What’s the best scale to use on a customer service survey?


Some things are known for the strongly divided opinions they generate – Marmite, men in pink shirts James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ and Kanye West, for example.

One thing that most people wouldn’t put on that list? Rating scales on customer surveys. But it turns out that People have some pretty strong feelings about this.

But the truth?

It doesn’t matter (much) what scale you use. (We’ll come back to that ‘much’ in just a moment…)

Cue the sound of a thousand pitchforks being sharpened. Or at least some strongly-worded emails written.

Hear us out though. We’re not saying that “it never matters, ever, on any survey, what scale you use”. Because sometimes it’s vitally important. Just that it doesn’t matter for customer satisfaction forms. There are more important things to worry about.

Here’s why:

The choice of scale does not affect how you act on the feedback given

Improving customer satisfaction is different from market research.

In market research, sometimes the scale does matter. In order for the conclusions drawn from research to be safe, the questions have to be structured carefully to avoid biasing the responses.

But if, right now, one of your customers is angry at you, then no amount of marketing or statistics is going to make them recommend you, or re-order from you.

It doesn’t matter if they’re "Dissatisfied", "Somewhat dissatisfied", two-out-of-five stars, or a 3/10 on the NPS scale. If you want them to come back next time, if you want to be able to upsell to them, and if you want to grow your business through their referrals – you need to fix the problem.

So don’t make the rookie mistake of thinking of customer feedback as a form of market research. Market research has it’s place in your business, but this isn’t it.

When you’re acting on the results of a market research project, you need confidence that your sample size was correct and the questions weren’t biased, so you’re confident in the decisions you make from the research.

When you’re collecting customer feedback, you need to know if the customer’s happy, and if they’re not, you need to make them happy. Don’t worry about the scale.

The customer doesn't care what scale you use.

This may seem like the same as point 1 – but it’s not quite.

If you’re signed up to following the golden rule, you know that for customer feedback to grow your bottom line, you need to put your customers first.

So, putting yourself in your customers’ shoes, what do they want in a satisfaction scale?

They want one they can answer quickly and get on with their lives. Beyond that, they don’t care, so you don’t need to either.

Customer satisfaction scores don’t matter anyway


Sort of, yes. But only in the sense we’ve just been discussing. It matters if an individual has given you 2/10, or ‘0 stars’ – because they’ve identified a problem with your service that you need to fix.

But as soon as you start doing any sort of analysis and aggregation of these scores, it stops mattering.

It really changes nothing whether you tell people you have an NPS of +40, that 70% of your customers are satisfied, or that you have a 5-star rating, it’s what you’re doing about those scores that counts.

If your NPS is +40 but last quarter it was +60, you may have problems. But if it’s shot up from -20, you’re doing amazingly well.

But if you’re just looking at the numbers, rather than constantly working to improve the numbers, you’ll find it hard to move your business forward. So… just pick any number and stick to it.

And if you’re picking a scale specifically becuase your competitors use it? Well, benchmarking’s a bad idea too.

Still not convinced?

Stop to think about the reasons why you’re measuring feedback.

If you’re measuring for any of the following reasons, which lead to hard business benefits, then how would changing the scale change how you act to achieve those benefits?

  1. To take immediate action to improve a customer's satisfaction.
  2. To make sure a customer is not going to leave you.
  3. To make sure there are no reasons preventing your customer buying additional services or recommending you to others.
  4. To learn what's important to customers.
  5. To find and fix problems in your business processes.
  6. To make sure everyone on your team's delivering to the standard your customers expect.
  7. To discover opportunities for sales, cost reductions or improvements in customer experience.
  8. To motivate everyone by confirming that you're on track.

In all those cases, measuring satisfaction is a means to an end. Not an objective in itself. And that's why we say the score doesn't matter. You just need to know whether it's at the zero end or the 10 end.

But which scale should I use?

Ok, we admit. Some scales are better than others. At CustomerSure, we use the 0-10 scale because:

  • it's easy to understand;
  • it's quite common so people are familiar with it;
  • it's compatible with Net Promoter Score®.
  • it's easy to convert to five-star ratings, if that’s what you want to do

But really, anything that’s commonly used, and easy to understand is fine.

And which scale should I absolutely never use?

We’re glad you asked.

Binary satisfaction scale

The old ‘binary’ scale. Either "Satisfied/Unsatisfied", or "Smiley face/sad face". There’s two problems with doing this:

First, it forces you to an extreme, even if your feelings are not extreme. That’s annoying. The best case scenario is that customers filling this in will accept one of the two answers given, and resent you a bit for it. The worse case scenario is that people abandon your form and you miss out on valuable feedback.

Any final tips?

Absolutely. Once you’ve picked a scale, stick to it. Don’t tax your customers’ brains by making them figure out different scales for different questions. People’s patience when they’re filling in forms is close to that of a two-year-old full of fizzy drinks. Just like with ‘binary’ scales, the best case scenario is that they’ll be grumpy, the worst case scenario is that you’ll miss out on their feedback altogether.

And finally, remember that not every question on a feedback form should have a scale. Always provide at least one question which allows open comments. We’ve got a whole guide on feedback form design, but if you’re in a hurry, the key takeway is that without providing a text question, you’ve got no way of knowing why the customer gave you their scores, and so no way of fixing any problems you find.

Do you have questions?
Or would you like to see CustomerSure in action?

Call us now, or email support@customersure.com to arrange a 20-minute online demo.