Rating Scale: Survey Questions and Examples

In this article, we take a look at rating scales — what they are, how you can use them, and some of their advantages and disadvantages when conducting customer surveys.

What is a Rating Scale?

A rating scale is a closed-end survey question that is used to evaluate how survey responders feel about a particular product or statement.

Responders are typically asked to choose from a range of options — which are scaled between two extremes— like Excellent to Terrible. The rating scale is a variant of the well-known multiple choice question.

Rating scales are popular for their ability to allow quantitative measures to be applied to more abstract, subjective sentiments. Satisfaction, experience, perception, and feeling are all difficult to quantify, but when done well, a rating scale is useful for measuring performance or effectiveness and has application in personality research.

Types of Rating Scale

You can roughly divide rating scales into two categories: ordinal scale and interval scale.

Ordinal Scale

An ordinal scale is a variable measurement scale that presents the answers in an ordered manner. The scale is presented in natural order, but the intervals between the scale are not fixed. 

Example – Ordinal Scale

What is your experience level with computers?

  • Advanced
  • Intermediate
  • Basic
  • Novice
  • Zero

It follows a clear hierarchy; however, the difference between advanced and intermediate, or novice and zero are not fixed measures.

The time it may take an individual to go from Intermediate to Advanced is unlikely to be equal to the time it would take an individual to go from Zero to Novice. Therefore, we can say these are not fixed or exact intervals.

Interval Scale

An interval scale has similarities to an ordinal scale. The question’s answers also follow an innate order, but they contain an equal and meaningful value between the intervals.

Example – Interval Scale

How satisfied were you with our service?

  • Very satisfied
  • Somewhat satisfied
  • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  • Somewhat unsatisfied
  • Very unsatisfied

Here, the difference between somewhat satisfied and very satisfied is mirrored by the intervals between somewhat unsatisfied and very unsatisfied. These intervals are equal, which differentiates it from the ordinal scale above.

Popular Types of Rating Scales

When conducting an survey, there are four types of rating scales that can be used effectively:

  • Graphic rating scale
  • Numerical rating scale
  • Descriptive rating scale
  • Comparative rating scale

Graphic Rating Scale

The Likert scale is a familiar example of a graphic rating scale.

Typically depicted in a table or matrix, the responder can select either a number (e.g., 1-3, 1-5) or a worded response (Very satisfied – Very unsatisfied) along the top of the matrix or table that corresponds to a list of items being asked.

Example of graphic rating scale

For example, in a question about a restaurant’s service, we see this grid where the item in question is represented on the left-hand side, meaning the responder can select their appropriate sentiment in the corresponding box.

Numerical Rating Scale

A numerical rating scale uses numbers instead of words. This is one of the simplest and most common types of rating scale and will be familiar through its use as a numeric pain rating scale, which measures 0-10 — with 0 as no pain and 10 as the worst pain imaginable.

Example of numerical rating scale
Image source: © EgudinKa/Getty Images

Descriptive Rating Scale

The descriptive rating scale does not require numbers, instead offering responders the choice of descriptive statements. 

For example, the question “How happy were you with our service?” could be answered by either Unhappy, Neutral, or Happy.

Comparative Rating Scale

A comparative rating scale is used when a researcher employs a point of comparison, like McDonald’s, to compare with a different fast food restaurant like Burger King.

For example: Rate Burger King in comparison to McDonald’s.

  • Excellent
  • Very good
  • Good
  • Both are the same
  • Poor
  • Very poor

A comparative rating scale allows the researcher to interpret the resulting data in relation to another company or product.

How to Use Rating Scales When Measuring Customer Experience

Net Promoter Score

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is often used as a representation of a customer’s loyalty for a business, product, or service. Also used to gauge their brand loyalty, this scale looks to find the net percentage of customers who are likely to promote or engage with a service.

It’s key is in its simplicity, using just a single question that asks a customer: 

“How likely, on a scale of 0-10, are you to recommend <insert company> to your friends, family, or co-workers?”

Customers are then assigned a category based on their score; a score of 0-6 are Detractors, 7-8 are Neutrals, with 9-10 being Promoters.

To calculate NPS, the percentage of Detractors is subtracted from the percentage of Promoters.

For example: If 70% of respondents scored your business between 9-10, and 10% scored between 0-6, that is 70 – 10, which equals an NPS of 60.

CSAT 

The Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is a straightforward piece of customer satisfaction methodology. It measures customers happiness with a service, product, or experience by using one direct question like: 

“How happy were you with our service?”

This is then assigned a worst to best scale like 1-5 or 1-10.

CES 

The Customer Effort Score or CES is a single-item metric that is used to evaluate how much effort a customer expends when engaging with a company. This can be related to dispute resolution, purchasing or returning items, and requests or questions.

A CES question may use a scale of “very difficult” to “very easy,” giving researchers, for example, an idea of problem areas that need to be addressed.

5-star review 

The 5-star rating will be familiar to most due to its ubiquity on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Uber, etc. Again, these are arranged with 1-star being the worst, 5-stars being the best.

One noted issue with the 5-star review is the tendency of users’ responses to cluster around either 1 or 5. These feast or famine distributions tend not to be a reliable representation of customer sentiment. So supplementing it with a comment box that allows open-ended feedback tends to produce more useful and representative data.

Likert Scale

The Likert scale is another type of survey scale. Frequently referred to as the satisfaction scale due to its suitability in measuring satisfaction, these scales ask a question like “how happy were you with our service?” and offer a scale from “very happy” to “very unhappy” with a scale of three, five or seven points used.

Getting the most out of rating scales

Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages. The simplicity of a scale can induce a higher volume of customer response, but some measure of attention must be paid to the quality of the feedback gathered. Simple closed-end questions can constitute a missed opportunity to really hear your customers.

Adding a comment box that allows customers to communicate their open-ended feedback is a great chance to find out what customers really think of you, in their own words and not only within the artificial restrictions of the scale you have imposed on them. These insights have the power to tell you much more about what is or isn’t working for them, outside of statements that they are “very satisfied” or “very dissatisfied.”

However, many are often at a loss as to how to manage this uncategorizable data from a comment box. Numbers are neat and tidy and easy to scale up. Words are not. Everyone wants the insights, but not everyone is prepared to spend the days or weeks it would take to transcribe or outsource these comments. One particularly 21st-century solution is artificial intelligence.

Particularly, AI-powered text analytics software that is geared toward customer experience management. These text analytics can sift through this data, and pick out trends and critical points that require immediate attention, irrespective of the size of the survey. 

Summary

Rating scales are a quick and straightforward way to engage customers with surveys. They’re intuitive and easy to navigate if occasionally lacking in real depth. The trade-off in data richness can be countered with a simple piece of open-ended feedback, which unleashes a world of customer feedback that can be used to power growth, change, and improvement.

If you want to read more about creating surveys, check-out: How to create better surveys: your business depends on it