Surveys are one of the primary vehicles for collecting the information businesses need. Done right, surveys can reduce new product and other risk; generate insights about employees, customers, and markets; and align PR, advertising, and other communications programs with target constituencies. Done poorly, they can derail strategy and generate misguided marketing, customer service, and communications plans. Your business—and your business strategy—is only as good as the information you have. So how do you ensure that a survey will give you the information you need? First, you have to identify what you are looking for and understand just what surveys can—and cannot—do.
Generally, corporate surveys seek to understand markets, relationships, or transactions, says Frederick C. Van Bennekom, author of Customer Surveying: A Guidebook for Service Managers. Market surveys seek opportunities and requirements for offerings. Customer and employee surveys typically explore relationships, identifying both strengths and areas for improvement. Transaction surveys can operate as a quality control check, revealing the perceived effectiveness of a purchase or service call.
Surveys demand well-defined objectives, a good match of the intended communication to the medium, and clear presentation of results. What problem will the results solve, or how will the results be incorporated into decisions or operations? "Many make the mistake of starting to write questions without spelling out objectives," says Roberta L. Sangster, chair of the survey review committee for the American Statistical Association, based in Alexandria, Virginia. Without an objective as a beacon, questions can lack relevancy, surveys can turn into swamps of complexity, and results can fail to illuminate issues.
Wreden, Nick. Using Surveys to Get the Information Your Business Needs - Survey Says? Identify Your Objectives. 4 11 2002. <http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/3162.html>.