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How To Measure Customer Feedback With Semantic Differential Scale

Kate Williams

25 February 2024

6 min read

Remember those pop-up survey notifications whenever you order food from your favourite app? That pop-up always asks you to rate your food on a scale from 1 (“ew”) to 5 (“yum”). That is a basic example of a semantic differential scale

Now, customer satisfaction surveys are a great way to understand what customers think. But to truly know your customer (any kind of respondent really) you need to know what they feel. Traditional feedback surveys are limited in that area. So here’s how you can measure emotional feedback with the semantic differential scale.

What is a semantic differential scale?

Let’s go back to the 1940s and a psychologist named Charles E. Osgood.

While trying to understand how connotations* work, he found that three types of meanings are universally understood regardless of culture or language. These types are: 

  • Evaluation: This includes meanings of good to bad, safe to dangerous, excellent to poor, etc.
  • Potency: High to low, strong to weak, hot to cold, etc.
  • Activity: Fast to slow, active to passive, etc.

That’s how the semantic differential scale was born. A semantic differential scale is a range of values that indicate feelings towards a subject. The scale arranges these values as levels in a 5-point or 7-point scale. The most extreme values (called “anchors”) are at opposite ends of the scale. 

*Side note:

Denotation is the literal meaning of a word.

Connotation is the implied meaning, idea or feeling of a word.

How do you use semantic differential scale?

We use a semantic scale to gauge our perceptions about a particular subject – including feelings and ideas.

A semantic differential scale is one of the best ways to understand a person’s attitude to any topic. This tool makes it possible to logically measure emotional aspects like an individual’s experience, satisfaction, feelings, or outlook.

While traditional semantic differential scales offer valuable insights, creating and managing them can be cumbersome. Perhaps SurveySparrow can help you.

With the platform, you can create interactive surveys that dig into people’s feelings and attitudes towards anything – whether it’s a product, service, or even a new idea. It’s like having a window into people’s minds and hearts!


SurveySparrow’s Word Cloud

Also, use the word cloud to better understand the “why” behind the ratings, pinpointing specific areas for improvement.

Why don’t you try it today?

Now, let’s look at some question types to understand the concept better.

Semantic differential scale examples

Slider rating scale

In this type, the question features a graphical slider. It offers an interactive way for the respondent to answer the differential scale question. 

Semantic differential scale example: slider type question
SurveySparrow: slider type question

Non-slider rating scale

This type of semantic scale uses radio buttons. Non-slider rating scales are used when there are two or more answer options that are mutually exclusive. So the user must pick one choice only; clicking an unselected radion button will deselect the previously clicked button. 

Semantic scale example: non slider rating scale
SurveySparrow: Non-slider rating scale (matrix type)

Open-ended questions

This question type gives the respondents ample space to express their thoughts about the brand or a particular touchpoint. What’s more, open-ended responses are helpful for text and sentiment analysis. 

semantic differential example: open-ended question
SurveySparrow: open-ended question type


In the ordering type question (also known as the rank order question) respondents can rank the options for a specific variable. 

Semantic differential example: ordering question
SurveySparrow: rank order question type

Satisfaction rating:

In one of the easiest ways for customers to respond, this type of question uses emojis to express values. 

semantic scale example: satisfaction rating
SurveySparrow: satisfaction rating

What is the difference between a semantic differential scale and a Likert scale?

  • Answers: A semantic scale allows the respondents to share their feelings about a topic. However, the Likert scale enables them to show how much they agree/disagree with a statement. It also offers a “neutral” option. 
  • Flexibility: While a Likert scale only measures agreement/disagreement, a semantic scale is more flexible regarding the feelings it can measure. 
  • Range: Since the differential scale allows for more emotive answers, its qualitative findings are considered authentic and closer to reality. But in the Likert scales, you can easily score and compare the responses to similar questions – since there is only one set of answer options. 
  • Comparison: Compared to semantic scales, the Likert scale responses are easier to quantify and compare for specific metrics – like customer response times, staff knowledge scores, or the ease of purchase. 
Likert scale example
SurveySparrow: Likert scale example (multi-choice).
SurveySparrow: Semantic scale example (multi-choice).

Semantic differential scale: Advantages

#1. An accurate picture

Since a semantic differential scale questionnaire is easy to take, the respondents often answer in more detail. As a result, it leads to more accurate and statistically significant results.

#2. Easy to make

As a survey question, it is easy to craft. However, since the the answers are subjective, watch out for any inherent bias while framing the answer options. 

#3. Emotional insights

Emotions decide loyalty. This loyalty plays a crucial role in purchase decisions, recruitment, customer and employee retention, and brand value. Thus, semantic scales help you measure the emotions that underlie loyalty and dissatisfaction. This is powerful information indeed. 

#4 Use cases

Because attitudes underlie everything, the uses of semantic scales are potentially limitless. Some examples include:

Through software like SurveySparrow, businesses accordingly use this scale to measure products, services, organizations, experiences, ads, and more. You can create your own with a free account.

How to make an effective semantic scale questionnaire to measure customer feedback

  1. Choose the EPA metrics to be measured.
  2. Choose a survey software and create an appropriate design.
  3. Avoid question bias. Use a balance of positive and negative adjectives.
  4. Use the proper adjectives.
  5. Keep alternatives handy.
  6. Don’t overwhelm the respondent with too many options or restrict them with too few options. A mix of 5-7 options is ideal.
  7. Share on a variety of channels.
  8. Analyze your findings.

What’s more, you can use different filters and widgets on the dashboard of the online survey tool to view specific results. For example, you can view trend analysis and see if any patterns deserve your attention. 

Scott McCain - There is no loyalty without emotion.

When to use semantic differential scale?

You can use a semantic differential scale for a variety of reasons, but primarily for the following:

  1. Gain a deeper understanding of the customer’s attitudes, affinity, and goals. 
  2. Understanding a specific part of your service in terms of satisfying your customer

Confused? Let’s walk you through an example.

When a customer’s response to a question about customer service is “bad”, but the overall satisfaction rating is “high”, the customer is happy with the product/service. But some aspects of the customer service did not meet their standards. So follow up with an open-ended question to find out more. 

Wrapping up

For those looking to understand their customers’ attitudes, the semantic scale is a powerful tool that can be framed in different ways. While it requires a bit of care to avoid questioner’s bias, it is well worth the effort. That’s because the results can help you bring about the changes you need to increase customer loyalty. After all, in the words of Shep Hyken:

People think of loyalty as customers for a lifetime. But it’s really much simpler than that. It’s about the next time, every time.

Kate Williams

Content Marketer at SurveySparrow

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