Surveyed out

Shawnee Love   •  
June 22, 2012

Is it just me or is everyone on the survey bandwagon lately? Everywhere I go and almost everything I buy has a customer survey introduced with “Tell us how we did and you could win”.  At first I would dutifully complete those online or phone questionnaires, because I thought the companies really wanted my opinions.  Now, I am just plain jaded.  The same shoddy service still happens.  Nothing ever changes. In a strange twist, one time I was dressed down by the employees at a store I shopped at because I didn’t rate them high enough.  Apparently my ratings and personal information were provided to the store.  I rated them a 3 out of 5 on one aspect of performance which was a fair assessment in my opinion of the service I received.  Not surprisingly, the next time I went in, the service was closer to a 2.

At least in that case (although it backfired on me) the company did something with the information. I suspect most of those customer service survey researchers are doing about as much with the feedback they receive as most companies who conduct employee surveys.  i.e., Zero, Zip, Nada, Nothing.

Oops. Did I just say that out loud?

I am afraid I did. In hindsight, my opinion of most of the employee surveys I have participated in and been contracted to provide is that they were a waste of time. Not to say surveys can’t have value, but so few companies do them well, that they are rarely worth the effort.  As such, in my jaded awareness, I now find myself counseling clients not to do employee surveys unless:

  • They have very thick skins.
  • They have no sacred cows.
  • They are ready to open up old wounds and cultural scar tissue and deal with it come what may.
  • They anticipate productivity will drop while employees discuss, debate, worry, second guess, and speculate about the company’s motivations in doing a survey.
  • They guarantee to make meaningful changes based on the recommendations they receive.
  • They will involve their employees in creating and implementing the changes.
  • They can afford the opportunity cost of having their employees focusing on internal changes.
  • They realize that their first round of ratings will likely be falsely inflated.
  • They are ready to have the second round of ratings be lower than the first because they won’t make changes as fast as their employees’ expectations.
  • Ditto for the third round.
  • They are committed to at least 5 years of surveying as they implement changes.

At this point, they usually look dazed and tell me they are convinced. If you aren’t convinced, then we should talk about how to do a good survey. More on that next week.