One Chance

You Only Get One Chance to Talk to Customers, Right?

Too many organizations consider each survey to be their one and only chance to talk to customers. This mindset leads them to the dangerous practice of packing every conceivable question into a membership, satisfaction or customer survey. Folks from every corner of the organization propose items to include because, hey, who wants to be left out of *THE* survey this year?

As many of you know, this violates Principle #1 of The Nine Principles – focus each survey on a single purpose and craft questions around that single purpose. If other purposes are important, then those items should be included in the next survey. A sequence of “bitesize surveys” should be a conversation with your customers, each exchange helping to clarify one purpose or particular topic of interest.

Learn the 9 Principles of Feedback to retain customers and grow your membership


Yes, *THE* survey is a big event to your organization but to your customers it is just one of dozens of requests for feedback that they will get today. And yours will be ignored because it has too many purposes. Don’t make your surveys a single event and you will avoid the multiple-purpose error.

Multi-purpose surveys are easy to spot as they contain far too many items, jump from topic to topic, include multiple branching, and different sections are written in different styles. The most common practice is to add a marketing purpose (e.g., salary and demographics information) to the original purpose of the survey. These items usually appear at the end of the survey (tricky, huh? We do not want respondents to see those questions until they finish their ratings, shhh…).

Another reason the multi-purpose survey often fails in spectacular fashion is that it causes respondents to pause in midstream. Respondents who have to this point been providing their perceptions and ratings on one topic now arrive at the demographics section. Some will stop to consider the true purpose of the survey and think: “did I answer as a Hispanic female earning $75,000-$99,000?” “Will they treat my answers differently now that they know I am a 26-35 year old Caucasian male?” “Will they discount or emphasize my answers depending on how I am categorized?” Once respondents start questioning your motives, your response rate will plummet.

There are other problems – practical, interpretation, analysis – caused by having multiple purposes, but we will cover those in another post. For now, solve this problem by having others re-read your survey. Can they determine what the single purpose of your survey is? Or does it look like a survey built by committee, asking far too many questions about too many topics?  /Doc