Survey Savvy

why.jpg“We’re going to the zoo.”


“Because it’s a beautiful day, and we need fresh air.”


“Because it’s not healthy to stay indoors all the time.”


“Look, we’re going to the zoo. Period. I want to see the baby dinosaurs.”

“They have dinosaurs?”

If you’ve ever had a three-year-old, or been one, you know that they turn everything into a question, most often the infuriatingly simple, “Why?”

It’s the first survey we conduct, and the answers aren’t so important as the question.   

Today, it seems that customer service is following the child’s example. Visit a website, buy a fast-food meal, or call the cable company, and you’ll see a survey pop up on your screen, be invited to take a survey after your call, or the sales receipt will induce you to take a survey in exchange for the offer of free food. 

So many questions, so little time! The number of surveys we are asked to answer grows daily. I recognize the value that surveys can have to improve the customer service experience, and I am usually happy to oblige, but I do so selectively: the competition for my time is such that I must be adequately bribed to participate.

One of the foundations of good customer service is ascertainment – the act of designing a great service model by asking what the public wants, needs, or expects, and responding appropriately.

My concern is that there are simply too many surveys out there begging for responses, and that many of them are inartfully composed. Surveys can be terrific barometers of service satisfaction and can measure interest in new initiatives, but don’t launch one without considering the following five rules beforehand.

  1. Is the survey necessary?

Every survey demands a raison d’être – a reason for being. If you’re tossing out surveys like beads in a Mardi Gas parade, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. It’s not about joining the fun with SurveyMonkey. It should be about wanting to know the answers and being able to act on them. 

  1. What’s the goal?

Keep the survey focused on one narrow topic.  For instance, ask about consumer response to your hotel’s free continental breakfast, rather than the full range of services and amenities, front desk efficiency, and the company slogan.

  1. Can you KISS it?

Brevity and focus is always appreciated. Utilize the KISS (Keep it short and simple) principle. Always! Use laser-focused targeting, and anticipate how you will use the answers you get. Don’t ask how the weather was during a guest’s stay unless you can control the elements – retroactively.

  1. How will answers be analyzed?

Have 20 colleagues or friends answer your draft survey before sending it out into the cold, cruel world. Are the questions clearly stated? Are the answer choices sufficient? Are there gaps in logic? Is answering easy and enjoyable? Edit, refine, and re-test until you are satisfied, or until you run out of friends.

  1. What payment can be offered?

Nobody works for free. If your survey is short, a free coffee or a $1 charitable donation may be sufficient. If it takes more than five minutes to complete, there should be a nice discount or gift involved. Test the incentives as well.


Scott H. Lewis is a sales and customer service coach for Signature Europe.

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