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Survey design mistakes to avoid

By December 30, 2019Customer surveys
survey mistakes

The recent proliferation of digital survey tools has made the art of collecting feedback an easy, economical exercise. Frequent, finely targeted surveys are well suited to current agile management practices in that they provide a quick snapshot of perceptions and experiences of people on the front lines of business, and allow quick responses. That’s the theory. Reality doesn’t always play out that way.

The rise of survey democracy

The downside to a ‘surveys for all’ democracy is the vast scope for misuse by well-intentioned survey design amateurs. That is, poorly designed surveys producing questionable data, misinterpreted as statistical truth, and presented to unwitting executives as evidence for data-driven decisions. See how wrong it can go?

That brief scenario is reason enough to work with survey professionals.

And survey fatigue is real. At a point, people just get tired of taking surveys. Don’t forget, they’re employees (engagement surveys, pulse surveys, culture surveys to name a few), customers (satisfaction surveys), citizens (market research surveys) and online media users (web surveys) and there’s a survey for every persona.

Common survey mistakes you don’t have to make

Whether you’re one of those well-intentioned survey design amateurs mentioned earlier, or a survey professional who isn’t above friendly reminders, here are some common survey design mistakes to avoid.

  • Blowing the cover of confidentiality
    If your survey is asking for information of a confidential nature, such as rating management performance or personal perceptions of corporate culture, make sure you live up to your promise of confidentiality. Examine your survey process for loopholes. For example, your results may be anonymous, but anyone with access to filtering the data by demographics could easily identify the one and only finance executive at your branch in Pinetown, Natal. It’s happened.
  • Survey feedback that goes nowhere
    People quickly tire of taking surveys when there’s no demonstrable result for the time and effort they put into answering the questions. Share feedback immediately and then follow up with communication about how and when issues will be addressed.
  • Confusing, compound questions
    Each question should have a single subject. For example, asking ‘‘Do you feel that your manager is fair and provides the support you need to do your job?’ is confusing. Are you asking about fairness or support? Those are two different questions.
  • Inappropriate language and style
    Make sure your survey language meets the level of understanding of your audience. Question wording should be short and simple for the sake of clarity. But also remember to avoid using jargon, acronyms or overly formal language.
  • One way communication
    Remember that a survey is more than simply feedback. It’s an opportunity to open a dialogue and create a platform for collaboration. Encourage people to participate on the basis that they’re part of a collective and what they say is meaningful and will be considered and applied to make improvements.
  • Wrong survey medium for the audience
    Technology has given rise to multiple delivery options, so be sure you pick the one your audience will be most likely to enjoy and be able to engage with. Millennials, for instance, want to work with responsive mobile.
  • Delayed response and follow-up
    Somewhere in the world, patience is still a virtue. Not in the world of surveys. The days of waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for analysts to crunch, report and interpret the data are very long gone. People in general, and executives in particular, expect instant results. The object of the undertaking, after all, is to get instant feedback and fast survey results for action planning. Be prepared to deliver.
  • Missing an engagement opportunity
    Surveys are more than a static exercise to gather feedback. They’re an opportunity to actively listen to your people. Listen as a human being, not as an executive, and hear the humanity of the people responding. It’s a simple and powerful way to improve engagement.
  • Asking for flattery rather than feedback
    Your survey questions should emphase pain points in your organisation, rather than offer opportunity for flattery. It’s all very well knowing whether or not your CEO is perceived to have excellent leadership qualities, but what you really want to know is why your product delivery is chronically delayed. That’s the problem you need to root out and there are specific questions you need to ask.

Still want to go it alone?

Those are some of the major hurdles standing between you and quality survey data that you can use for meaningful management decision making.

We’re biased, of course, but it’s worth consulting a survey professional to help you do the right survey research, ask the right type of questions and create a survey that’s much more than a vehicle for data collection.

Contact us.