A respectful survey?

For some reason, I’m strangely attracted to taking surveys.  They seem like a great window into the minds of survey creators. They may also explain a lot about why companies often build the wrong products.

When done well, they can often answer important questions and occasionally provide some real insights.

But, most surveys aren’t very good.  They tend to be the creation of either a wandering and curious mind or worse, they are the result of the corporate take-everyone’s ideas process.  They also suffer from selection bias, poor completion rates and bad statistical analyses (topics covered elsewhere).

On the content side though, here are some common things I find that make most of them not very good:

  • Way too long (even as curious as I am, I can only deal with a 2-3 minutes – maybe 10 good questions)
  • Trying too hard to hide their real motivations (are they trying to figure out if I like them or if I might be a customer???) – it’s frustrating
  • Rarely ask about real-world compromises/sacrifices (i.e. “would you buy our product if it did xyz, didn’t do pqr and cost abc”)
  • Random precision – to quote Pink Floyd (no matter how many times and ways you ask, I have no idea exactly how small/pretty/inexpensive your product would need to be for me to buy it on a given day)
  • They usually aren’t experiential, yet ask for my experiential opinions (i.e. no pictures, sounds, videos, etc)
  • They tend to be very static and binary (i.e. treat me the same as everyone else or kick me out too soon)
  • They tend to offer little to the survey taker – outside of the bribe to take/complete

Some ideas for better survey experiences and results:

  • Be transparent
    • Tell them what you’re trying to learn/verify/test
    • Explain why they are important to this end
  • Treat them with respect 
    • Expose them to your thinking and dilemmas
    • Don’t waste their time
    • Get quickly to the point – generally, surveys are there to test one or two specific things – just ask those
      • BTW, if you’re trying to learn more than 1 or 2 things, then start over because your survey probably won’t help
    • Don’t kick them out if they’re not the precise target – they may still provide valuable feedback
  • Give them an experience – engage them
    • Show them your new designs/ideas/premises
    • Simulate their experience using your products
    • To the extent possible, offer dynamic content – based on their answers/demographics
  • Always give them a chance to offer open-ended suggestions/comments/ideas, but don’t force it
    • This can prevent embarrassment later if you really missed the mark or maybe even provide some significant new insights/ideas
  • It’s ok to ask the same question another way if you’re not patronizing
  • When asking them what decision they’d make, give them the good, the bad and the ugly
    • Your product isn’t free or perfect
  • Be Candid
    • Ask them the question(s) you really want to answer as directly as you can

22 thoughts on “A respectful survey?”

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