Sure, you can glean snippets of what customers think about your business from social media. But why not ask them for more details in an online survey?

Free tools like SurveyMonkey and FluidSurveys let you email questionnaires to people shortly after they do business with you. (Forty-eight hours is a good rule of thumb.) If you run a consumer business, you can encourage people to complete your survey by offering a coupon or discount on future products or services.

Here are seven best practices that will help you reap the most useful information from customer satisfaction surveys.

1. Set one clear objective. Respect customers’ time by limiting the objective for your survey to one, razor-sharp goal. Did you recently expand your product line or change something about your physical or online store? In this case, your questions should relate to the new products or store features, period.

2. Keep it short. Customers should not have to spend more than 5 minutes completing the survey. Ask for only one piece of information per question, and don’t offer too many possible answers. If you want to know whether customers felt drawn to two new areas of your store, ask that in two separate questions.

3. Avoid leading questions. You want respondents’ unvarnished opinion so you can make changes that will encourage them to keep coming back. Instead of asking “How did you like our fabulous new state-of-the-art dog-grooming station?” rephrase the question as “Does our new dog-grooming station make it easier for you to have your pet groomed?”

4. Allow people to respond on a sliding scale. Let customers express their satisfaction (or lack thereof) without forcing them to choose between extremes. Decide which rating labels you want to use. For “level of satisfaction,” for example, you could use a five-point scale with responses ranging from “very satisfied” to “very dissatisfied.” For “level of agreement,” you could use the Likert scale to provoke responses ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”

5. Ban jargon. Don’t assume your customers are familiar with the terms you use in your line of work. Keep all language in your surveys simple and free of industry-specific lingo. In fact, don’t assume anything about how much or little customers know.

6. Randomize the answers. Surveys show that people tend to choose the first or second option when presented with a list of possible answers. You can avoid this by randomizing multiple-choice answers. (FluidSurveys offers this option in its free version, but if you want to randomize answers in SurveyMonkey, you’ll need to upgrade from a free account to the site’s Gold or Platinum plan.)

7. Give people a chance to elaborate. Although comment fields create slightly more work for you in tabulating survey responses, many people welcome the chance to reply outside the confines of scripted multiple-choice answers. This may be where you hit customer-feedback pay dirt in the form of helpful suggestions, or find out that something you thought customers would love is, in fact, turning them against you.

Finally, be sure to do what you can to act on survey results. SurveyMonkey and FluidSurveys both offer a variety of ways to analyze survey results. In fact, before you choose between the two, you should use both to create one or two test surveys and decide which best meets your needs. It’s up to you to integrate this information into your future strategy — and to let customers know you heard them, loud and clear.