Column: Are your surveys like election polls?

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Commentary by George Klein

The 2016 presidential election was significant for many reasons. Many feel it may be the most important election of our lifetime. The incredible inaccuracy of the polls stands out as one noteworthy aspect of the election. The political news reporters were shocked and embarrassed by how they blew the prediction of the election outcome.

This is a clear demonstration of how decisions can be based on erroneous information. Some of the inherent flaws in polls are similar to problems with surveys. Poll predictions use several factors that are supposed to be representative of the population.

Like polls, surveys are the responses from a subset of people who theoretically represent the whole, and the results are based on those who are willing to respond. The accuracy declines and results are skewed for several reasons.

One reason is because we are inundated with surveys, and many of us don’t respond, leading to a smaller sample of the whole. I spoke with a business leader recently who was frustrated that only three people out of 750 responded to his company’s survey. His compensation was affected by the satisfaction ratings, but the results were worthless.

Customers have been tainted by long surveys with endless pages of questions. No upfront indication of the length or the time it will take to complete result in high abandonment rates. Requests for extensive demographic information may benefit the business but send a message to the customer that the survey is not focused on improving the customer experience.

Businesses need ongoing customer feedback to continuously improve. So, how do they get it? Business can start by focusing on their customers’ needs, not their own. The purpose is to get feedback that can improve the customer experience. In a 140-character world, customers want to respond to one or two simple questions such as:

• How are we doing?

• How was your experience today?

• Rate us on a scale of 1-5.

• Let us know if there is anything else we can do to improve your experience.

If more in-depth market research is needed, there is a different process for handling that. Customers who choose to give their time by participating in extensive market research are doing the business a favor and should be compensated for participating.

The survey is a touchpoint on the customer journey, and a painful survey can lower customer satisfaction. If you are using surveys, look deeper before making decisions on the results. Are they truly representative of your customers?

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