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Conquer the Survey Creep (by managing your survey length)

SMG Insights | May 10, 2016 SMG Insights 05/10/16

There is a monster running loose in many customer experience (CX) programs. He is sneaky, sometimes pushy, but yet charming and evasive. He may be a force that has been present since the inception of your CX program and you don’t even realize he exists. He can attack by persuading you into a “yes” answer without you realizing it, or he can come pounding into your office and demand to get his way.

His name? The Survey Creep.

CX programs are driven by the ability to learn from customers, and one of the most powerful learning tools is the post-transaction survey. Once we are able to hook the customer into our survey, it can be tempting to ask a slew of questions. However, with the advent of review sites, increasing mobile usage, and a younger population completing surveys, it is imperative now more than ever to keep surveys to a responsible length. The Survey Creep is on a quest to keep your survey unnecessarily long and must be defeated.

Based on SMG’s research on the best way to do research, we recommend a survey length of 5 minutes or less. To help ensure a 5-minute survey, make sure it’s easy for your customers to enter and exit the survey. You can do this by emailing invitations, printing a smart code, or offering a bounce-back incentive (e.g., discount or free item with purchase) so the customer isn’t asked to provide additional personal information as they would with a sweepstakes incentive. Bounce-backs also increase a customer’s willingness to take a slightly longer survey because the offer is more enticing than a sweepstakes entry.

After you have evaluated the entry and exit of your survey, it is time to slay the Survey Creep where he  often lives: the core content of your CX survey. The Survey Creep makes you believe every survey question is needed, or that the question is independent of other questions, or that this methodology is the only way to answer the business question at hand.

The good news: it doesn’t have to be this way! Here are some tools to help you take down the Creep and make your survey manageable for customers.

Defend yourself against the Creep.

At least once a year, open up your survey and review every question. For each question, ask yourself:

Is it “interesting” or do I need to know the answer?
The Survey Creep is a master of disguise. He can shift shapes into one of the most alluring forces in the insights industry: ”interesting information.” Insights professionals salivate at the opportunity to learn information, especially “interesting” information. Don’t waste your customers’ energy on this—it will lead to fatigue and cause them to drop out of your survey.   

When was the last time the company did anything with data from this question?
One of the most responsible things you can do with survey data is to take action from your learnings. A question may have originally been asked because you thought you would take action; however after a year or two, the company has shifted priorities. Often, questions can be left neglected on the survey, and after review, you realize that this question is not necessary anymore.  

Can you find the data elsewhere?
It’s tempting to believe that the only way to answer a question is to ask the customer point-blank. Don’t forget there are many other data sources, such as using text analytics, SurveyMini for behavioral data, or brand research for a more in-depth analysis. Also, questions are often correlated and it may not be necessary to ask the same thing in two different ways.  

Can the customer really answer this for you?

While we love our customers, their memories can’t always be trusted to remember very specific details about their experience. Remember, they don’t know your SOPs and can’t tell you if the display was actually set up correctly; they can only say if it looked neat or organized. Ask yourself if you are burdening the customer too much by asking about minute details.  

Does every customer need to be asked this question?
If you determined it is imperative to ask the question, ask yourself if you need to ask every single customer. Some initiatives are actionable at the brand level, not necessarily the unit level. So why not ask every X customer instead of every customer? Is it a challenging question that requires a bit longer of a response? If so, only ask customers on their desktop surveys. There are work-arounds so we don’t burden every customer.

Here is an example of how to attack the Survey Creep:

Survey question

Background or business need

Defending against the Creep

Please rate your satisfaction with the taste of the food.

This is a key driver of my business.

I know this is the #1 key driver for many of my low-performing restaurants. I need to gauge customer satisfaction with our core offering so I can help restaurants action plan and improve.
Outcome: Keep

Please rate your satisfaction with the temperature of the food.

We're a restaurant—of course temperature is important.

Temperature is highly correlated to Taste. It often drives dissatisfaction, but I can learn how often this is happening through text analytics.
Outcome: Cut

Where were you coming from before your visit to <RETAIL BRAND>?

It would be nice to know where the customer visited before shopping at my store.

This is interesting information, but we haven't actually taken action on this. It's just always been in the survey. I could get more actionable behavioral information from SurveyMini.
Outcome: Cut


So now that you know about the Survey Creep and his charming ways, are you brave enough to defeat him?

If you’re worried you might be succumbing to the Survey Creep’s demands, check out our white paper: Increasing response rates by managing survey length

Emily Gates | Director, Client Insights