April 10, 2020

Survey survey on the wall…

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… who’s the rightest of them all?

The insight that we do not know everything, and that we should validate our ideas with customers, is taking root in most organisations. A customer survey is often the go to tool to do so. But there’s a catch.

A few weeks ago, shortly before corona restrictions were announced, I was in dubio. Even though it was at that time still allowed to organise a conference for a few 100 participants, I wanted to check how people actually felt about it. So I did a quick survey to check opinions on an upcoming conference workshop.

Results were … interesting.

  • 70% of respondents expected the workshop to be canceled or postponed;
  • 70% of respondents would come to the workshop anyway.

Hmmm. This example shows that surveys very often trigger more questions than that they provide answers. Why are people willing to come, yet at the same time expecting me to cancel or postpone the workshop? Do they care more about others than themselves? Are they afraid of losing their ticket fee? I can only guess.

While surveys provide data, it’s very hard to get real insights from them. What can we do about this?

Start with qualitative validations

A qualitative validation, like a customer interview, provides insights because we can interact with our customer and dig deeper into their answers and behaviour. These insights will then help us to specify survey questions for a later quantitative verification.

Validate the validation

When we create a survey, we can try it out with a small number of respondents first. This way, we can interact with them to see if they understand our questions well, and are able to respond to them. This way, we discover for example questions where people want to answer “not A or B, but something in between”.

This also enables us to analyse the pre-survey results, and see which questions pop up. What do we learn, what additional questions does this trigger? We can then refine our survey and get better data and insights from it.

Start from the future decision

Why are we performing a survey, or another type of validation? Not because we want to get data. Not even because we want to learn something. We validate because we want to decide whether we will go left or right. The decision I wanted to make was clear: will I run the workshop and conference on the planned dates or not? Having a clear view on the decision we will make, helps in specifying our survey questions. It also helps in choosing the best validation technique.

There’s more than surveys and interviews

Many more techniques are available to get customer insights. We should challenge ourselves to go beyond the classic survey or interview. More in this in later blog posts. Or in the babel journey!

What’s your tip regarding surveys and customer validation?


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