Self-service survey guidance

SurveyMonkey recently released a business version of its popular survey platform. This no doubt made many professional researchers cringe. Within the research community SurveyMonkey has come to represent “bad research”. In fairness to SurveyMonkey the grumblings are about how the tool is used more than the tool itself; the platform is simply a less complex version of the professional tools used by research departments. And, every researcher can see the benefit of a tool that encourages companies to listen to customers and prospects.

As a research firm we believe the best research is designed and executed by research professionals; the same way the best marketing communications are created by marketing professionals. Still, there are times when a DIY approach makes sense and SurveyMonkey and its kin have a place in your tool box. With that in mind here are some guidelines to follow when creating and executing an online survey for your company.

Remember that surveys are an extension of your brand: A survey is another touch point with customers and prospects. It will influence their perceptions of your brand and credibility. As such they should be held to the same accountability as other online communication tools you use. If you have policies in place to manage the format and frequency of your email campaigns you should hold the use of online surveys to the same level of accountability.

Spend the upfront time on the survey objectives: The success of any research depends on well-thought-out objectives. It can be easy to dash together a series of questions without prioritizing the insights needed or create a survey that reinvents the wheel. The “speed” associated with online surveys should only apply to the data collection phase of the research. When creating your survey take the time to articulate how you are going to use the data from each question.

Factor your analysis plan into the survey questions: The nature and structure of your questions determine the level and type of analysis you can do on the back end. Statistical tools such as correlation and regression require specific types of answer categories. Think through the type of analysis you want to conduct and make sure that your questions and response categories support that analysis.

Don’t over-survey your customers: Access to easy to create and field online surveys puts you at risk of over-surveying your customers. It becomes tempting for product and marketing teams to want to collect customer feedback about every decision. The intent behind this is fine, but customers will quickly hit a state of survey fatigue and start to delete survey invitations. If different teams send surveys to customers without coordinating their effort the issue is compounded.

Consider the sample: Online surveys typically see relatively low response rates, sometimes as low as 1%. Therefore it is important to consider the biases that exist in the data set. For example, in customer satisfaction surveys the respondents tend to fall at the ends of the continuum of satisfaction. Biases are not unique to online surveys; all methodologies have them. The important thing is to keep these biases in mind and apply judgment went interpreting the results.

Following these general steps – remembering that surveys are an extension of your brand being the most important – will enable you to successful use DIY survey tools. If you struggle, professional research firms such as Isurus are always available to help.