A big part of market research is asking customers direct questions. Surveys and questionnaires are an excellent tool for finding out what your customers want and need and getting their feedback on your product. Unfortunately, most companies ask their customers the wrong type of question, so they miss out on lots of critical information.

In general, questions can be divided into three types:

  • Closed-ended questions – These are questions in which the answers are limited. The most common closed-ended questions are multiple choice. If you ask your customers whether they prefer silk, chiffon or cotton fabrics you will not find out that some of them actually love linen.
  • Directed questions – In this type of question, the answer is hidden inside the question itself. Phrases like “Do you agree that…” or “How difficult did you find…” let the reader know that you expect him to agree or to focus on the difficulties. When you ask these types of questions, the results will necessarily be skewed toward the answer the customer was prompted to give.
  • Open-ended questions – Open-ended questions are the least popular type of question in market research, probably as a result of a fear that customers will balk at taking the extra time to answer them. However, these are the questions that lead to a real understanding of the customer mindset.

Open-ended questions will not fit into statistical data, but they do provide insight into opinions and behaviors that are entirely new to your company. These questions support innovation initiatives since they provide multiple perspectives. Your development team may assume that they are serving a customer with three specific pain points, but an open-ended question might reveal a few more pain points the team did not even consider. You may be deliberating between a number of features for your next upgrade, while customers answering open-ended questions tell you that they are interested in a different feature altogether.

Asking open-ended questions which allow customers to tell you what they really think about your product, your brand or the entire industry is an opportunity which should not be overlooked.

Patrick Sirois
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At Triode, we specialize in developing new products and services for complex industries like medical devices and transportation. We work with you closely to help define product strategy, with an emphasis on reducing the risks associated with innovating in these sophisticated and often regulated consumer-oriented environments.