5 Types of Surveys and How to Use Them to Understand Customers

Online surveys are one of the most useful tools for developing your business and marketing strategy. In this article, we will show you different types of surveys you can use in your market research. 

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So far, we’ve written about the benefits of online surveys and the specifics of qualitative and quantitative research, as well as the things you need to know if you collect data using surveys and quizzes. Now, let’s get into specific types of surveys.

The first categorization of surveys is based on when or how often they are conducted. The second categorization is based on a method of delivery of a survey to respondents.

Time

Based on time and frequency of survey administration, surveys can be cross-sectional, longitudinal and retrospective. You will probably be in the situation to use each of those according to your needs, although the most valuable information can be gathered using longitudinal surveys.

1. Cross-sectional survey

Cross-sectional surveys are conducted at one specific point in time. These will give you an insight into the way your customers think and behave at the particular point in time.

For example, you will administer a cross-sectional survey if you want to learn more about your customers’ behavior during the holiday season. You can ask your customers how they prepared for Christmas, how much money they spent on gifts, decorations, and food and where they shopped most often.

If you want something more specific, we created a little mock survey for a coffee shop business. Here you can see an example of a general question about the customers’ holiday season habits. 

types of survey

Here you can see a typical example of a question in a cross-sectional survey. You’re selling Christmas-themed products during holiday season and you’d like to hear what your customers think about them.

types of survey

Cross-sectional surveys are incredibly useful if you want to capture the current people’s mood, but its instant nature has its limitations. Cross-sectional surveys cannot be generalized – people’s opinions and behavior patterns are likely to change in a very short time.

For example, you cannot apply the findings from your holiday survey to the customer’s behavior in June – they are likely to buy more frappes than hot beverages.

Similarly, a product that was all the rage two years ago may be forgotten at this point. How many people played PokemonGo when it came out, and how many of them are playing it now?

One of the ways to overcome this limitation is to conduct a longitudinal survey.

2. Longitudinal surveys

Longitudinal surveys are conducted over an extended period of time. Based on the survey’s goal, we can categorize longitudinal surveys into three groups – trend, panel, and cohort surveys.

Based on the survey’s goal, we can categorize longitudinal surveys into three groups – trend, panel, and cohort surveys.

  • Trend survey

The goal of trend surveys is to discover the way people’s opinions and behavior change over time. To learn how your customer’s attitudes change over time, you will regularly administer the same group of questions to a random representative sample of people.

Proper sampling is one of the prerequisites of reliable survey findings, and we’ve written about it here. The frequency of your trend survey may vary, depending on whether you want to see how things change on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis.

For example, you can conduct a survey with this question regularly, and track your customers’ spending patterns throughout the year.

types of survey

Trend surveys can help you follow the way people react to your product, but they can also help you observe how changes in your industry or broader society affect your position in the market. 

You can easily use most of the cross-sectional survey questions in a longitudinal survey – for example, they may help you discover that the popularity of certain beverage is increasing or that people are ready to spend more money this year. 

  • Panel survey

While trend surveys are conducted with a random representative sample of respondents, panel surveys are administered to the same group of people each time.

Conducting these surveys used to be incredibly complicated and expensive, requiring plenty of time and resources to contact and poll the same group of people for an extended period of time. Some social studies research projects span over several decades!

With online surveys, some of the barriers of interviewing, phone calls and paper-based surveys were removed. With the online survey, it is much easier to track and reach the group of respondents, regardless of their location, time-zone, and schedule.

With difficulty of this type of survey, however, comes a great reward – the results you get are solid, reliable, and valuable. Imagine the insights you could get from studying the same group of customers throughout the years. 

  • Cohort survey

Cohort surveys are administered to a different group of people each time, but these people are a representative sample of a specific category – teenagers, mothers, pop music fans, etc. For example, if you own a local coffee shop, your surveys will target local residents.

3. Retrospective surveys 

Retrospective surveys also explore changes in opinions and behavior over an extended period of time, but they are conducted like a cross-sectional survey – at a certain point in time. The questions in this type of survey refer to respondents’ current and past experiences, attitudes, and habits.

While they are easier to administer, the greatest shortcoming of retrospective surveys is that the answers may not be quite reliable. While people are likely to remember big events in their life, asking them about the small habits that constitute consumer behavior is probably pointless.

For example, you’ll probably be able to remember when you bought a new car and some of the larger accompanying expenses – but could you remember how often, when and where you eat at the restaurant?

One of the tricks to nudge people’s memories is to stick to shorter time frames and offer respondents close-ended questions like this one.

types of survey

Administration

Based on the way they are administered, surveys can be categorized into self-administered questionnaires and interviews.

1. Self-administered questionnaires

A respondent is given a set of written questions on paper, or online. We’ve written about the benefits of online surveys – they are cheaper, they can reach more people, and they are simple to make and tweak based on respondents’ reactions.

The old paper-based surveys took a lot of time to make, distribute and once they were sent out, you couldn’t change their content in case some questions were confusing for respondents. Also, responding to mailed surveys took some time and effort to fill them out and mail them back.

With online platforms like this one, you can easily make an unlimited number of surveys with multimedia content.

The pre-designed templates and the intuitive drag&drop menu will help you create visually appealing, “clickable” questionnaires that will capture the attention of potential respondents. This is how our coffee shop survey looks in the content builder.

types of survey

The questions can be edited at any point, and one click on the selected survey on your dashboard will deliver the results to your inbox.

types of survey

With the right placement and good incentives, your online surveys are guaranteed to reach a lot of people, get a good response rate and thus lead to a reliable result – all for a fraction of expenses a paper-based survey would incur.

For example, if you are going to advertise your coffee shop survey, you can target local residents, coffee lovers or people who checked themselves in at your shop. If you are surveying your customers or potential customers, you can offer respondents discounts or coupons for your products.

types of survey

2. Interviews

Asking a group of people the same list of questions one-on-one could be classified as an interview. In spite of all the perks that online surveys offer, direct surveys are sometimes the best way to get to the bottom of the things.

While interviews are time consuming and may end up to be costly, they are the best way for gathering qualitative data about your customers – to read more about the differences between quantitative and qualitative surveys, click here.

For example, you can conduct this type of surveys while people are visiting your shop and offer them coupons or small gifts in exchange for a short conversation.

Apart from direct interviews, there are also telephone surveys, which became somewhat notorious due to unsolicited marketers’ calls and their pushy behavior.

Getting customers to ‘latch’ onto conversation is a challenge. Phone surveys also carry a risk of tarnishing your reputation if the customers start associating interruptive calls with your product.

Conclusion

Getting to know the people who buy or might buy from you is a prerequisite to any good marketing strategy or big business decision.

With this information and LeadQuizzes content builder, you can easily make dozens of quizzes and surveys you can use to catch the eye of your potential customers and learn more about them. You can store questionnaires and re-use or edit them when you need to do another round of research.

If you want to make your research process even faster and more efficient, click here to find out how to build your email list – using the same tool that helped you create a survey!

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