Three Reasons Smiley Face Surveys Don’t Always Work

reasons smiley face surveys don't always work

I’m sure you’ve seen a smiley face survey, but do they always work? 

Smiley faces in surveys can work brilliantly and are clever for many reasons, not least because:

  • they are effectively multi-lingual
  • remove the need for text to be read
  • enable many different abilities to respond
  • are quick and simple for gaining great response rates
  • …and are suitable for all age groups

Great, so we should all use smiley faces for feedback right? Well maybe, but it’s not quite that simple…so let’s take a look:


ViewPoint Smiley Devices: a simple 1, 2 or 3 question survey device to understand ‘the pulse’ & the reasons why. 


Let’s start with 3 examples of when smiley faces DON’T work in customer experience feedback and then we will look at where smiley face feedback DOES work:

1. When it’s the only question asked and it’s the wrong question.
Using an example I’ve seen in some airports: I might be ‘happy’ with my travel experience overall, but ‘unhappy’ with the food, or something else. Another example would be where I’m ‘happy’ with the store brand (ASDA, Waitrose, Tesco etc) but unhappy that day because there was none of my favourite bread. Therefore, what is this actually telling you about the rating given?

2. When it’s the only question asked but you’re interested in deeper knowledge.
Customer experience is rarely wrapped up in a single question. Can you follow up your question with one, two or three more questions, that can enable you to actually do something with the intelligence gleaned?

3. When a significant proportion of the feedback is from kids or people messing around.
Kids love smiley faces – so how can you be sure your results aren’t just from kids hitting smiley buttons for fun?

Now let’s have a look at how best to use them…

Where Smiley Faces are Great

To capture a response quickly and easily from a customer or non-buyer at their point of experience, offering a range of smiley face options is great. We use smiley faces a lot in our surveys, especially in the new and growing use of touch screen surveys.

Recent surveys have shown that people love to give their feedback when it’s quick and immediate, with response rates increasing by over 1000% over traditional online survey rates! This is great news, as once a smiley face is selected, offering a small number of routed questions gains further insight from the majority. Then finally asking for an open ended comment gains informative ‘voice of the customer’ feedback – what’s really on your customer’s mind.

Sifting out the legitimate responses from those left by kids hitting random buttons is essential – and this is where our ViewPoint survey software comes in, by assessing every response to ensure that data is genuine.

A Survey Example

Qu 1: “Please tell us how you feel about [our brand] today”… (Choice of 5 smiley faces)

If a happy face is selected…

Qu 2: “That’s great. Please tell us where we’ve done well” … (Choice of different areas such as staff service, product selection, queuing times etc)

If a sad face is selected…

Qu 2: “We’re sorry to hear that. Please tell us where we need to improve” … (Choice of different areas again)

And then a final question…

Qu 3: Is there anything you would like to tell us today? … Text response.

The Point of Truth

Interestingly, despite having hit a ‘happy’ smiley face on the first screen, a recent survey has shown that over 8% of respondents then gave constructive or negative feedback on a subsequent screen, for a particular aspect of the service they experienced. We call that the ‘point of truth’ – it’s where a customer or non-buyer is happy with an overall brand or experience, but if there’s opportunity they still share something of their experience that you really need to hear about.

Therefore, in just 3 or 4 questions (more if you wish) you can gain insightful, actionable, real time feedback that can be acted on quickly to improve service or fix other aspects of your operation, such as stock levels, staffing levels, queuing systems or marketing programmes.

Smiley face surveys can be of real benefit, but maybe not always when used as a single question. How are you engaging with your customers, non-buyers and visitors? Can we help?

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