Survey Sanity

When it comes to surveying customers and employees, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is, it’s easy and cheap. The bad news is, it’s easy and cheap.

Let’s start with the good news. There are now dozens of vendors that allow you to create, distribute and analyze surveys using on-line tools. Most offer inexpensive or free versions, with more robust options available at somewhat higher prices. Provided the people you want to survey have email addresses, you can have a questionnaire written and sent out in a few hours, and you can see the results real-time as they come back. This is a vast improvement from the old days, when surveys could cost thousands of dollars and reports wouldn’t be ready for weeks.

Now for the bad news. With almost no cost and few barriers to sending out surveys, just about anyone can do it. And just about everyone does.

Customers and employees – that’s you and me – are continuously deluged with survey requests. Everywhere we turn, someone is begging us to stop what we’re doing and give away our information, our opinions, our feedback. After awhile it seems less like research and more like panhandling. And the result, predictably, is widespread respondent fatigue.

Even as the quantity of survey requests has been going up, the quality of survey design has been going down. Now that research professionals are taken out of the process, it is more likely that the surveys we receive will include ambiguous, double-barreled, redundant or illogical questions. It isn’t that the people writing the questions are thoughtless; they just don’t have the time, training or experience to produce a really effective survey instrument.

It gets worse. Large organizations with many departments and project teams generate innumerable surveys to elicit feedback from their employees. But few have developed company-wide design standards, distribution rules or information sharing capabilities. That means a lot of lost synergy. Data aren’t shared; rating scales don’t match; similar questions are worded differently on different questionnaires. The same employees show up on multiple survey distribution lists and get asked the same questions over and over.

What’s the solution? Well, we can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Cheap, easy survey tools are here to stay. But we can be more thoughtful about how we use surveys.

For example:

  • Check with colleagues in other departments to see if the information has already been collected.
  • Create approved survey templates and a library of questions with standardized wording.
  • Keep surveys short and focused. No “questionnaires by committee” and no “nice-to-know” questions.
  • Pre-test all surveys with a small sample to make sure the questions are clear and appropriate.
  • Keep a central database of respondents to make sure the same people aren’t over-surveyed.

So what do you think of these ideas? Please give us your rating on a one-to-five scale, where “1” means “Excellent” and “5” means “Fantastic”.

We promise to send you a report.

Peter Gurney and Christine Frishholz

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 4th, 2010 at 11:01 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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