Survey vs Questionnaire: What's the Difference?

August 2, 2021
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Not sure what the difference between a survey and a questionnaire is? No worries, we’ve got this topic covered. After reading this guide, you’ll understand the nuanced differences between a survey and a questionnaire.

It’s important for marketers, researchers, and customer experience specialists to correctly identify the difference between surveys and questionnaires. They also need to understand when to use surveys and questionnaires.

Surveys and questionnaires serve an important role in understanding a customers’ journey and creating a unified customer experience (CX). When businesses send questionnaires and surveys to their clients, they’re gathering key data and information, which will improve their customer experience.

Main Difference Between Surveys And Questionnaires

Surveys and Questionnaire Differences

In general, the main difference between a questionnaire and a survey is that a questionnaire is a list of questions respondents answer. A survey typically contains a list of questions but involves the collection and analysis of the responses.

Think of how a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not always a square. A survey always has a questionnaire, but a questionnaire is never a survey, only one aspect of a survey.

Questionnaire Defined

A questionnaire is simply a set of questions. These lists of questions typically aim to gather information about an individual, group of individuals, or a corporation.

A questionnaire’s main purpose is to gather information or data from a target audience. Questionnaires can collect both quantitative and qualitative data depending on the question types.

Types Of Questionnaires

Remember, questionnaires are lists of questions and they are typically only one portion of a survey. For surveys and questionnaires to be fruitful, they need to answer a specific question or set of questions. Below are several questionnaires for different survey goals.

Quantitative Questionnaires

Quantitative questionnaires usually ask closed-ended questions with yes/no or numbered responses. For example, quantitative questions would employ the Likert scale, e.g., “On a scale of 1–10, how likely are you to recommend Company X to a friend or colleague?”

Qualitative Questionnaires

Qualitative questionnaires will often have open-ended questions and written responses. This type of information needs to be analyzed further to correctly interpret the data. The analyzing process is what turns a questionnaire into a survey.

Demographic Questionnaires

Demographic questionnaires normally consist of closed-ended questions only. They’re employed to gather demographic information such as age, sex, religion, ethnicity, etc.

For example, businesses can use inclusive demographic surveys and questionnaires to gauge their own employees and teams before committing to diversity and inclusivity initiatives. Demographic questionnaires and surveys can also be used as a way to better define their target audience.

Psychographic Questionnaires

Psychographic questionnaires gather “soft” or subjective data about a people’s values, personality, and attitudes. Psychographic questionnaires are important for marketers and businesses because they help create a customer profile by digging deeper into sub-sectors of your target audience.

Asking closed-ended questions like, “How many hours a day do you spend on your mobile device?” or open-ended questions such as, “How do you feel about your internet provider sharing your personal data?” assists companies to understand how their customers think and operate.

Scaled Questionnaires

Scaled questionnaires offer closed-ended questions that have a predefined list of options relating to a respondent’s feelings toward a topic. It’s one of the more common question types for quantitative research since respondents can answer quickly and it gives straightforward data to analyze.

NPS, CES, and CSAT usually all contain scaled questions to help quantify the data. For example, “On a scale of 0 (disappointed) to 7 (very satisfied), how satisfied were you with the product demo?”

Pictorial Questionnaires

Pictorial questionnaires substitute text for images and are often used for branding or advertising purposes. For instance, a company that is rebranding itself might survey an audience asking which logo they like most and why. Pictorial questions can also give respondents a nice break from reading text on longer surveys.

Survey Defined

A survey is broader and more detailed in scope than a questionnaire. Surveys contain a set of questions (a questionnaire) but also involve the quantitative process of gathering, measuring, and analyzing the collected responses.

Companies should use surveys to discover more information about a certain group of people. For instance, a business should survey its clients at specific touchpoints. In doing so, companies can better understand and address any recurring issues or pain points.

Surveys also give businesses insight into customer satisfaction, which helps them to define their customer journey map. More on this topic later.

Types Of Surveys

There are several different surveys that businesses can use to gain insight into customer feedback, loyalty, and trust. We’ll discuss a few of the most important survey types that businesses should employ.

NPS Surveys

Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys measure the likelihood of a client advocating on the behalf of a company. According to Frederick Reichheld’s original article on NPS, there is a direct correlation between the likelihood of customers promoting a business and their overall loyalty to the company and brand.

There are two types of NPS surveys, transactional NPS (tNPS) and relational NPS (rNPS) surveys.

  • Transactional NPS surveys supply granular feedback and are sent directly after a customer interacts with a business.
  • Relational NPS surveys on the other hand give a broad overview of customer loyalty and should be sent on a specific schedule — either annually, bi-annually, or quarterly.

Generally, NPS surveys ask one question on a Likert scale of 1–10: “How likely are you to recommend (company name) to a friend or colleague?” For more qualitative data, companies should add an open-ended question in addition to the Likert scale question, such as “What was the top influencer for giving that rating?”

Read our guide on What is a Good Net Promoter Score to understand how the NPS scoring system works and use our NPS calculator to quickly measure NPS.

CSAT Surveys

Customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys are another essential voice of the customer (VoC) tool that businesses should utilize often. CSAT surveys measure how pleased and satisfied customers are with a company’s offerings, service, or product. The higher the satisfaction the more likely a business will retain customer trust and loyalty.

Similar to tNPS surveys, CSAT surveys help businesses identify bottlenecks or areas that need improving. By inquiring about CX issues via surveys, companies can better serve and satisfy their customers.

CES Surveys

Another common and useful customer experience survey is customer effort score (CES) surveys. CES surveys measure the amount of effort or difficulty a customer experiences when interacting with a business. In general, the greater the difficulty, the less satisfied customers are with the brand.

To understand on a mass scale if customers’ interaction with a business is problematic or not, businesses can ask closed-ended CES questions such as, “On a scale of 1–5 how difficult was it to resolve your issue? 1 being very easy and 5 being very difficult.”

If the interaction receives high effort ratings, companies should implement open-ended questions to get more detailed feedback on ways they can reduce customer effort.

When To Use A Survey Or Questionnaire

Best Time to Send a Survey or Questionnaire

Businesses can use questionnaires to collect a plethora of demographic data and information on current and potential clients. Questionnaires are especially beneficial to startups or small businesses who need to define their target audience and market.

In general, businesses should send questionnaires early on during their marketing strategies to generate email lists with valuable customer information and to help define their target audience via demographic questions.

More often than not, questionnaires are used as part of a survey since results need to be reviewed and investigated. A company that collects key data on its clientele via a questionnaire isn’t reaping the rewards unless that data is analyzed and turned into a surey report so that actionable steps can be taken.

By analyzing the results from the questionnaire, companies are obtaining constructive customer feedback, which highlights both customer satisfaction shortcomings or positive features depending on the survey and questions.

General Writing Tips For Questionnaire And Survey Questions

Writing questionnaires and conducting surveys can be quite time-consuming and costly for businesses. To maximize return on investment and minimize uncompromised results, companies must thoroughly review the way their survey questions are written.

Below are five tips for avoiding poorly written survey questions:

Survey and Questionnaire Writing Tips

1. Avoid Leading Questions

Be wary of using adjectives that might sway responses. For example, “How much did our modern and colorful rebranded logo influence your purchasing decision?” The positive adjectives “modern” and colorful” will likely influence respondents’ answers.

2. Write Clearly and Concisely

Grammar should be perfect and the question easily understandable. Clunky grammar or unclear jargon can irritate survey respondents, influence responses, and increase drop-off rates.

3. Be Direct

To be as direct as possible, attempt to write questions in as few words as possible. The more direct survey questions are, the more digestible they are. Respondents should be able to easily understand what’s being asked. This rule also applies to survey email subject lines.

4. Limit Open-Ended Questions

Too many open-ended questions can result in higher dropout rates and compromised data. If a survey has one to nine closed-ended questions, then one or two open-ended questions are OK. Any survey with 10 or more closed-ended questions should have either one or no open-ended questions.

5. Ask “How” Questions

Along with asking “yes/no” questions, ask “how” questions with a scale to get more detailed data and quantitative information. For instance, asking “Was your interaction with our customer service representative helpful? (yes/no)” isn’t as informative as asking, “How helpful was our customer service representative? (0–10)”

In summary, questionnaires are a list of questions to collect information and data on an individual or group of people. Surveys normally contain a questionnaire but include creating a methodology to run and analyze the survey and its results.

Both surveys and questionnaires give key insight into the customer experience and allow businesses to adjust their CX strategy to better acquire, satisfy, and retain customers. For more information on how to analyze surveys, read our guide on survey data analysis and data collection.

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