Summary: Many survey project managers think that a survey project ends with the analysis, presentation of findings, and suggested courses of action. Companies that follow such practice will likely find their survey response rates falling over time as customers — or other group of interest — feel less engaged. Two vital last steps in a survey project are: 1) take action on the findings and 2) communicate the findings and intended actions back to the respondent group. These two steps show the feedback program is for real, and they will help drive respondent engagement with future feedback requests.
You’ve written a beautiful questionnaire that meets your research objectives. You’ve sent it to your respondent group, getting a great response rate. The data have been analyzed, report written, and presentation made to management. You check “completed” on your job plan. You’re done, right? Wrong. Two more steps are vital to receiving full value from your survey project today and from your feedback program tomorrow.
- Take action on your findings
- Communicate your findings and your actions taken back to your respondent group.
To the first item, you may be — hopefully — thinking, “of course!” But to the second item, you may well be thinking, “Ohhhhh… Really???” Both are vital to getting full value from an ongoing survey program. Let’s look at each.
Take Action. This may seem so obvious you can’t believe I would bother mentioning it, but you would be surprised at the number of companies that do surveys “just because” or because the results are “nice to know.” I have actually done survey projects for clients where I know my spiral bound report is going on someone’s bookshelf (or “filed” elsewhere) and nothing will be done with the findings. I may get paid, but it’s not professionally fulfilling.
While I don’t think you would ever find this to be a corporate policy, some people want to gather data to support their position on an issue, and if they don’t get the “right” results, they just forget about the research. Others do surveys without any clear intent of taking action on the findings. Still others intend to take action but don’t design the questionnaire to generate actionable data.
This lack of action is less likely to occur where the research objectives have been well thought through, leading to a properly designed questionnaire. It is also less likely to occur where a company has a survey program office — or some such title — with control over customer contact data. One of my survey workshop attendees ran such an office. If someone came to her wanting to conduct a survey, her first question was, “What are you going to do with the data?” Without a good answer, you didn’t get access to customer contact data. She wasn’t going to let anyone take up customers’ time because something was “nice to know.” You needed to specify actions that would be taken from the findings. I suspect she’s not the most popular person in her company, but that gatekeeping action is needed to force people to think through their customer research programs.
Communicate Your Findings. I suspect this suggestion gave you cause to pause. Certainly you intend to communicate your survey’s findings to your management team and others to whom the findings would be relevant.
But why would you communicate the findings back to the respondent group? The answer can be found in your survey invitation. You likely told the person their opinion was of vital importance and you intended to use the data to improve the products and services you provide them. Great. Prove it! I know I have received such survey invitations from companies, and then I wonder what they’ve done with my feedback. All too often I am left having no idea if any responses were even tabulated.
If you are engaged in an ongoing feedback program from customers, suppliers, employees or some other group with whom you have an ongoing relationship, you are likely to go back to these same people repeatedly to get feedback. Why would they complete your next survey if they don’t see any tangible benefit from the last survey they completed? It’s your responsibility to show them how they will benefit from completing the survey beyond the vague sales pitch in the survey invitation. You promised them benefits; now show the benefits that have accrued from their feedback.
The point of the communication is to show respondents that you really did do something with the input from the survey. An ongoing survey program needs to be marketed, and communicating the findings is a critical marketing element.
Do be clear on one point. I am not suggesting that you should try to influence the responses provided by customers. You want honest, candid, forthright responses. Rather, I am suggesting you should try to influence their willingness to provide a response. Most companies consider offering an incentive to juice responses, but that can be a two-edged sword as I’ll explore in a future article. Communicating findings creates an incentive that costs little, and it supports the broader goals of the ongoing feedback program. It shows that as a company you’re serious about building long-term relationships rather than just engaging in sloganeering.
What would you communicate? Clearly, you are not going to reveal any proprietary information or personnel decisions derived from the survey. But you can certainly reveal the findings of the survey at a high level and say that you’re implementing steps to correct the problems identified and that you’ll be maintaining the practices that respondents liked.
How can you communicate the findings? My assumption in this article is that you are capturing feedback from a group with whom you have ongoing contact, be it customers, suppliers, members, or employees, and not an arms-length consumer-research project. Given that, how do you normally communicate with this group? Possible vehicles are newsletters, account manager visits, an article on the intranet, and user group meetings. Be pragmatic. Use these vehicles to communicate your feedback findings and actions. Newsletter editors are always looking for articles.
Hopefully, I have convinced you to communicate summarize findings and action plans to your respondent group. It’s all part of closing the feedback loop. You still have one more small task. Include the fact that you will communicate findings in your survey invitation!
One category of communication I consider absolutely not optional: responding to specific problems customers reveal in a survey.