Multi-purpose surveys (and why you should avoid them)

You Only Get One Chance to Talk to Customers, Right?

It’s quite common for organizations to consider that each survey will be their single chance to reach their customers. This unfortunate mindset leads to the misguided practice of packing surveys with every conceivable question. Departments throughout the organization propose different items to include because nobody wants to be left out of this year’s survey.

This violates Principle #1 of Matthew Champagne’s The Nine Principles – and in a recent article via the MRA he emphasizes how wrong this mentality can be, and what should be done to correct it.

Principle 1 states that each each survey should focus on a single purpose and all of the questions should be crafted around that purpose. Other purposes? Other objectives? Save them for the next survey. A sequence of smaller “bitesize surveys” should become a flowing conversation with your customers, each exchange helping to clarify one single purpose.

Note: using the flexible logic engine within Voxco survey software, you can create follow-up surveys for a respondent list based on their individual responses of past surveys, leading to a more structured ‘conversation’ that really shows that you’re listening to your customers. This is one more reason to consider running panel surveys rather than recruiting for each survey.

Remember the respondent’s POV, not just your own. Sure, the ‘annual survey’ is a big event within your organization but your customers see dozens of survey requests daily. And yours will be ignored or dropped if it doesn’t have a clear purpose. Avoid making your surveys a single, catch-all event and you’ll avoid multiple-purpose error.

Multi-purpose surveys are easy to spot: they contain far too many questions, sections (sometimes each written in a different tone of voice…), and overly complex branching. The most commonly erroneous practice is to let marketing add their own purpose (e.g., salary, demographics, etc.) to the original survey. Of course, these items are bumped to the end of the survey so that respondents don’t see them until they’ve finished their ratings…

Multi-purpose survey also fail because they cause respondents to pause midstream. Respondents who have been willingly offering perceptions and ratings on one topic arrive at the demographics section and some will stop to ponder the true purpose of the survey. “Did I answer as a Hispanic female earning $75,000-$99,000?” “Will they treat my answers differently now that they know I am a 26-35 year old Caucasian male?” Once respondents begin questioning your motives, you’ve lost them and your response rates will plummet.

These are only surface level problems of multi-purpose surveys – not to mention the practical, interpretation, and analysis issues. Matthew recommends solving this problem by having others re-read your survey. If they feel it looks like it was built by a committee, raise the red flag immediately.

Read the source article by Matthew Champagne at MRA

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