For years, surveys have been an effective tool in collecting customer feedback for all manner of products and services.  However, anyone that designs a survey will eventually ask themselves "Are surveys going to tell me the whole story?".

The answer, unfortunately, is no.  Sending a survey means that you're asking people to tell you about their experience.  Recent studies suggest that a large portion of our cognitive function and communication is non-verbal, which means a survey is only going to give you one slice of the pie.


Let's examine 3 specific weaknesses of surveys and look at how to work around them.


1. What if they don't take the survey?


The biggest fear of anyone designing a new surveys is, will people actually take the survey?  As mentioned earlier, people interact and communicate in a variety of ways and a survey is reactive and after the fact.  If you send a survey to ask people to describe their experience with your new website lay out, there will always be people that opt not to as it's time consuming.  Their feedback is certainly useful to you, but what benefit do they experience?  A vague promise of better service or products at some later date?  


Some people are more altruistic in nature.  I find myself taking surveys from various companies I do business with because I know how much they value the responses, but I'm sure most people just delete that email and move on to something they consider more worth their time.  Limiting your responses to people like me means you're probably missing out on data from your real demographic.


User Testing is a much more effective data gathering tool as it closes the donut hole for you.  A user test guarantees you will see and hear what people experience while they experience it. User testing also ensures you're hitting your exact target audience.  Also, with the users being compensated for their time, you'll typically get all the answers you need within a few hours of posting your test.


2. Are your questions biased?


There is always going to be a struggle when you craft a question that is designed to elicit a response.  Your Creative Director might really want to know if your customers like your newly designed "Buy it now!" button.  Your Sales Manager might be more interested in decreasing your bounce rates from the product tour page.  Believe it or not, both issues are actually more related than you might think.


The only way to get truly accurate data is to eliminate as much bias as you can.  A well designed user test provides a simple list of actionable tasks to the users.  It points them in the right direction but allows them the flexibility to share all of their thoughts.  A great user test gives the user ownership of the process which means you'll get more realistic results.


3. What if I get the same responses again and again?


The school of thought with surveys is that they are part of a numbers game.  The more invitations you send, the more data you get back, right?  You might be surprised to learn this but, more data is actually a bad thing when it comes to user responses.  If you are successfully recruiting your ideal demographic, you should only want about 5 users providing your responses.  If you increase the number of users you'll notice that you're getting the same responses over and over again.  The key here is to get the actionable data as quickly as possible and provide it to your team instead of pouring over duplicate responses.    


In closing, a survey can be a useful information gathering tool but when it comes to understanding the human experience behind the data, a user test is the best way to go.  For more information on the benefits of User Testing, contact us today!



Shiraz Hemani

CEO - Spire Business Services

Image by Alberto G.


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