5 Keys to Effective Survey Design

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Surveys don’t have to be boring statistical summaries of data. When designed correctly, customer or employee surveys can be powerful drivers of facts for better decision-making and actions. Experience has shown that there are really five keys to designing surveys to get the most powerful and relevant information from them:

1. Start with the end in mind. Market researchers sometimes call this the research objective or the problem statement and it’s critical that your team spends thoughtful time on this if they want to produce a meaningful survey. Survey designers must create surveys with an actual business outcome as their goal. It’s not enough to collect information or get insights about some important topic. Certainly, insights will be gained by talking with customers and employees, but there has to be a deeper, more business-relevant purpose to it all. Get rid of the questions that would be “nice to know more about” and focus on the business-driving insights your company needs. What is the information being used for? How can that use be connected to growth, revenue generation, lead generation, pricing premiums, productivity, employee turnover, customer retention, or any of a number of other profitability driving factors? To be business-relevant, surveys must achieve a business purpose and must be designed that way throughout.

2. Design the survey on the basis of behaviors rather than attitudes. Customer satisfaction is an aspect of business that gets measured often, but study after study shows that satisfied customers still defect and switch to competitors. Rather than measuring an attitude like satisfaction, more action-oriented surveys look to measure a customer’s behavioral intentions. What do they plan to do that will have a business impact for your company? A popular behavior thanks to the Net Promoter Score is to measure “willingness to recommend.” If given the opportunity, how likely is a customer to recommend my business to a friend or colleague? This can be a powerful behavioral indicator if your business is primarily driven by the referral activity of past customers. If, however, your business is driven by other factors like repurchases, product usage, purchasing new products, or purchasing value-added services, then you should be measuring these behaviors. On the employee side, it’s not enough for employees to be satisfied in their jobs – measure their behavioral intent with questions like ‘How likely would you be to recommend a friend to the company as an employer?’ or ‘How likely would you be to promote the company’s products/services to a friend?.’ These actions and behaviors can be tied to actual business results, which is after all the objective.

3. Design action alert triggers. These are specific questions that when triggered with certain responses should generate a reaction within your company. For example, if a customer that is being surveyed indicates that they have an unresolved problem from the past, don’t just lump that information into some statistic. Design a trigger so that a customer service manager or supervisor contacts that customer immediately, diagnoses the problem that was experienced, and helps to resolve that problem. This activity alone will drive a cultural shift in your company that focuses on taking action now to improve customer experiences in small ways; plus it has an immediate positive impression for the customer on the receiving end – who too often thinks their responses just go into a black hole. These alerts can be set up for positive things as well, like when a customer mentions an employee by name for something positive they did. The alert suddenly created a great opportunity to recognize a certain employee.

4. Read all open-ended comments verbatim. There are a lot of tools out there that can analyze text for you and mine for keywords. These are good tools and they’re useful for the purpose of extracting some summary level insights, but nothing… not a thing that compares to reading word-for-word what a customer or employee said in their open-ended comments. Take the time to read these – Better yet, make it an assignment for your leadership team to read at least 10 open-ended comments from customers every week. This simple task will take less than 5 minutes and will help your team to get focused on what’s most important to customers and employees.

5. Link feedback to financials. Connecting your customer or employee feedback to financial measures will bring your surveys to a higher level of business relevance. Few things are as powerful as being able to state in a meeting that a 1 point improvement in employee engagement or customer loyalty will translate into actual revenue or profitability improvements. Linking these data sets together also helps to identify new segments of customers based on profitability and loyalty, rather than just attitudinal or demographic profiles. Creating these linkages can also help your company optimize its operations by answering questions like ‘How good do our service reps have to be for them to generate incremental revenue from customers?’ and ‘What is the linkage between customer perceptions of our performance and their actual buying behavior?.’

Surveys can be powerful tools, not just for the insights they deliver, but for the actual tangible value they can bring to your business. The key to extracting that value is in using tools and services that allow you to design actionability into every step of the process.

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