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Beware of Rating Scales


Whether it’s your mystery shopping or customer feedback survey, making sure the response choices get the best data possible is key to a successful program.


There are small variances that can make a world of difference in how people respond to a question, one of which lies in the answer options. This article discussing rating scale tips offers a good explanation of why it’s important to be uniformed in response choices, and to strongly consider what response options you will use.


The suggestions offered include:


  • Use 5-point scales when rating against one attribute (unipolar scales, for example: “Not at all satisfied” through “Completely satisfied”)
  • Use 7-point scales when rating against polar opposites (bipolar scales, for example: “Extremely likely to recommend against” through “Extremely likely to recommend”)
  • Use unipolar scales instead of bipolar scales wherever possible, as such scales are shorter and less confusing to respondents
  • Use fully labeled scales without showing respondents any numeric ratings – such scales are preferred by respondents and have higher reliability and predictive validity than numeric scales
  • List rating scales with the most negative item first, to prevent order-effect bias from inflating your ratings
  • Use common scales whenever possible, rather than writing your own scales
  • If you do choose to write your own scales, follow one or two common patterns when framing your choices
  • Develop guidelines as to the common scales to use across your organization and your research, so that you can compare the results from study to study and from department to department


I particularly like the suggestions for using the same rating system across all questions when possible, keeping the response options in the same order (negative to positive or vice versa), and not using numerical ratings. In the last situation, customers then focus on the experience and what terminology fits best versus a “score.” People react to “scoring” things, especially when it comes to an employee instead of an operational aspect, such as cleanliness or appearance.


Keeping things uniform and making sure that the questions accurately and objectively reflect what you’d like to know will go a long way in a successful feedback or mystery shopping program.






Author: Ann Michaels & Associates

Ann Michaels & Associates has been providing customer experience measurement services since 1998. We provide a full range of services to meet the needs of all industries and company sizes, including mystery shopping, customer and employee feedback services, and social media management.

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