers, or the demand to add new functionality and features?
From their account managers to their customer service and support teams. You’ll want to know the quality of what they can offer, before you choose your survey provider. You need to be getting answers to questions such as, how responsive is their service? How friendly and helpful are their staff? How knowledgeable and effective are they with solving support issues?
Data security is critical and even more so if you operate in a heavily regulated industry with strict compliance requirements.
You need to think about what data and security assurances your preferred provider can offer you. What processes do they have in place to secure your data? And do they hold any accreditations or certification, which can demonstrate that they can consistently provide a high-quality standard of security and data protection.
In addition, if you’re looking at a survey provider, you need to think about the location of servers where they are storing your data and where their workforce is based, because if either is located outside the UK, they may not be subject to the same stringent data security and protection rules.
As an ISO27001 and Cyber Security Essentials Plus certified business, security is an area that we excel in. For more information about this and other aspects of security you should be looking out for in a survey provider you might like to view the piece we wrote on ‘Data Security and Personal Data’.
Depending on the size of your business, or scale of the survey operation that your company is running, the payment terms and flexibility that a survey provider can offer can make a significant difference to your business. So, when you’re looking to compare online survey tools, it’s useful to have some prepared questions in mind that you can ask them to get a better feel for this and the level of flexibility they can offer.
For paid survey plans, consider issues such as the length of contract you could be tied into and whether there is any flexibility to pay monthly. Similarly, you’ll want to know what their cancellation policy terms are. It can also be valuable to see if they’re running any offers, as some providers can offer discounts if you pay a certain amount of money in advance, or concessions for businesses operating in specific industries.
Sector discounts is something we offer at SmartSurvey for students, academics and not-for-profit organisations. More information about this can be found on our survey price plans page.
The insights you’re able to collect from customers in feedback surveys can be extremely valuable to improving your understanding of their wants and needs. And the results can be even more powerful when you can combine this survey feedback with information you already hold in other essential systems you use to interact with them.
From Salesforce, Google Sheets and Google Analytics to HubSpot and MailChimp, given the ever-growing range of applications that businesses are using to gather information about their customers, you’ll want to know how easy it is to integrate your preferred Survey Tools with the critical applications you use every day.
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Evaluating your choice of survey tool
Armed with a better understanding of the key survey features and issues you need to be aware of, you’ll be much closer to identifying the right platform for your needs.
However, before making your final decision there are some more general issues to think about such as the composition of your own business and that of your customers. Are you a private or a public sector company? A large or small business? Do you operate in a generic or a more specialist business industry?
All these questions are helpful as businesses in some sectors, especially those that operate in highly regulated industries such as financial services, healthcare and utilities have compliance constraints regarding who they can work with.
This means they can only work with providers that meet certain accreditation standards or belong to an approved suppliers list such as the Government Digital Marketplace aimed at government and public sector bodies. This can provide assurances that they will consistently meet a minimum quality standard.
Subsequently, this will influence their choice of survey provider, based on their ability to support this. In addition, some survey providers will be better able to support larger organisations through enterprise survey tools, influencing the mix of performance, functionality, features and support they can offer.
Finally, there are a wide range of industry review sites that can highlight how different survey tools and providers compare to one another, which can be helpful if you are new to the world of online surveys.
Typically, these sites also hand out awards to the best performing platforms and providers. A good example of this is provided by the recent awards we won for the quality of our survey tools with SaaSworthy.com and the G2 Crowd.