||To ensure your surveys are not a waste of time, write questions that provide accurate, actionable data.
Developed correctly, a survey is a very powerful tool for gathering actionable data for a variety of purposes. Based on my experience, however, most surveys are a waste of time and effort for all involved. Why? Because the resulting data are worthless – i.e., incorrect, skewed, and/or not interpretable. In short, they are not actionable. Not recognizing they are working with bad data, however, people take action based on those results. Then they wonder why the initial problem hasn’t been resolved, or why people’s behaviors haven’t changed.
There are easy, no-cost ways to ensure that your surveys result in accurate, actionable data that you can use with confidence to identify effective ways to address the desired topics or issues. As long as you’ve decided to make the effort to conduct a survey, why not write questions that produce usable findings?
Below are three of the most common mistakes I see people making when developing questions for their surveys, as well as solutions for avoiding them. The good news: it doesn’t cost extra to write items correctly rather than incorrectly. So there’s no reason to let these mistakes derail your improvement efforts.
Mistake #1: Requiring a single response to an item that asks multiple questions
Example: “Our staff were knowledgeable and acted professionally.”
Problem: Demonstrating knowledge and acting professionally are two different behaviors. When your question includes multiple behaviors yet requires people to provide one answer, you have no idea to which of the behaviors they are referring. In this example, there are four possible behavioral combinations: knowledgeable and unprofessional, not knowledgeable and professional, knowledgeable and professional, or not knowledgeable and unprofessional. Because you can’t tell to which set of answers people are referring, you cannot identify an appropriate response.
Solution: Write one item per behavior, trait, or result. Although this may make the survey longer, the results will allow you to target your response.
Mistake #2: Asking only global questions
Example: “How satisfied were you with our customer service?”
Problem: Whether the responses are positive or negative, you can’t tell to what aspect(s) of customer service people are responding. As a result, you don’t know what actions must be taken to stop undesirable behaviors or practices or to reinforce desirable ones.
Solution: Ask questions about specific aspects of an issue – e.g., behaviors of customer service providers or the quality of the outcome.
Mistake #3: Asking questions that require only “yes” or “no” answers
Example: “Are you satisfied with the quality of the service our staff provided?”
Problem: “Yes/no” response options provide very limited information. They indicate only that there may be a problem, and they fail to suggest the degree of seriousness. That is, how strong or weak is each “yes” and “no?” As a result, you have no idea what action to take, or with what degree of urgency.
Solution: Re-frame the question as a statement, and provide multiple response options along a continuum (e.g., strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree). This change allows you to specify the behavior or outcome you want to target, and it indicates the urgency with which you must act.
To read about other no-cost tips that will ensure that your surveys are not a waste of time, take a look at my article 26 Insider Tips to Dramatically Increase the Effectiveness of Your Surveys.
To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com.
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