Open-Ended Questions: What They Are and How to Use Them

In customer research these days, you have many different methods from which to garner information. To this day, one of the best methods of getting that information is through surveys. A survey itself can tell you which way a customer leans on certain topics, but what you really need is for them to think; in comes the open-ended question.

An open-ended question is used to make the customer think before they respond, and it will normally get you much more valuable information. The voice of the customer is more important than ever now, so you must do the proper research.

Open-ended questions cannot just be thrown in anywhere, they have to be used in the right places for maximum effect. You must strategize properly to get the information you are really looking for. Today, you are going to learn exactly what open-ended questions are, how to effectively use them, and also be able to view numerous examples. Keep reading, and all of your own open-ended questions should also be answered.

What is an Open-Ended Question?

Not every question is going to require a lot of thought; some of them are answered purely on instinct. Simple yes or no questions are not what you are going to be looking for here, to be open-ended, they will need to incite a more detailed response. An open-ended question is used to further investigate a particular subject and get people talking about it, and this can give consumer research a tremendous quality boost.

Open-Ended Versus Close-Ended Questions: What is the Difference?

To get a handle on the difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions, you can let yourself go back to when you were in school. A very easy example would be the difference between a set of true and false questions and a written essay.

The true and false questions are not going illicit much of a lengthy response from the brain, it will be a very quick answer, normally. The essay, on the other hand, will make you think and even strategize your response before you give it.

A closed-ended question would be: ‘Is the sky blue?’

An open-ended question would be: ‘Why is the sky blue?’

Both these types of questions have merit for consumer research when they are properly utilized. Close-ended questions, such as the true or false example above, are far superior at getting quick responses about basic parts of your business, and you need that kind of research.

Open-ended questions are where you are going to be getting your most detailed information that can affect more than in the long-term. If you want deep insight into your own business, you will want to use open-ended questions for your surveys when appropriate.

Advantages of Using Open-Ended Questions

The research takes more time and effort on both parties, but the advantages are going to outweigh the disadvantages by a long shot. The main advantages of using open-ended questions are:

●       They make people think more

●       Consumers can speak their minds

●       They allow you to spot weak points

●       More detailed information

They Make People Think More

The brain is a very amazing piece of biology, and we still don’t entirely understand how it works. We do understand that the brain needs a bit of prodding sometimes to really get activated and have the person thinking. Open-ended questions promote thought and therefore, will get you a better response in general.

Consumers Can Speak Their Minds

Consumers may feel voiceless a lot of the time when it comes to brands and companies, and this is the perfect chance to let them be heard. Give them open-ended survey questions, and the ones who have something to say will finally get a chance. This is a great way to let consumers vent their concerns and praises without feeling any pressure on the other end.

They Allow You to Spot Weak Points

Spotting concerns that may have gone over your head is important to figure out problems that customers will see, and not the management or employees. The consumer is going to be more picky about things as they are spending their hard-earned money and want to get what they paid for. Look for common themes that seem to be talked about negatively, and it can really get your business on track.

More Detailed Information

When it comes to consumer research, it is important to get quality information. You can ask 100 customers a bunch of yes or no questions and gather very little from it. Yet as just 10 of those same people a few open-ended questions and you will quickly see the difference. When your research calls for details, open-ended questions are the way to go.

When to Use Open-Ended Questions

There are many different methods to gather consumer research, and they all have their merits. Open-ended questions are best used sparingly and strategically. Use open-ended questions when you need to:

●       Have a more detailed response

●       Have a creative response

●       Have vastly different answers

●       Ask complicated questions

When Not to Use Open-Ended Questions

While open-ended questions are great at providing detailed responses, promoting creativity, and letting consumers speak their minds, they are not always applicable in consumer research. Sometimes all you want are quick, short responses to a large number of questions. You will not want to use open-ended questions when you need to:

●       Have vast amounts of data

●       Gather and study research quickly

●       Ask very basic questions

●       Elicit an immediate response

As you can see there are many reasons to use, and not to use, open-ended questions, and it all depends on the type of information you are looking for. Keep this in mind before developing your next consumer research strategy.  The right questions will give you the right answers.

How to Properly Ask Open-Ended Questions

You need to think about these open-ended questions before you start posing them to consumers. Questions need to be worded properly and asked the right way to get the type of response you require. One word can make a very big difference in how a question is interpreted, so it is important to focus on all of this for the sake of the research.

Do Not Try to Lead Survey Takers in Any Particular Direction

You need to leave your open-ended questions, well, as open-ended as you can. Try not to word anything in such a way that it would shed a positive or negative light on the main subject, as you are looking for completely impartial answers to your questions.

The research would be null and void if your consumers feel lead towards a particular response. Focus on keeping your questions as unbiased as you can, and the results will not be tainted.

Make sure that you consult a third party before launching a survey. There are now many online tools and services like Grammarly, and Hemingway that can help you calibrate your language properly. In effect, you’ll be able to run a survey that doesn’t skew the public’s opinion in a specific direction. You can also consider doing it yourself.

Follow Up Closed-Ended Questions With Open-Ended Ones

This is a strategy that has been used in consumer research for a very long time. The principal is to start with basic questions that are going to elicit an immediate response from the survey taker. At this point, they are thinking more and focused on the subject of the question.

You then go at them with an open-ended question, and they will be more than ready to write a well-thought response to it. You are basically getting the survey taker’s motor running to prepare them for a more detailed response.

Always Keep The Difference Between Question Types in Mind

If you miss the mark and use the questions improperly, all of your hard work will have been for nothing. Keep this mindset during the entire research process, and you should be safe from any question-type related mistakes. Know the types of questions to use and when to use them.

Bring Out Feelings and Emotions Instead of Facts

Human nature will tell you that sometimes the facts just don’t matter to people. Feelings and emotions can very easily take over a person, and this is when you will get the most honest response you could ask for.

“Whether someone is angry, happy, sad, or what have you, they are more apt to speak from the heart, and therefore give you a truthful answer. Construct your open-ended questions to make people not only think, but feel as well.” — Dana Watts, a human resources specialist at Pick The Writer.

Know When to Use ‘What’ and ‘Why’

Coming back to something that was mentioned earlier, one word can make all the difference when asking an open-ended question. The word ‘what’ tends to be seen on more neutral terms than the word ‘why.’ For example, you want to ask a very simple open-ended question like ‘What did you do?’. That seems fair enough and shouldn’t be perceived as negative at all.

If you slightly change it to ‘Why did you do it?’, everything changes. This will put the survey taker in a defensive position as they feel like they need to explain their own actions. You must be aware of these huge differences to make sure you keep your survey takers at ease and not feeling defensive.

15 Open-Ended Question Examples You Can Use Today

1. How do you feel?

By asking someone how they feel, you make them use both their brain and emotions to get a detailed response without bias.

2. What do you like to do for fun?

Another simple question that is going to get people thinking with both brain and heart. They will most likely rely heavily on emotional response, as fun is really a feeling.

3. What brought you to our company?

You can get a very good idea of what promotional tools are working with this question. The data can help you focus on marketing efforts in the right areas.

4. What do you think of ‘Product X’?

You can also get very specific without showing any bias whatsoever. This question will help you learn the pros and cons of a particular product, as seen by consumers.5. What are we doing right?

Again, there is no bias here. You are simply asking the consumer to say exactly what they think is good about your company.

6. What are we doing wrong?

The opposite question here will give you some really well thought out responses. People have a tendency to talk more about what they dislike, so listen carefully.

7. What do you like about our website?

Similar thinking to the above, but it will garner some very good insight into what your website is doing properly.

8. What do you dislike about our website?

As you always want to be improving your services, get consumers to tell you exactly what is wrong with your online portal. This will let you focus on the areas that really need the work.

9. How do you prefer to shop?

With so many different ways to make a purchase these days, it is a good idea to gauge your target audience. Figure out the most popular purchase methods and try to implement them for the future.

10. What makes you like a company?

A very unbiased, open-ended question that is going to give you a general idea of what consumers in your niche are looking for in a company.

11. What makes you dislike a company?

Again, the opposite question is going to give you valuable information on what you don’t want to do to consumers. This particular question can help hugely when developing a new brand identity.

12. What do you like about online shopping?

A lot of people shop online these days, but not all. Get an idea of why they prefer to shop online. It will help in balancing your sales streams.

13. What do you like about retail shopping?

Another open-ended question that will get you information on why people like to shop in certain ways. Retail will always be around, and you need to consider the pros and cons.

14. What can we do to make your experience better?

Garner as much response as you can from this question, as people will be brutally honest with their answers. Take all of this to heart, as these are your customers to keep or to lose.

15. What could we do to help you decide on a purchase today?

This one can lay it all out on the line, ask them exactly what you need to do to have them purchase your product or service. You should get some very serious answers that will help you revamp your sales funnel and marketing strategy to better suit your consumers.

Open-Ended Questions Are Very Useful

From what we have spoken on today, it is obvious that there are many different ways to get consumer research for your company. Surveys are, of course, only one particular method, but very useful and inexpensive. If you make sure to know the differences between open and closed-ended questions, and how to properly insert them into a survey, you will be on track to getting the best possible information from your customers. Take your time to mold the right questions into your survey and it will pay off in the long term with great research.


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