Planning to mail or email a survey to your customers or other stakeholders? Want to increase the percentage of recipients who will respond?

The best way to get a longer list of respondents is to start with a shorter survey.

Most of the time, companies send surveys because they want an answer to a specific question or two. But as they look at their draft, they think, “Well, since we’re already sending this out, we could also add a couple questions about this.” Then a co-worker says, “And why not ask about this?” The boss chimes in with, “Have we after asked about this other thing?” Before long, you’re staring at a 20-question survey.

How will your respondents react? In my experience, they’ll look at a two- or three-question survey as a no-brainer. Check off a couple boxes and email it back. Two, maybe three minutes tops. Not a problem. But a 20-question survey — now, that looks like it’s going to take some time and thought. So they’ll usually do one of two things: put it aside to complete it later (and promptly forget about it), or say, “This just isn’t worth my time.”

Master auto dealer Carl Sewell uses a lot of surveys. Every time a customer completes a transaction — whether it’s a car purchase or an oil change — he or she is asked to complete a survey right there and then. He asks three very simple questions. For example, at the service window, the questions address the accuracy of the estimate, whether the car was ready when promised, and whether this was a repeat visit for the same problem. Period.

“The secret — whether you are selling advertising or automobiles — is to identify the three things that are most important to the customer,” Sewell says. “Once we know what’s important, we then have to make sure we’re providing it.”

So the next time you develop a survey, keep it short and simple. You may get less information, but you’ll get more of what really counts.