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Twelve Tips for Conducting Effective Surveys

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We've all been on the receiving end of far too many poorly constructed surveys that required too much time and energy simply to share our thoughts.

Recently, my favorite local brewery failed to retain my interest during its 20-page saga of a survey. Even though the subject was interesting (beer), I lost my interest when I realized my time was not being taken into consideration.

Here's a top twelve list of how to conduct surveys without losing contact with your customer.

1. Define the survey's purpose

Figure out exactly what you want your customers to tell you. For instance, you may want to find out whether they are satisfied with your service. So ask them. Do not gather any extra data if you aren't sure exactly what you are going to do with the results.


2. Keep it short and sweet

It shouldn't take a respondent more than 10 minutes to complete a questionnaire. Make it five or even two minutes or less, if you can manage. Also, keep survey respondents in the loop along the way by telling them up front how long the survey might take, including a progress bar and, maybe, even naming the survey something relative to how long it will take.

Time is a top complaint among people who have taken surveys, so address the objection immediately and move past it.

3. Keep it simple

Make sure that respondents will understand the questions. Don't use jargon and don't make the questions too complex. Make sure that the questions are not worded for "insiders." Americanized cliches and catchphrases do not work overseas and can be embarrassing. Acronyms will quickly turn off those who do not know the meaning of the acronym.

4. Save demographic questions for last

Keep information that is less crucial to your surveys toward the end, else people will apt to lose interest in your survey. Also, when you are asking for personal information, make sure you have a privacy policy that is easily visible, and abide by it. Recent news reports of company data losses have made internet users even more skeptical than ever.

5. Keep it specific

If you are conducting surveys of large audiences, don't ask open-ended questions that will give you a wide range of answers. That will make it difficult to analyze the results. Questions should be either yes/no or multiple choice.

6. Make it consistent

If the first question asks your respondents to rate your customer service on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being highly satisfactory, make sure that in subsequent questions 5 always corresponds to being highly satisfactory.

Although, as a result, people may be inclined to move through the survey faster, it is better than having them choose the wrong answer by mistake.

7. Follow logic

Make sure that one question leads naturally into another. Usually, the first questions will be broad and the follow-up ones will be more specific. You would not start out asking "why don't you like Professor Greenwall?" This is too specific, and it's a leading question.

You first need to find out whether the survey respondent has positive or negative feelings about the professor, and then ask why he is not liked.

8. Do a test

Give the survey to a group of employees or customers. Doing so will tell you how long it takes to complete and whether any questions are confusing. This testing is extremely important and gets overlooked far too often.

Those focused on a survey project begin to get so connected to the project that they can lose track of minor details. Other people can bring fresh insight and ideas and catch embarrassing mistakes before they go out to a large audience.

9. Avoid weekends

Best practices of email marketing apply here. The best time to send email to workers is between Tuesday and Thursday during a normal business week. Emails sent on a Monday or Friday are likely to be put off until later, and by then you've lost the audience's immediate attention.

10. Send reminders

If you email the survey, set a deadline to receive the results. Make sure you give people plenty of time to answer the survey. A few days before, send a reminder. Some software packages will allow you to automate the sending of emails and personalize the note using mail merge.

11. Entice

Give your customers a good reason to answer your survey. Offer them a discount or give them a gift certificate. You're asking them to do you a favor, so show your appreciation. Make sure the incentive is somewhat relevant to the customer's interests. You wouldn't give away an extreme-sports vacation to someone who would rather watch them on TV.

12. Share

Last, but not least, share the results with your customers and let them know what action you will take. If you need more information, do follow-up surveys. But remember, you're asking them to take the time to help you, so be careful not to abuse that relationship.

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Hopefully, these tips will help those who are relatively new at conducting surveys to make fewer mistakes when attempting to solicit professional feedback for their business.


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Brian Henderson oversees internal and external marketing for Prezza Technologies (www.prezzatech.com). He has held senior-level marketing positions with Perseus Development, Equallogic, and EMC.

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  • by Susan Fri Feb 22, 2008 via web

    great advice, written to the point. Thanks.

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