Suveys Are Not A Crystal Ball

Crystal BallA survey is not a crystal ball, but if used correctly, it gives you information you need to make better future decisions. Below are some tips to make it happen.

1. Better Decisions. When you do a survey (or other marketing research), you are checking with your marketplace before deciding to manufacture a new product, choosing an advertising strategy or setting up a customer satisfaction program. The information you receive from the market survey allows you to understand your market’s requirements and opinions. Through survey research, you are better equipped to make the right decisions the first time. However, it is important to remember that survey results do not predict the future; the economy may improve, a competitor may issue a new product, a hurricane may hit, or, like Coca-Cola when it launched new Coke, you might not ask all the right questions.

2. GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out. Take time to think about what you want. Spend time and effort to plan your survey. Bad information is worse than no information at all. By the time you decide you need information, you usually need it immediately. But the time and effort you take up front to plan your survey ensures that you obtain good information to help you make your business decisions.

3. Set up a survey design team. Involve employees who will use or be affected by the survey information in the survey process. There are two reasons to do so. First, employees who will use the survey results are probably quite knowledgeable about either the subject or the customers you plan to survey. They can prove valuable information in determining the scope of the survey and in designing the survey instrument. Second, survey reports are no good unless people use them. One way to encourage company employees to use the survey results is to involve them from the beginning and get their buy-in to the project.

4. Choose the survey methodology that meets your information needs and budget. Use the survey research methods that best give you the information you want. Don't choose a method because you have always done it that way. If you want to ask a lot of probing "why" questions, think about using in-depth personal interviews or focus groups. If you want to survey all your customers, consider a direct mail survey instead of telephone. If you want to know how your company compares to its competitors, try perceptual mapping. Budget is always a constraint, but you can certainly acquire useful information with a limited budget. Budget constraints make it all the more important to consider different options as to how to obtain the information you want.

5. Sampling. Surveying a sample instead of your entire population allows you to obtain valid information at a reasonable cost. However, if you want information that is statistically valid and reliable, you must choose a statistically valid sample. The two key issues for sampling are randomness and size. Randomness means that each person in your desired survey population has an equal chance of being chosen for the survey. For size, you need to decide with what level of confidence you are comfortable: 99%, 95%, 90%, etc. 95% is the usual business choice.

6. Decide at the beginning what breakdowns or groups you want to use to analyze survey data. The number and type of breakdowns you want determine sample sizes and number you need for statistically valid data. For example, if you want to analyze results by region, you need to stratify your sample so that you will obtain a sufficient number of response for each region. In addition, determining the breakdowns helps you to decide what kind of specific information you want to include in the questionnaire.

7. Keep the wording simple. In designing questionnaire content, a good rule of thumb is to use words that are one or two syllables in length. Obviously, there are longer words that almost everyone will understand, e.g., "presentation," but, in general, shorter words are better. Keep the use of technical or industry terms to a minimum. When you do use a technical or industry term, give a brief definition of it; do not assume that everyone you are surveying understands the term.
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