Why Surveys Don’t Work. Unless…

I recently received a note from an organization conducting a satisfaction survey. Here is how the letter begins, “As a valued partner, we need to know how well we are meeting your needs and what we could do to improve services we provide.”

I am not going to outline the numerous issues in that one sentence, but right away you can see that the stance they take is asking for feedback that is about ‘them’, and not about ‘you’. What’s in it for me? What I see already is that this organization does not really care. The goal is to better understand my needs first, correct? The problem is that they do not ask to better understand my needs. How can you meet anyone’s needs, if you don’t even know what the needs are in the first place. If you do not know what the needs are for your client, customer, patient, or people you work with, then you are not going to meet the needs of anything.


Am I just picking apart a simple innocent sentence and “making a mountain out of a molehill”? Maybe. Maybe not.

Guess what. I am not responding to this survey, because in my case, I do not believe they care at all about me. This is not out principle, but because this organization truly does not care about its members. As I have learned the hard way. I can just see how my response would end up simply being tallied up by the computer program. This will, in turn, become part of the statistical analysis that the head of the marketing department presents at the next meeting, where everyone applauds, and then onto the next aimless survey, and so on.

We often observe surveys presented to us, full of questions with ‘yes/no’ answers, or a series of questions with a rating scale, or something similar. Can you truly gather enough information that shows you are listening?

If an organization is conducting a survey just to fill the documentation quota, or keep the marketing department employed, probably better rethink that approach. This often will lead to many unhappy customers, and the perpetual need to find new customers. Retention of existing clients, customers, or patients will allow you to form a meaningful and a long-term relationship. When you form a long-term working relationship with your customers, your marketing budget is reduced, and you now can really serve the customer, instead of keeping large marketing teams. Instead, it is more meaningful to form ‘listening teams’.

Now imagine a different way this same survey can be presented. “Our goal is to provide you with the highest quality services, but we always strive to improve and do better. We truly value your work, and we would like to better understand you, your individual needs, and your frustrations. We would like to become your valued partner and continue to work toward forming a collaborative relationship.”

Do you see the difference? This is just a quick, off-the-cuff, example, that I am reworking as I type this. This would certainly need to be changed and modified to better suit the target audience of any given organization, or person.

Wait…but surveys are still important. Yes, they are and they should be used as a tool to connect with your audience. The reason the majority of surveys do not work, is because they are not engaging us in a way that makes us ‘feel heard’. If the customer, client, patient, or any other person you work with is truly valuable, you will want to listen to them. In fact, you may present a written survey, state the fact that you will actually read the answers, AND communicate to let the customer/client/etc know that you reviewed everything, interested in listening and learning more. THAT is one way to better listen and survey your customer, even if your organization is enormous, because no matter how small or big your customers may be, they are all people who yearn to be heard. AND, when you take the time to really listen, you are able to establish trust and gain a life-long customer. That is how you deliver the type of service that meets the needs of every customer.