Asking Questions When You Should Know the Answers

Blindfold businessman

One of the best ways to have respondents (e.g., customers, students, employees, members or others whose feedback you need) ignore and delete your surveys is asking questions for which you should already know the answers.  Here are excerpts from a survey a friend received some months ago (with her approximate thoughts noted):

   “Dear Alumna/Alumnus:”…

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

… “Q 23.  Choose one: Male/Female”…

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

 … “Q 25.  Select highest Degree Earned from the dropdown list:”…

Really? This information isn’t in your records?

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.  Clicking on the survey link within the email, here were the first three questions:

     “Enter your LAST name:”

     “Enter your FIRST name:”

     “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?

My question would be:

  • 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, did you really put them in the mood to give your dealership high ratings or positive comments?

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:  Treat others as you would want to be treated.  Don’t expect your customers, students, members, employees or others to fill out a survey when you treat them like a stranger and ask for information they would expect you to know.

Homework:  Many organizations use third parties to do their surveys and may not be aware that they are insulting you.  Rather than immediately deleting the survey, call or email the organization that sponsored the survey and tell them what you think of this bad practice and recommend they use another vendor.

Read 25 more Lessons in The Survey Playbook, now available in print and Kindle versions.

Dr. Matthew Champagne’s current mission is to educate the world on creating surveys that increase response rates, gather timely and meaningful feedback, and rapidly improve customer service and retention.


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