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Treating Survey Respondents Like Strangers

Treating Survey Respondents Like Strangers

One of the best ways to have customers, students, employees, or members ignore your surveys and evaluation forms is to ask questions for which you should already know the answers. Here is an example sent to a friend some months ago:

Dear Alumna/Alumnus:

Gee, that’s a warm fuzzy. You don’t even know my name?

Choose one: Male/Female

Uh, I went to your school for 4 years and you don’t know my sex?

Select highest Degree Earned from the dropdown list:

Really? This information isn’t in your records?

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


Obviously my friend never finished this survey and it left her with a poor impression of her alma mater. Another friend showed me an email he received from an auto dealership at which he had purchased a vehicle. The first three questions were:

  1. Enter your LAST name
  2. Enter your FIRST name
  3. Enter your email address

My buddy’s obvious questions were:

  1. how do they not know my email address when they emailed me the survey request?
  2. how come they don’t know my name when I just bought a $35,000 vehicle from them?
  3. who would think any customer would take time to fill out a survey that was so impersonal?

Now I understand that the auto survey was generated from the VIN number of the new vehicle rather than by name or email of the customer, but a little effort would have produced a response to the survey instead of an immediate trip to the delete folder. For the tiny proportion of customers that bothered to type in their name and email, were they really in a good mood to give the dealership high ratings or positive comments?

INSTEAD of losing my buddy’s attention and annoying him, why didn’t the dealer jump right in and start asking critical questions? Are you happy with your purchase? What could we have done better? Any concerns in your first week of ownership?

I have critiqued and advised on dozens of Alumni Surveys and Membership Surveys and am often struck by how impersonal the questions are and how unwelcoming the tone. At the very least the full name and proper salutation of the respondent should be displayed on the online or paper survey. Demographic, historical and “obvious” information about the respondent should only be asked if made clear that you really do have some knowledge of the respondent but that you are uncertain if the records are up-to-date:

“Do you still live at [870 McChesney Avenue] and the best number to reach you is [518-276-2600]? If not, please edit these fields in the box below.”

Takeaway: Re-read the surveys and evaluation forms you are sending to your customers, students, members, and employees. Are you treating them like strangers by asking for information they would expect you to know? /Doc

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