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Survey Tips

Getting Better Results from Employee Surveys and Customer Surveys

Avoid Common Pitfalls When Conducting an Employee Survey or a Customer Survey

Employee surveys and customer surveys enable businesses to gather important information, perceptions and insight from employees, customers and other groups (e.g. suppliers, shareholders, members, etc.) and then make better, more informed decisions. Surveys are the most effective way to quickly gather anonymous or identified feedback and suggestions from large numbers of people.
Some of the many types of employee surveys and customer surveys that businesses conduct include employee satisfaction surveys, employee engagement surveys, employee opinion surveys, 360 leadership surveys, employee benefits surveys, employee retention surveys, IT customer satisfaction surveys, and customer opinion surveys and customer satisfaction surveys.
Organizations sometimes fail to achieve the results they should be realizing from surveys due to several reasons. These reasons include poor design, asking the wrong questions, failure to conduct the survey effectively, difficulty getting people to respond, inadequate analysis of survey findings, failure to communicate and take action on the results and other reasons. The purpose of this article is to provide tips for getting more value from a wide range of business surveys.
Below you will find 37 survey tips that will help your organization achieve significant value and a strong payback from employee surveys and customer surveys. Tips 1-4 focus on specific types of employee surveys. Tips 5-7 focus on specific types of customer surveys. Tips 8-37 will help you conduct any type of survey more effectively.

Employee Survey Tips

  1. Employee satisfaction surveys, employee engagement surveys and employee opinion surveys - These employee surveys should be conducted annually to get the greatest benefit in terms of identifying new opportunities, problems and measuring progress since the most recent survey and monitoring trends. Employees have extensive information how satisfied they are and how engaged they are in their job. They also have considerable knowledge and insight about customer satisfaction and needs. Employee satisfaction surveys, employee opinion surveys and employee engagement surveys should include questions that get at key issues that drive employee and company performance. Don't be afraid to ask questions that you expect will gather negative responses, including satisfaction with compensation. When questions are worded effectively, they provide important information you need to know and act on. If you are not willing to ask the important questions, why are you conducting an employee survey?
  2. Employee benefits surveys - Your organization may be providing benefits that are not in sync with what many of your employees need. Employee benefit surveys will tell you if employees are satisfied with benefits and what you need to change. Results from an employee benefits survey help your benefits decision makers to make better, informed decisions that can achieve greater value for benefits dollars spent by both your organization and your employees.
  3. 360 leadership surveys - Many people believe that the most important driver of organizational success is its leaders. A 360 leadership survey provides feedback to individual leaders at any level of an organization about how they are perceived by their peers, direct reports and from leaders above them in the organization. When conducted for many of an organization's leaders at the same time, 360 surveys also provide comprehensive consolidated information about the organization's leadership strengths and weaknesses, and where leadership needs to be strengthened. Companies should consider conducting a 360 leadership survey every year or two. Hold leaders accountable for increasing their own leadership effectiveness and performance and that of their direct reports.
  4. Employee retention surveys and exit interview surveys - Some organizations experience high levels of costly voluntary employee turnover either across their organization or in specific departments. An effective way to identify the causes of turnover and to gather suggestions for decreasing employee attrition is to conduct employee retention surveys or employee turnover surveys. These are typically surveys that are sent to former employees, focusing on how they perceived your organization, why they left and what could have been done to keep them. Another approach is to conduct employee exit interview surveys, asking similar questions of employees at the time they are leaving your organization.

Customer Survey Tips

  1. Customer satisfaction surveys and customer opinion surveys - Business to business customers and consumers have many companies that they can give their business to. Customers know what they want and expect when buying products and services. A customer satisfaction survey or a customer opinion survey gathers important information, opinions and insight from customers that can be acted on to make your company more competitive, increasing your ability to attract and keep customers. Depending on the types of products and services you sell, you should consider conducting a customer survey annually at a minimum and more often if you have large numbers of customers and a relatively high level of customer turnover. You need to find out why customers are dissatisfied, why they are going to your competitors and what you need to do to attract and keep more customers.
  2. IT customer satisfaction surveys and IT User Surveys - Most in-house and outsourced IT service functions underperform from the perspective of IT customer satisfaction. Poor or inconsistent performance on the part of IT help desks, desk-side support, application support, network support and data centers impacts IT customer satisfaction and IT customer performance. Organizations should conduct an IT customer satisfaction survey at least annually. They can also consider conducting ongoing IT incident follow-up surveys, asking a sample of IT customers to complete a brief survey after an IT incident has been resolved. IT surveys often identify hidden and recurring problems that will save considerable money when they are properly identified and resolved.
  3. Call center customer satisfaction surveys - Many organizations rely on company-run and outsourced call centers or customer service centers to provide a wide range of customer service and sales support. Customers hate to wait to talk with a CSR, to receive poor service, or to be helped by a rude or poorly trained CSR. Call center surveys or customer service center surveys are highly effective approaches for assessing and increasing call center customer satisfaction and call center performance from the perspective of customers. Call center customer satisfaction surveys can be conducted periodically, or they can be conducted on an ongoing basis as follow-up surveys gathering feedback about specific customer service incidents. We recommend conducting call center surveys to increase customer satisfaction and retention, and to identify and eliminate costly recurring problems.

Tips for Conducting and Getting More Value From Surveys

  1. Conduct online or Internet surveys where possible - Surveys conducted using the Internet are the quickest and most cost-effective way to conduct surveys. More often than not, employees, customers and other recipients of business surveys have access to e-mail and the Internet at work and at home. For employees that normally do not have access to computers and the Internet, companies can easily provide access to designated computers.
  2. Have a clear purpose for the survey - The design and questions should stay focused on its purpose. By clearly wording the questions and structuring the answers, surveys can be used in many ways and for a variety of reasons.
  3. Give the survey an appropriate title - The survey title provides an opportunity to summarize a survey's objective and encourage respondents to participate. A good title will encourage respondents that their time investment will be worthwhile.
  4. When you are designing your survey, consider how you will analyze the results - The more complicated the questions and survey structure are, the harder it will be to display the data in useful formats and to analyze the data.
  5. Give respondents an idea of how much time the survey will take - It is good practice to indicate approximately how long the survey is likely to take so respondents can choose the best time to complete the survey. Respondents may drop out if the survey appears long with no end in sight.
  6. Tell respondents the survey end date - Encourage completion of the survey as soon as possible and inform respondents of the survey's end date so they are able to schedule the necessary time.
  7. Ask pertinent questions - Only ask questions about issues that you really want to learn about and that you are willing to take action on if the results indicate a need to do so.
  8. Ask pertinent demographic questions - Only ask demographic questions that will provide useful information that you can take action on. Employee surveys should identify department, location if your company has more than one location, and possibly other information such as gender, age range, race, years of service with your organization, etc. Likewise, customer surveys should include questions that identify demographic information about business customers or consumers being surveyed. Demographic questions enable the creation of survey reports based on customer and employee demographics which is important in identifying perceptions, opinions, suggestions, problems and opportunities by actionable segments. Let responders know that demographic questions are being asked to see if specific demographic groups feel differently about certain issues than other groups do. Make answering demographic questions optional.
  9. For most surveys, make the responses anonymous - Unless you really need to know who responded and the specific responses provided by each employee or customer, ensure that all individual responses will be anonymous, with no ability to link responses to individual responders. Communicate that the survey responses are anonymous and that all individual responses will be aggregated. This encourages people to respond, and to respond honestly. People are often in fear of retribution if they identify themselves and they provide negative answers. They are more likely to respond to a survey and to provide honest answers, including comments and suggestions when they are confident that their responses will be anonymous. Most employees and customers are more confident that their responses are anonymous when surveys are conducted by an outside, independent survey company. You can also enable survey respondents to identify themselves on an optional basis. Finally, certain types of surveys will provide more useful results when respondents identify themselves and you can follow up with them to ask additional questions or get clarification on their answers. Also, you may want to quickly communicate with customers that are dissatisfied. In these cases it is appropriate to request that respondents identify themselves and provide contact information.
  10. Organize survey with questions in logical categories - Group questions into clear categories as this will make it easier for the participants and it will also be easier to analyze and make sense of the responses.
  11. Keep rating scales consistent - To the extent possible, minimize the number of rating scales used in a survey. This makes it easier for responders.
  12. Plan for an appropriate survey response period - People are often busy, or they may be away and not available to respond to surveys when they first receive them. Three to four week response periods are recommended. Follow-up reminders should be sent out weekly during the survey response period.
  13. Promote the survey to increase participation - Pre-survey announcements and follow-up communications during the survey response period help to increase participation for both employee surveys and customer surveys.
  14. Provide an opportunity to include comments and suggestions for all or most questions - Comments provide insight and information that explains why employees and customers are satisfied or dissatisfied. Comments often also include useful suggestions for making better, more informed business decisions. Themes and trends are often identified while analyzing the comments.
  15. Keep the length of the survey as short as possible - Every question asked should be asked for a reason. Limit asking questions that will provide you with "nice to know" information and instead concentrate on the "need to know" questions.
  16. Use plain language, avoid acronyms, maintain consistency and don't ask questions that may result in ambiguous answers - Word questions clearly. If questions can be interpreted in more than one way, the responses will be suspect and there is a risk that analysis of the survey data will be misleading and unreliable.
  17. Avoid including long questions - Use concise sentences wherever possible. Long questions can cause a respondent to lose focus and possibly abandon the survey.
  18. Ask only one question at a time - Avoid confusing respondents with questions like "Do you like Italian food and Chinese food?"
  19. Proofread the survey carefully - Review it thoroughly more than once and if possible, have other people review it. Make sure the survey is grammatically correct and makes sense.
  20. Avoid questions that provide "nice to have" information - Do not include questions that will not provide useful information and insight for taking action if needed and for making better decisions. If you do, you are wasting the time of respondents and your own time reading and analyzing responses.
  21. Create and implement action plans - Use survey results as a basis for making changes that will enable your company to perform and compete more effectively. Create action plans and get managers and employees involved in making appropriate changes.
  22. Communicate survey findings - Share results with your managers and employees and communicate next steps. Share pertinent survey results based on managers' and employees' positions, and their individual need to know and act on results.
  23. Keep employees informed about progress making changes - Communicate ongoing progress with survey action plans, linking actions and progress back to survey results.
  24. Consider using a survey company to conduct cost-effective surveys - Survey companies have experience and expertise well beyond that available in most organizations, and they provide credibility. As mentioned previously, most employees and customers prefer to have their survey responses handled on an anonymous basis, and using a survey company rather than using self-service survey services provides people with greater confidence that their responses will be handled on an anonymous basis.
  25. Make sure to get comprehensive reports - Survey companies typically have reporting capabilities that are much more powerful and flexible than the survey reports available from using self-service survey software and self-service web surveys. This can save days of costly and error prone hands-on time preparing graphs, data tables and comments reports sorted by demographics.
  26. Commit to taking action on survey findings - Do not conduct surveys if you are not prepared to take action based on survey results. When you ask people to complete a survey you are creating an expectation in their minds that you care about their opinions and that you will take appropriate action based on their answers. Failure to take action sends a signal to employees and customers that you cared enough to ask their opinions, but not enough to really listen to them and make changes based on their feedback.
  27. Make sure benchmarked survey data provide valid comparative data - Some survey companies can provide comparative benchmarking data from other surveys they have conducted for their other customers. Be cautious about using external normative comparisons for benchmarking your survey results. There is a very high probability that comparison of your survey results with survey benchmarking data from other companies will result in invalid comparisons due to many possible reasons including different industry, different products and services, different customers and employees, different customer/employee demographics, different business strategies and plans, surveys done at different points in time, reflecting different economic conditions, and survey questions worded differently and/or in different order.
  28. Conduct follow-up surveys - Conducting annual, semi-annual or quarterly surveys is an effective way to monitor progress on actions taken as a result of previous surveys and to identify pertinent changes since the last survey.
  29. Include survey measurements as part of your company's ongoing metrics - Survey results can be an important part of a balanced scorecard or other companywide measurement process, providing critical employee and customer data. Employee surveys and customer surveys measure how well your organization is learning, performing and executing.
  30. Thank your respondents - Respondents spend time completing surveys and should be thanked at the end of completing the survey or in a follow up e-mail. You may even want to consider incentives such as a reward or a prize drawing.
The bottom line - Surveys are a powerful and cost-effective tool for gathering important information, insight and suggestions for identifying and diagnosing problems and opportunities, but only if surveys are designed well, conducted effectively and the results are acted on.
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