Author Archives: Evelyn Starr

How to Use Surveys Strategically

Survey on a clipboard - how to do surveys strategically and wellOur world has gotten feedback happy.  And it’s annoying.

In a 48-hour period at the beginning of May I received five surveys.

One paper survey via snail mail with 66 questions to rate my son’s pediatrician.  One online survey from a hotel I had stayed at the prior weekend and another from a hotel stay two weeks before.  A third online survey from the conference I had just attended, and a fourth one from OpenTable for the restaurant I had dined in the Friday before.

It seems there is little you can do these days without being asked to rate your experience.  I had lunch last week with my friend Kathy who was bewildered by a gas station that asked her to rate her experience pumping gas.

Pumping gas.  This has gotten out of hand people.

The idea of using customer satisfaction to drive performance has run amok.

Coupled with the ease of online survey services like SurveyMonkey, every hotel stay, online purchase and doctor visit triggers a survey request.

And don’t even get me started about surveys from car dealerships.

As a marketing research professional, you’d think this would be exciting to me.

It’s not.

I am a consumer like you, with limited time on Earth.  None of which I want to spend answering 66 questions about my son’s pediatrician.

This survey diarrhea wastes our time and has not made a proportional improvement in the commercial world.


Because most companies and organizations fail to realize that it is not the doing of the survey that improves customer experience and brand image, it’s how you respond to the information.

Moreover many surveys are poorly done.

Too many questions.

Badly written questions.

Questions with industry jargon that customers don’t understand.

Meaningless ratings scales, like the one in the graphic above.

What happens when you do a survey poorly?

You leave yourself wondering how to respond, because your questions were not designed to set you up for action with the answers.

Then you feel like you’ve wasted the time and money you invested in the research.  Worse yet, you may have damaged your brand by asking something of your customers and then ignoring their responses.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Good research can set you up for a quantum leap in brand success.

You can get on the path to good research right now by following these simple rules:

  1. Only ask when you need to know. If you have no plans to use the information, don’t waste your time or your audience’s.
  2. Begin with the end in mind. What are your goals for the research?  Be specific.  Every survey should be designed for a clear purpose and action.
  3. Focus on what you need to know. Need-to-know items are the ones that lead to decisions and prompt action.  Nice-to-know items lengthen surveys unnecessarily and cloud the purpose.
  4. Put the most important thing first. Maybe make it the only thing you ask.
  5. Avoid jargon. Use the language your audience would use.  If you don’t know the words they would use, you need to spend time talking to them directly or observe interviews or focus groups.
  6. Heed the results. Take time to understand the insights you get and then act on them.

Handle your brand’s time in front of your audience with care.

One brand that does this well is Zappos.  If you go to their website and click on “feedback on our website,” they ask two questions. Two and only two.

The first one is the likelihood that you would recommend Zappos to a friend or colleague, rated on a scale of 0-10.

The second is “How can we improve”

They prompt a similar survey after each purchase, with the second question being “How could we have improved this purchase experience for you?”

You can see the specific goals of their surveys and easily envision how they can use the responses they get.

I’m not saying that you should only ask two questions.  I am saying that every question should serve the purpose of your survey.  When the purpose is covered, your survey is complete.

So what did I do with the five surveys in two days?

I answered the one from the conference on the day it arrived and the OpenTable survey two days later, because I thought those organizations would listen and take action.  I recycled the paper survey and deleted the emails from the two hotel chains.

Have you had any ridiculous survey experiences? Please share them here.

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5 Ways A Good Rivalry Benefits Your Brand

Michael Phelps competing June 28 in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on NBC Sports

Michael Phelps competing June 28 in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on NBC Sports

Do you know who Michael Phelps is?

Unless you have been living behind a boulder, you probably do. (I avoid clichés.)  The 31-year-old swimming phenom has 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold, and has set numerous world records.

Phelps’ main rival, Ryan Lochte, has 11 Olympic medals.  Without Phelps present Lochte could be considered the best male swimmer of all time.  But he happened to come of age at the same time as Phelps and therefore has an underdog position to him. read more

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How FitBit Stays Fit

array of FitBit productsI have been exercising regularly most of my life.  As a high energy person, I discovered in my teens that expending this energy often helped my sanity.  And that of the people around me.

In high school I took modern dance classes.  In college I took aerobics classes.

When I moved to Boston, I found a gym and cajoled myself to go there a few times a week.  read more

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A College Brand Standout

3 blank college pennants - one navy, one gray, one maroon.

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On April 20th, as I sat in an auditorium at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I had my marketing heart stolen.

My son AJ and I were in the process of a 1000-mile tour to revisit three colleges to help him choose one.

On that beautiful Wednesday morning, AJ was sitting in on a class while I attended a one-hour parent session conducted by Neil Weissman, Dean of the College. read more

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Should Your Brand Be on Facebook?

Facebook like thumbs up hand and thumbs down handWhen I woke up on April 3, 2009, I did not know that I would be joining Facebook that day.

Around 8pm I had just connected on LinkedIn with friends from my high school years when one of them wrote, “You need to get on Facebook! We have been posting some old group photos that you are in.”

Talk about an incentive to join. read more

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How New Customer Only Deals Burn Your Brand

light bulb burning bright unlike new customer only deals which hurt your brandIn addition to my roles as wife, mother, healer and finder of things in our household, I am also Chief Operations Officer.  Like any good COO, I seek to keep overhead costs down.

So when our electricity bill shot up this winter, I investigated. read more

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Vacation by Chocolate

Evelyn's Original Chocolate Wrapper from Hershey's Chocolate World brand experienceMy husband Dan has a particular knack when planning vacations.  I’m not talking about posh accommodations or exotic destinations or exclusive restaurants.

When he was helping to plan our trip to Paris to celebrate my 40th birthday, he discovered that a major chocolate exhibition was going to be there at the same time.  Besides sampling and purchase opportunities, there were multiple exhibits including a replica of a 17th century dress made of chocolate. read more

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Cases of List-taken Identity

Good list management means seeing the customer's point of view.For the past year I’ve been immersed in my son AJ’s college search.  We’ve visited 11 schools, some of them twice.  It’s been fun and one of the funny outcomes is that I have realized that I would be happy to go to college now. 

I’m not serious of course.  But there are some schools who think otherwise.  Three colleges have begun courting me. read more

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Getting Carded at 50

Over the course of Thanksgiving week I traveled about 600 miles.  From our house in Natick, Massachusetts to my parents’ house in Northern New Jersey, out to a college visit in Pennsylvania and then back to Natick again.

At the end of this odyssey I arrived home to find an unmarked envelope in my mail.  You know, the kind with no sender identified in the return address.

I thought it might be an updated credit card that the issuer did not want to call attention to in the mail.

But no, it was my AARP card. read more

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Will Zagat Fly or Fade?

Zagats Boston Guide Brand in Adolescence At Risk of Not MaturingBefore I started writing monthly newsletters four years ago, I wrote restaurant reviews.  Just one or two a year for Zagat’s Boston Restaurant Guide.  One contributed review was enough to score me a free copy of the next guide release and seemed well worth the effort.

When Zagat first launched its guide in the early 1980s it was unique. It provided succinct reviews and ratings from patrons instead of critics.  This was revolutionary in the 1980s.

Like many new products, the Zagat guide emerged from the recognition of an unmet market need.  read more

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