One Way to do a Good Survey

I get asked to participate in surveys, and frequently, I look at the surveys and think, “You’re wasting everyone’s time here. Some people grade everything harshly, some people grade everything easily. Many people keep their responses within a restricted band, other go for the poles.  Besides, you’re asking too many questions.  Few people have that many strong opinions.”

What I am going to suggest here applies to questions like, “How can we improve our marketing, service, or operations?” I used this technique several times to improve the marketing at an insurance company that I worked for. Here is the core of the idea: if you want to elicit accurate opinions on surveys — use a constraint.

When I survey people, I do a one question initial survey to ask what the issues are that they care about. It is just a brainstorm to identify issues. Then I follow with a one-question survey that lists all of the issues, and then I say: “Pretend you are the marketing director, and that you have a budget of $100,000. How would you divide up the budget?”

Placing a budget constraint on their answers forces respondents to optimize. It also standardizes, so you don’t have to adjust for optimists and pessimists. It’s a very simple question, so answers are sharp. And, if someone feels very strongly about just one item, they can express that. Plus, it values the time of those you are surveying, so they are more willing to answer; you get almost 100% completion.

Anyway, this method has worked well for me. If you try it, and it works well for you, or doesn’t, let me know.