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Surveys Stink

What are we thinking... Perhaps, we aren't

· wolf,post,rant

Surveys Stink

To begin and qualify this post, the surveys I'm talking about are mindless customer-satisfaction surveys and those that fit somewhere within their borders. Short of a U.S. Census, there may be a reason to send more than three questions. I can't think of one offhand, but maybe. Oh, and watch your toes here, I heard some stompin goin on...

I'm on record to let you know that I think surveys mostly stink. Someone behind a desk gets a task to create a survey, thinks of 30 thoughtful questions, and posts those on Survey Monkey, and poof, the survey is done.

They can then move on to the next task in their flooded inbox, and that survey thing is a done deal. Not like anyone will ever read those anyway.

Remember, asking a question is just the beginning.

Besides the obvious that no one gave 30 seconds thought to WHAT the desired goal of the survey should be, just that, well, we need a survey to show that we are interested in people's opinions.

That train of thought has so many holes that I have the jitters just thinking about trying to respond to that. Not the least of which is WHO is responsible for tallying and WHEN will we evaluate our progress - does this person/group have the power to affect change? The list continues ...

First, let me beg you to PLEASE be considerate of the time you are asking participants to spend on your behalf answering your survey. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. - heck, there's a song about it -

Most of these surveys are utter junk, and these badly created surveys have soured the milk for any would-be good and useful surveys to come.

Second, PLEASE consider WHAT YOU WANT from the survey. Did your client receive their product, did they enjoy the process, are are they happy with YOU, are they happy with YOUR service, pick O.N.E. - O.N.E. -- O.N.E. item.

Surveys try to get 20 metrics to determine all sorts of things about the last visit, the last 10 visits, or the visit 3 weeks ago.

And my favorite annoyance is when each question has a qualifier. "thinking about your last visit" or "now, think about the visits in the last 3 months" - Seriously?

You are doing good if I can still connect your product with YOU in general - don't overinflate your ego thinking I'm going to remember you that long. Annoy me, and I'll grade the survey as bad, or even worse, with all 10's -- now that was useful, right?.

Third, ask 1, perhaps 2, and if you are really brief, maybe on a sunny day with a cool breeze, 3 questions. I heard gasps of shock and total disbelief that anything worthwhile can come of just 1 question. But remember, we are seeking O.N.E. answer - and oh, ya, this will require some effort on OUR part - gasp again.

For example, Our goal - what is the likelihood this client will buy again?

We had to think about the goal, and we are thinking on our client's behalf to keep this short -- if we can't do that little bit of service for our client, then perhaps we don't deserve to have them purchase from us again because we don't even care this much about them; why should they buy from us?

So with that goal, what 1 question can we ask to get an HONEST answer?

We could be straightforward and ask the obvious: "Would you buy from us again?" - simple -- dang, problem solved -- nothing clever, nothing fancy -- and how hard was that?

This approach works, and the answers are ACTIONABLE without a degree in trig. No Artificial Intelligence (AI) is required. (I added that last sentence to get the AI phrase in the article - see, annoying, right?)

Don't ask stupid questions that even getting an honest answer will have no value.

Asking stupid things like "did you find our website easy to navigate?" - really, what kind of crap is this? Or even worse, "On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the worst, and 10 being the easiest, how easy did you find our website to navigate" - don't laugh; I've seen it.

If you get a 10, will you stop improving your site? If you get a 0, will you drop everything to re-engineer? Who decides the level of action required? Remember, not everyone responds, so your survey could further be skewed based on emotions?

Maybe only the 100 that hated the site responded, and the 100,000 that loved it didn't take the stupid survey. So, THINK about the questions.

In my opinion, asking any range questions, other than good, bad, don't care, is rather pointless - a range of 0 to 10 is entirely not actionable - even 0-5 is meaningless.

I know what to do with a YES or a NO and can take an ACTION.

How about Satisified, Not Satisified, and Needs Imporovement? Now there's an idea!

Surveys should provide ACTION metrics - not feel-good boardroom charts.

"Well, if you look at the fancy, took me 2 hours to create, line chart, you can clearly see our satisfaction scores have moved from 7 to 7.5". Crap! It's crap, stupid, and totally a waste of everyone's time - F.I.X. the issues driving down the scores, and you'll move towards 10, or better, COMPLETELY SATISIFIED.

How do you find those issues? By asking the RIGHT questions and getting the HONEST answers. That means YES, NO, Don't Care/N.A. - what does a 7 mean anyway?

Despite my dislike of long surveys, I have taken a 30 question survey before. Question #30 was, "Do you mind if we ask you some more questions?"

Feeling generous, I said "NO" to the question.

Meaning, NO, I don't mind, and then it didn't ask me any more questions.

Another classic example of NOT THINKING about the question before asking the user to respond. Stop asking stupid questions.

Who says there can be only one?

Well, other than Jet Lee, I don't believe there is a rule that there can be only one - survey to a client in our case. Now, having said that, if our surveys are 30 questions, you had better NOT send more than 1, heck, I would say please, don't even send that one. BUT, if we are asking 1 question, I don't think too many would object to another question in a day or so IF we provided VALUE with that question.

"Would you buy from us again" - YES? - done - we have a satisfied client.

We can test that by sending an offer in a few days to see if they examine the offer or perhaps some helpful information about one of the products they just bought from us. If they don't open the offer, we have other options.

At some point in the future we will send another 1 question survey to answer one of our clearly defined goals.

On the other hand, "Would you buy from us again" - NO? - done - Houston, we have a problem - no sense asking any more questions as the biggest issue is staring us in the face.

Now we have a decision to make - do we send a follow-up survey asking what's wrong? If you answered yes, please please please keep reading here --

NO NO NO, do NOT send a survey - send a letter from the president asking the reason for their dissatisfaction in open text and make sure this issue is on a follow-up. YES, this takes effort, and YES, someone has to take TIME to answer - I believe this is called customer success.

I believe we have tried to automate the customer interactions way too much.

We could spend an entire book on keeping customers "in the fold" and making them feel valued - but I submit to you that sending a long survey will NOT instill a sense of our company's value.

Not considering our customer's time and pandering for attention via our surveys is like sitting on the corner with your cup hanging out for passers-by. If that's all you have, there is nothing wrong with that, but we should be treating our CUSTOMERS with more thoughtfulness.

The takeaway? Respect our customers - 1 question surveys that reflect thought and a clear goal;

ALWAYS with the intent to provide better service.

Happy Computing

Written by 

Wolf Scott

Founding Fellow, IOIHAN Research