In conversation, it’s easy to get excited and bombard people with double-barrelled questions. “Did you have a good night and get home safely?”, “How are you and the kids?”, etc. While this can be a little overwhelming, it is still perfectly acceptable during a casual chat. When it comes to feedback, however, these kinds of questions can skew your results. In this article, we take a look at double-barrelled questions, examining what they are and why you should avoid them in your surveys.

What are double-barrelled questions?

The term ‘double-barrelled’ originates from guns that have two barrels. In more common usage, it means that something is double-loaded, or has two purposes or parts. When it comes to questions, this means that a question is attempting to obtain not one bit of information, but two. Your question, in this sense, has a two-fold purpose. Let’s have a look at what a double-barrelled question might look like in your business surveys:

(1) Were you satisfied with the quality of the product and the delivery time?

(2) Did customer service resolve your issue competently and quickly?

In the examples in our introduction, the questions were two separate questions connected by the conjunction “and”: (a) How was your night? AND (b) Did you get home safely? The tricky bit in survey questions is that you might feel like you’re only asking about one thing – for instance, levels of satisfaction in question 1 above and the quality of customer service in question 2. However, even conjoining two adjectives with an “and” can turn your question into a double-barrelled one. Let’s have a look at what that does to your survey results.

Why you should avoid double-barrelled questions

Example (1)

(1) Were you satisfied with the quality of the product and the delivery time?

Let’s start with the first question. You’re inquiring about the satisfaction level with a product that your customer has just received. However, by asking about the satisfaction with both the quality and the delivery time, you are conflating two separate issues into one question.

If you only give your customer the option to choose between ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or even to let them choose on a scale of 1-5, your question is difficult to answer with complete accuracy. The customer might be satisfied with the quality of the product, but the delivery time took longer than anticipated. Or it arrived very promptly but was not quite the quality that the customer expected.

You might collect a lot of vague data that will not help you improve, because you cannot tease out actual feedback from the responses. Were you to ask the two questions separately, you would get a much clearer picture on whether it is the quality of the product or the delivery time that needs improvement.

Example (2)

(2) Did customer service resolve your issue competently and quickly?

Similar to the first example, the second instance of a double-barrelled question also conflates two attributes. Your goal is to collect feedback about a customer’s interaction with customer service. Yet you are asking about two separate issues (competence and timeliness) in one question. The respondents find themselves in the same dilemma. While customer service resolved the issue competently, it took them a while to get there. Or they resolved it quickly, but perhaps not as competently so that the issue occurred again or wasn’t completely resolved.

These are two very different issues and can provide you with valuable information. For instance, a lot of customers are understanding when issues occur as long as they’re fixed efficiently by customer service. Efficiency here might mean that customers are more forgiving if it takes a little while, but is fixed properly and without any back and forth or any hiccups. These processes are what you need to pay attention to, so dividing your questions into separate units will give you a clearer picture of where improvements are needed.

double-barrelled questions

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Problems & how to avoid them

Let’s say you want to avoid the fact that customers cannot answer a question properly because they had two different experiences for the the two attributes. Instead of providing a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer option, you provide a scale. Say in example (1) the delivery time was amazing, so they would have rated it a solid 5, but the quality was wanting, so they would have rated it a 2. They might go for a 3 or 4, because it is the median value. This is vague, because it could seem like overall satisfaction is alright, and you don’t know what specifically to change.

Even if they went for either the 2 or the 5, depending on what they value as more important (quality or delivery time), you still know nothing about these internal weighting processes. And they might be exactly the key for you to efficiently improve matters.

So, what we’ve learned so far is that separating double-barrelled questions into separate questions helps you tease out the data you actually need.

There are some more things you can do to get the most accurate and valuable feedback.

Add open-ended questions or comment boxes

You could also add an open-ended question or comment box to the question. This would allow customers to highlight what about the quality they found lacking. This is not as overwhelming to customers, because you structure your questions clearly. Sticking with the first example, it could look like this:

(1) How satisfied were you with the quality of the product?

[1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5]

(2) What could be improved in terms of the quality of the product?

[Open text box]

(3) How satisfied were you with the delivery time of the product?

[1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5]

Like this, you have avoided the double-barrelled question and collected more actionable data. Be careful not to overwhelm respondents with open-ended questions and choose them carefully. It makes sense to ask for an elaboration about the quality of the product, in this instance, because those can be actual insights for improvements. In terms of delivery times, respondents would probably just prefer the quickest delivery and you can gather this from the rating they provide.

What else to look out for

While we’re on the topic, there are some other issues you should avoid when asking for feedback. For a more comprehensive guide on how to ask questions, have a look at our customer survey guide here. Or find out what to avoid in more detail. But in summary, try to avoid:

  • Ambiguous questions, where you are being unclear or not concise. This can be confusing to respondents.
  • Assumptive questions, where you assume something about the respondent. This can affect whether they can answer the question or not.
  • Leading questions that push the respondent in a certain direction or influence them subtly.
  • Absolute questions where you provide only two extreme options, usually ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  • Negative questions – for those, a positive answer requires the respondent to answer negatively or vice versa, which can cause confusion.
  • Too many (open-ended) questions can be overwhelming and very time-consuming.

Now that you’re clued up about avoiding double-barrelled question, why not try sending your own surveys? You can try Netigate free for 30 days or book a demo with a friendly member of our team.