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Surveys Stink

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

· wolf,post,rant

Surveys Stink

To begin, and to qualify this post, the surveys I'm talking about are these mindless customer-satisfaction surveys and those that fit somewhere within their borders. Short of a US Census there may be a reason to send more than 3 questions. I can't think of one off hand, but maybe. Oh, and watch your toes here, heard some stompin goin on...

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

The only problem with the above is that 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 is, just that, well, we need a survey to show we're interested in peoples opinion. That train of thought has so many holes that I'm having 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 really 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. - 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 they happy with YOU, are they happy with YOUR service, pick ONE - ONE -- ONE 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 of "thinking about your last visit" or "now, think about the visits in the last 3 months" - Seriously? Your doing good if I can still connect your product with YOU in general - don't over inflate your own ego thinking I'm going to remember you that long. Annoy me and I'll just grade the survey as bad, or worse, all 10's -- now that was useful.

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

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

So with that goal, what 1 question can we ask to get an HONEST answer? We could just be straight forward and ask the obvious: "Would you buy from us again?" - simple -- dang, problem solved -- nothing clever, nothing fancy -- and how hard was that? Seriously, this works and the answers are actionable without a degree in trig. No Artificial Intelligence required . (I just added that last sentence to get that 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, are you really not going to continue to improve your site? If you get a 0, are you going to drop everything to engineer? And who makes the decision of how valid that subjective question is with the those that answered the question versus those that didn't? Maybe only the 100 that hated the site answered 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 completely not actionable - even 0-5 is meaningless. I know what to do with a YES or a NO and can invoke an ACTION. Surveys should provide ACTION metrics - not feel-good boardroom charts. "Well, if you look at the line chart, you can clearly see our satisfaction scores have moved up from 7 to 7.5". Crap - it's crap, stupid and totally a waste of everyone's time - FIX the issues that are driving down the scores and you'll be at 10. How do you find those issues? By asking the RIGHT questions and getting HONEST answers. That means YES, NO, Don't Care/NA - what does a 7 mean anyway?

I've even been asked 30 questions and question #30 was "Do you mind if we ask you some more questions?" - Feeling generous, I said "NO" answering the question and 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 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 or so 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 send another 1 question survey which will 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.

We as businesses have tried to automate the customer interactions way too much in my opinion- we could spend an entire book on how to keep customers "in the fold" and make them feel valued - but I submit to you that sending a long survey does NOT instill a sense of value. To me, it's like sitting on the corner with your cup hanging out for passers by. Nothing wrong with that if that's all you have, but we should be treating our CUSTOMERS with much more respect.

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

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