Almighty Surveys

If you’re like most executives (more than 80 percent), you rely on surveys to collect data about and from your customers. And there is a good chance that you use at least three to five data sources (including surveys) to get this information.

Because of their coverage and independence of observations, surveys out rank other methods of data collection. If worded correctly, surveys can deliver precise answers to specific questions and the data can be analyzed and tracked over time. Who doesn’t want to know how their customers behave and how their behavior affects (or will affect) the organization? While the almighty survey is still Number One, it can be very expensive and time consuming, and the responses do not provide the detail needed for action planning and implementation. For this, the organization would need to undergo further information gathering (e.g., focus groups and/ in-depth interviews) and
typically, outsourcing to consultants to build appropriate go-forward plans.

But if you are using surveys, here are some things to consider to maximize value from the responses (source: Joel Pecoraro, Business Management Services):

  1. Provide an incentive. One company included a letter with the survey stating that any person who completed the survey will have a $25 contribution sent to the “Children’s Make a Wish” fund in their name. Their response rate was close to 90 percent and a tremendous amount of goodwill was generated.
  2. Think: What’s in it for them? Don’t waste participants’ time with unnecessary questions. Keep them in mind and ask “what do they care about?” More companies are moving to a market research-driven survey in which customers’
    future expectations and needs are more fully explored rather than past performance. Participants will be more apt to participate if they feel they have some impact on the direction of an organization’s products or services.
  3. Tailor the questions to the specific department or manager receiving the survey. If you want to improve response rates, develop specific surveys. Don’t ask the purchasing department about the quality of your products or the quality department about your delivery performance.
  4. Include a short, personalized introduction letter, hand-signed from someone at the organization. While we all love email, a handwritten note is still the acceptable way to thank someone. This brief introductory letter signed by a senior company representative will improve the response rate.
  5. Remember: Less is more. Asking someone to spend 20-30 minutes on the phone or complete a 10-page survey doesn’t work. It’s better to get a large response to a handful of questions than a small response to a large amount of questions. One company sent out a survey with one question: “What could we do better?” They received a 50 percent response rate.

Surveys can’t (or shouldn’t) be used for everything. Depending on what questions you need answered, other methods of data collection may be better. For instance, if your organization is wondering how well its implemented standards and specifications are addressing key customer expectations, observations may be better than surveys. In fact, using quality function deployment (a Lean Six Sigma tool) would deliver the best results in this instance.

Whatever method you choose, remember that surveys, if done right, can give you the right information needed to drive improvement and your bottom line.