Keep It Simple Surveys

The beauty and power of collecting input from a simple survey.

Diana Lillicrap 2.28.2018

Gathering outside perspective doesn’t have to be complicated or hard. In fact, we’d argue that some of the most insightful and usable data can be collected with a simple online survey.

The value of qualitative data

To accomplish new insights, you have to be willing to listen to real voices from outside your walls. One tool for doing this quickly and cost-effectively is in the form of a qualitative survey. There are several free or low-cost online tools that make it extra easy. By design, a survey can provide you with information about existing opinions, new ideas, or even uncover things you may not expect. And by nature, qualitative research can quickly get at key themes and deeper issues with fewer participants. With as few as 10 valuable outside voices that share detailed responses, you can achieve insightful and usable results.

Why simple is good

Anyone who’s taken an online survey knows that quick and easy is the key. Anything that takes me away from my normal day for more than a few minutes is going to leave me annoyed or even unwilling to finish it. Our recommendation is to keep your qualitative surveys to 10 questions or fewer. Use a mix of quick checkbox questions (like location, client industry, age) and open-ended questions (like what do you like best about company XYZ or what do you wish they did differently) that allow participants to say as much or as little as they want. It’s amazing how much you can learn from a few simple questions and how obvious answers can become when you let people use their own words to describe their experiences (or opinions or suggestions, etc.).

A few basic rules

Remember that everyone’s time is very valuable. Requesting input, even if in a quick and easy way, should be done with respect and gratitude. Be sure to take time to make participants feel valued. Be clear about what you are asking, tell them how much time it will take to complete the survey (be honest), and offer your gratitude. This can be in the form of a simple thank you or perhaps a small gift, depending upon the relationship you have (or want to build) with the participants.

Realize that most people like to know the “why” of a situation. Why do you want their opinions? What will you do with the information? Why does it matter to them? Consider promising to share results and then follow-up after your project is complete to explain what you learned and how it is shaping things that influence them (communicate the value they will see out of it). And lastly, don’t ask for input from the same people too frequently or you’ll see diminishing returns on their willingness to contribute and the value of the data you collect.

What to do with the data

So you’ve collected the opinions, now comes the fun and hard part—distilling and effectively using what you learned. Read all the responses in detail. Look for trends. Track overlapping ideas, complaints, and common themes. Pay attention to the tone and stories people use to describe their experiences, but don’t get too in the weeds with a random bad experience unless it points to a more systemic issue. Start to draw conclusions from each question you asked. If you plan to present the findings to others within your organization, pull out some quotes to help support what you heard. Again, real words and actual voices can be very powerful in understanding what people really want or what they truly think.

Use what you learned to help drive decisions, validate or support planned actions, or disrupt what you thought you knew—which may be uncomfortable, but extremely valuable for any organization that wants to remain viable in its marketplace. And remember to report back to your valuable participants about what you learned and how you plan to use it if you promised to do so.

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