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The Right Sized Survey

Without getting into deep research, it seems to me that the average marketing manager should be able to put together a sensible survey simply by using some common sense. Somehow, this is not happening as often as I would expect. My speculation is that people are so hungry for feedback on so many items that they can’t resist asking their customers for feedback on all of them. The result of this is that survey abandonment goes up proportionate to the length of the survey and the demographic of the recipient. And, you wind up with skewed results, since certain classes of respondents, as a group, are more inclined to abandon than others. Here’s a recent experience of mine to make my point.

I recently stayed at a hotel in southern Utah. Two days after my stay, I received a survey request from them. I like this particular hotel chain, so I had no problem opening the survey and giving them my feedback. They had a nice little progress bar on the screen so I knew exactly how far into the survey I had gone. After three or four pages of multiple ranking pages, however, I was still only 40% complete. The next page had 15 ranking questions on everything from their toiletries, to the beds, to the TVs, etc. I bailed out of the survey.

There are two issues in how the hotel should have designed their survey:

1. The hotel knew who I was and from my profile, should already have known whether or not I was a frequent business traveler or a pleasure/family traveler. Knowing that, they should realize that getting frequent survey responses from me would be very valuable to their business, but also knowing that I am a business person with very little time, they should ask, at most, no more than 5 questions. They could have easily asked me 5 questions out of a set of 20 and by doing this randomly across all their business travelers, still have received the feedback they desired. This would especially be true since their abandonment rate would probably drop by a factor of two or three.

2. Even if the hotel did not know I was a business traveler, they still should have done the same process outlined above because hotel stays are generally a repeated service. This means unlike, for instance, a car purchase, you are likely to repeat business with them more often than once every few years. Common sense says that recipients of surveys who have made higher dollar, more infrequent purchases will be more likely to tolerate a longer survey. If you are a provider of a more frequent service, you want to design a survey that is quick and easy for the recipient to take so that you will get feedback EVERY time you deliver that service.

So, use common sense when surveying. Understand your recipient. Spread the feedback items across the audience, especially when the sample size and frequencies are high. Know your key goals and cut questions that are not absolutely necessary to meet them.  

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