How Not to Make a Survey

David Sigal
Jul 3, 2020 · 3 min read
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The more you interact with others, the more others want to get an idea of what you think of your mutual relationship. Sometimes I get surveys from our service providers asking me to rate them. In itself it is a valid request for feedback, but how it is done can make all the difference whether I as a customer or a business partner would want to participate and complete it or not.

One such request this week stood out in a wrong way. My first instinct was to ignore it, but on a second thought I decided to make a lemonade out of that lemon and I wrote to that company what I really thought about their survey and how they can make it better.

This survey came from one of the companies we work with and been working with for years. To inform me about this important undertaking, they sent an email in advance saying the survey is to be expected at a certain date, then the survey itself came in and shortly after it was followed by a reminder that it went out and if I haven’t filled it out, they would greatly appreciate if I do.

I looked at the survey and a few things about it screamed to me “I don’t know why I exist”. What was it?

  1. Asking for my email address as a first question, making it mandatory and explaining it as a need to figure out my relationship to their company.
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Do not and I mean DO NOT make email address field mandatory if you want people to actually give you an honest feedback.

You want to know my relationship to your company and afraid this survey will be shared everywhere and you would get flooded with irrelevant feedback? Add a question “Please specify your relationship with [company name]” or if you feel adventurous, write “Please describe your relationship with our company.”

2. Making all questions mandatory. That’s a great way to kill a survey for people that took a minute to participate, yet are not necessarily committed to answering every single question. And why should they? Responding to a survey in most cases is a favor, a courtesy people extend by spending some time and giving feedback that was requested of them.

Make it easier for people to give as much feedback as they want, not harder, as some feedback often is better than no feedback at all, and no feedback is the most likely outcome to forcing people to answer every question.

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3. Garbage in, garbage out. Making all questions sound the same, only so slightly changing them is a sure recipe for NOT getting the feedback you want.

Think carefully about how to phrase a question to actually get the answers you want, unless making a survey was just another task that needed to be done and some data collected where actual feedback doesn’t matter.

How did I make a lemonade out of it?

By writing this article I hope that some of you will find it useful and if you ever find yourself in a position to make a survey, these points will come to mind and the world will be spared from more meaningless surveys.

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