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Surveys, Still Valuable to Your Business?

Making surveys workAre surveys still valuable in your business? I have been asking myself this question for the last six months to a year. The sad problem is that I answer myself with the paradoxical “Yes” and “No”.

On the telephone, in the mail, on our computers, smartphones and iPads, American consumers and businesses are being solicited as never before to express their feelings about products and services ranging from meals in fast food restaurants to the latest consulting engagement you presented to a client.

I suspect in some circles there is a remnant of “survey rage”, similar to road rage, where people are contemplating the most absurd answers to the questions the next pollster or online survey they feel they are entrapped into taking.

It is unknown exactly how many consumer satisfaction surveys alone, are completed each year, but companies similar to Mindshare Technologies & ForeSee, who measure consumer sentiment about business and government, say they collect tens of millions of surveys each year. This does not include any of the online services where businesses can create their own surveys.

These just refer to the consumer survey’s that are taken, now we add to that the millions that are probable captured as part of the process of b2b sales and the newest buzz word “social selling” which is the key training label today for b2b sales. They approach through shipments of parts, requests from service managers or even outside firms asked to follow-up on the last order of supplies.

Consumer, employee and business frustration is a known factor due to the deluge of survey requests, but companies cannot resist asking that all-important question, “How are we doing”. In what seems to be constant nagging we are continuing to see survey fatigue and declining response rates.

I know that when I get a survey call, the first question I ask is the purpose of the survey, then I ask how long it will take. If the answer is more than three – five minutes, my answer is no, period. Frequent requests to fill out these surveys, especially with no incentives, is so annoying that people just stop responding to it,”

In the “Old” days when you were asked to respond, you felt it was a privilege, you were representing your specific community, but today, in a restaurant, for example, every ticket will have a request for an opinion. There is no exclusivity. If they do offer an incentive, it is usually to enter a free drawing to win “X” dollars in product or services. People seldom know if those are ever redeemed, in the first place, hence it just adds to the frustration.

So back to my question, “Are Surveys Still Valuable to Your Business”, the first answer is “No”. Your surveys are just part of the ground noise that people listen to each day as they go about their daily lives, which they are beginning to tune out. Businesses will usually not fill out a survey because it takes time from people who they are paying to do a job without providing any benefit to them directly.

Then there are the perceptions around surveys that are prevalent today:

  • Surveys can be biased, twisted, or manipulated to get the answer the person asking the questions wants. While this is very much a possibility, I do not believe most companies are doing this intentionally. It may be unintentional or even a mistake but I truly believe most companies are attempting to get a valid answer to their questions. They may not be asking the right questions but the intent is desirable.
  • Surveys may have hidden agendas or expectations. It is easy to see why this is a big concern because many surveys are more focused on competitors than on their own products or services. Many times people will see the survey as a way to tell you the consumer of business that you have to buy additional products or services to be happy.
  • Surveys seldom deliver on the rewards offered. When was the last time you knew anyone who actually received any of the rewards offered? If it is one where you get a free cone or sandwich, then everyone wins but if it is a chance to win $1,000, I doubt you have ever met anyone who actually won it. The companies may be giving it away but they are not letting any other customers or clients know this information. This is really more of a communications problem but it does create a real negative perception issue.
  • Surveyors seldom tell you what the results are, nor do they tell you changes that have been made because of those surveys. This really is a valid criticism because few companies ever share how the survey results are used or how they have affected the service process that touches a customer every day. This is especially true with employee engagement surveys. We have been seeing the same store for the last fifteen years, but seldom have the input resulted in major changes for the existing employees. If there has been proper changes then what are the numbers stagnant.

If you have heard any of these perceptions about your program, chances are that you may be hitting what I can the fatigue zone:

  • When people are fatigued by the multiplicity or repetitiveness of your surveys, the interest will begin to wane and fewer people will respond. This reduction could affect the statistical accuracy of your findings. This is not a good problem to have.
  • When people are fatigued, the chances of the most negative responders being a major contributor to your surveys may increase, resulting in a non-response bias in the results. This could be a case of a minority of your clients or customers driving the opinions about products and services, which results in specifications that do not meet the needs of the majority of your clients, or customers. Yes, this can happen.

That brings us to the other side of our question where we say “YES” Surveys are valuable to your business.

Surveys are embedded in many of our compensation systems in corporate America, making it difficult to change. While I do not believe this is inherently good, it does provide a measurable method of rewarding a behavior; however, the key is which one.

Also, with the rise of social media in the last decade, we, as a populace are becoming comfortable with providing our opinions on subjects, products or services, whether we are asked or not. With the rise of Yelp.com, Angie’s List.com, RateMds.com, and many others it is becoming a way of life, the key is which are you most apt to contribute to, a positive review, or a poor review?

So what to do? Well, you cannot control other organizations surveying propensities, but by doing a survey program right, perhaps you can shine among the rest. Here are six relatively easy steps you can adopt within your company to have the best shot at maintaining a positive survey program:

  • Proactively Plan Your Survey Targets. If your company has multiple transactions with many of the same customers or clients in a year, do not over stay your welcome! Surveys that are too frequent or too soon can create a negative image of your company. Allow time windows in which you will not survey the same person or company again. Personally, I would not recommend you resurvey people more than once every 6 months, which seems reasonable. If someone takes, the time and effort to say “Stop sending me surveys!” then honor that request and stop. Do not antagonize.
  • Schedule & coordinate your companies programs. If you have multiple departments sending out surveys, DO NOT let them overlap, with customers, suppliers or employees under any circumstances. Especially bad if your answer when a customer calls is I did not know about the overlap. For large companies, it is imperative that you have some type of oversight over the program. It can be a third party external group or internal, just make sure they are doing their job and protecting the respondent community, not company leadership.
  • Ensure your survey’s are to the point, engaging and enable quick completion: If you are asking how they felt about the last interaction with your company make sure you are not asking deep relationship type questions. Keep it short and to the point. I suggest no more than three questions. On the other hand, if you are looking for a response to a relationship type survey, make sure your client or customer knows this up front and is willing to allocate a reasonable length of time to complete the survey.
  • Make the survey easy to take. Provide the best and most intuitive technology for input to your survey. Ensure they can access via any platform, especially mobile. Avoid wordy introductions; minimize the need for a lot of narrative explaining the options you are offering.

 Ask as if you were asking these questions in a mall, with limited interaction time and nowhere to sit. This will keep your surveys simple and comfortable for your participants.

  • Consider offering viable incentives. Generally, incentives can create an attitude of providing input just to gain the incentive, which is really gaming the system, not a good situation, to be in if you want valid answers.

I recommend tying the incentives to responses that are valid and usable for the need at hand. Convey the idea that the incentive is an authentic act of appreciation in helping you obtain valuable information, which can be used to improve products, processes, or services. You may even want them to sign up to a monthly newsletter where you update them no how the data is being used to make changes

  • Provide results to your respondents. I marvel at the number of companies that do not tell participants how they benefited from the surveys. Showing your respondents that you really mean it when you say that their opinions are important must be more than lip service.

 Always provide access to some form of closure for those who are engaged as either customers, suppliers or employees. Let them know what you learned and what actions you have taken because of the survey. Of course, this means that you actually reviewed the surveys and did something with the information. It is amazing how many companies will spend the money and effort to do a survey then totally ignore the results because they do not like the answers or they feel they cannot afford to make it happen.

I highly suggest you summarize the results monthly on your website by providing a section for survey feedback where you indicate changes made, ideas that are under consideration or even ideas that cannot be completed at the time. Be authentic with your respondents. Use technology to your advantage.

 These are simple common sense ideas that can reduce the amount of survey fatigue your company may be contributing and actually make your company, small or large, shine in a very crowded universe. If you would like to get more ideas in this area, contact me today at TLG-RWME.us or email me at info@tlgcoach.com.