9 ways to get survey results that matter

survey results, independent schools, fundraising, markeking that works

You probably know that surveying stakeholders is critically important to the marketing success of your business, school or organization. That’s the easy part. The hard part is how to get started.

There are consultants and firms that will develop surveys and provide analysis but like all good things in life, they come at a cost. On the other hand there are numerous online alternatives, many of which are very robust and cost effective – and are worth using. But, for your research to be effective, you need to know what you are doing. With that in mind here are a few (nine to be exact) tips on how to create surveys so that you get results that matter.

1. Link questions to decisions. Think about the questions you need to have answered in order to make important decisions for your organization. You may want to start with a list of issues that are currently under discussion. For example, you may want reaction to the new product line, the revised curriculum or updated donation opportunities. Survey questions should also support decision-making on longer term issues like service, quality and pricing because it’s not going to be practical or meaningful to survey more than once a year.

2. Make it actionable. Don’t ask questions for the sake of asking questions. If you can’t or are not prepared to act upon the results related to a particular question, don’t ask it. You don’t want to ask your customers how they feel about your hours of operation if you do business in a mall where those hours are restricted. Similarly, you don’t want to ask for feedback on your organization’s mission or philosophy if is there is no mandate from the Board to make changes. In addition to wasting the time of the respondent in answering these questions and your own time in tracking results, you will be setting unattainable expectations. If you ask me whether I would prefer to have expanded donation opportunities, I assume that by answering the question I may influence change. If that change is not possible, you’re just leading me toward inevitable disappointment.

3. It’s got to be measurable. If you just want to hear what people are saying about your organization, you can monitor social media or stand in the school parking lot. The point of surveying is to arrive at results that you can analyze and compare – year over year or to other similar organizations. Questions have to be framed in a way that allows for measurable results. Have respondents rank or rate statements or choose from a list of potential responses.

4. Make questions precise. You want to zone in on exactly what it is you want to know and make sure the question will provide the response. Instead of asking a respondent to rate their satisfaction with the service provided, ask them about the various aspects of that service. Was it prompt? Were their questions answered? Was it delivered pleasantly? This will not only provide precise information, it will be a more effective guide to changes in customer service you may want to consider.

5. Use clarity. What you are asking the respondent needs to be crystal clear. Test your question by imagining yourself in the shoes of your customer and ask yourself whether you would understand what’s being asked. When people take a survey and don’t really understand what’s being asked, they skip the question or answer indiscriminately.

6. Be polite and conversational. Phrases like “Now we want to ask you some questions about why you support our organization” are effective because they show respect and they may even make the intent of the question clearer. Questions that begin with please – as in “Please rate the following ….” value the respondent and by making the experience more pleasant. In that way, you also increase the chances that someone will complete the survey.

7. Open-ends add context. Open-ended questions – those that require a narrative response – are important for two reasons. They add context to the measurable parts of the survey. By reviewing the open-ended responses you will likely begin to understand the reasons for empirical results. In addition, respondents often want the opportunity to express an opinion or tell you their story. The responses can be very rich. Just be prepared for the bad news as well as the good.

8. Be time sensitive. There are probably tons of questions that you would like answered but a survey that is too long compromises the quality of responses in two ways. This research from the people at Survey Monkey proves that the longer the survey, the fewer people will complete it. But the deeper finding is that the longer the survey, the less time respondents spend on each question. While greater respondent affinity (as is the case with schools and religious organizations) buys more time tolerance, your survey should take no more than 10 minutes for maximum effectiveness.

9. Report back. This is the step that is probably most often missed by organizations that conduct research. Close the loop by reporting back to your stakeholders on the results of the survey. You can brag about the positive responses and in addition tell your community what action you are taking as a result of negative responses. It demonstrates accountability, transparency and a commitment to your customers and to continuous improvement. It will also encourage people to participate in future surveys.

Done well, surveying stakeholders will allow you to gauge satisfaction, determine the effectiveness of marketing or operational initiatives and verify the assumptions you are making about customer behaviour. Perhaps most importantly it is the best way to evaluate the success of branding efforts.

What do you think? Do you have any advice for those doing their own research or any experience wit your own research that you think can be helpful?. Please share.

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