Survey Says!

The survey: You’ve all seen them; perhaps, even done a few. For the most part, here is my advice: forget everything you’ve ever seen about surveys, because they’re ineffectual and wrong.

I’m pretty sure that got a few eyebrows raised. If not, then go have your coffee and come back. I can wait, and I know it’s early.

Okay, caffeinated now? All right then, here we go:

For whatever reason, most surveys like to focus on the experience of the individual. This is a good thing. Where it starts to go bad is when number scales and feel-good questions are included. These are, typically, bad things masked as mainstream good ideas. I’ll put my helmet on now, so you can throw things in disagreement. Please, though: no poodles.

Let’s start by deconstructing the number scale: It’s arbitrary, its usefulness is difficult to quantify and, if you don’t ask the exact, right, precise question, it’s worthless. I can’t tell you how many times I have filled out one of these number-scale based surveys, only to come to the end and find that MY needs weren’t being met, and that it ended up looking like I was happier than I really was. And that just makes me cranky (more than usual, even).
My next gripe is with the ‘feel good’ questions. If you want people to tell you how amazing you are, then you probably shouldn’t stick it in their face to get that feedback. It’s narcissistic, and sort of self-aggrandizing. Imagine if you’re at a holiday gathering with the family, and Weird Uncle Pete does nothing but come up to everyone and say, “How awesome am I, on a scale from one to eleven?!” only to leave once all have been questioned. You’d never invite HIM back, especially with his known proclivity for poodles.

About eight years ago, the owner of the business that I run and I had a long discussion about the survey that I intended to launch. Specifically, I was coloring outside the lines and I think that, at first, the concept seemed ridiculous to him. And I can see his point, to some degree. But, as a child of the MTV generation, and a person who knows what I hate when I see it, I persevered. In the end, he acquiesced, though I can’t say for certain how sure he truly was about the whole affair. It’s a testament to either his faith in me, or his desire to have me just go away. Either one could be germane, in this case.

What I proposed was this: a survey that began with the statement: “We’d like to think we know what we’re doing right. What we need from you is the unabashed truth about what we’re doing WRONG. Where are we failing, and how can we serve your specific needs better?”

I elected to make the survey anonymous, so that they could come at me, both barrels blazing. I included some leading questions about things we might be doing wrong (specifically, generalized areas of business) and, at the end, provided this final statement: “If you feel like you’re beating us up – don’t. Your honesty is the single biggest favor that you can bestow upon us.”

You won’t believe what happened: I got responses. Not a great many, but genuine responses that I could use to tweak my business practices. For example:

I found that one of our Canadian clients hated hand written quotes, and felt that we took way too long to return them to him. This was news to us, as we do all of our quotes within hours of receipt. We tracked that problem to its end, and found it was a server issue on his end. We changed the format to the one he preferred, and he worked on the problem on his end and – voila – happy customer. In fact, he took the time to write us a short thank you letter, stating that he had never seen a survey like that, nor felt that he had been heard so resoundingly, and taken seriously.

This was big win #1.

There were several others, all unique to individual buyers all across the U.S. and Canada. By the time we were done chasing the issues all down, we had received several such personal messages like the one above.

Want to know the most interesting part? Nowhere on the survey did we ask for praise: NOWHERE. Yet, numerous customers took the time to add their own praise at the bottom, or in attached letters. They went out of their way to make sure we knew how they felt about the positives. THAT’S feedback that really means something.

So, consider all of these things next time you sit down to develop a survey. Focus on what your goals really are, and don’t open yourself up to praise. It might be the single best survey you’ve ever done, and the results will mean a whole lot more.


~ by digitalninjasmedia on November 16, 2011.

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