Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 2: Open-Ended Questions Yield More Useful Feedback

Your client satisfaction survey is comprised of closed-ended questions with a limited number of response options. Respondents are asked to rate various performance factors on a 1-5 numerical scale. Your most important client rated you a “4” in overall satisfaction. In fact, all of the responses were 3s or 4s. They’re not unhappy, but they’re not thrilled. Not ready to leave, but not necessarily willing to give you additional matters or provide recommendation and referrals.

What actionable information has that survey given you? As discussed in the previous post, the law firm client satisfaction survey should be a research and marketing exercise, not a popularity poll. In a relationship-driven profession, the most effective survey instrument for collecting meaningful, actionable information is a survey form or script that relies primarily on open-ended questions.

Metagora makes the case succinctly:

  • Open-ended questions allow respondents to include more information, including feelings, attitudes and understanding of the subject. This allows researchers to better access the respondents’ true feelings on an issue. Closed-ended questions, because of the simplicity and limit of the answers, may not offer the respondents choices that actually reflect their real feelings. Closed-ended questions also do not allow the respondents to explain that they do not understand the question or do not have an opinion on the issue.
  • Open-ended questions cut down on two types of response error: respondents are not likely to forget the answers they have to choose from if they are given the chance to respond freely; and open-ended questions simply do not allow respondentsto disregard reading the questions and just “fill in” the survey with all the same answers (such as filling in the “no” box on every question).
  • Research has shown that open-ended questions are better for eliciting sensitive information than closed-ended questions.

Granted, the narratives generated by open-ended surveys require more work (read: time and expense) to compile and clearly present, but the depth and breadth of insight you gain will more than compensate. Most importantly, your clients will notice — and think of you more positively.