Our 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 Zappos.com?”

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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