Root survey research in respondent reality

These days, it’s not difficult to find blogs or articles on survey engagement containing worthwhile advice on question design, the importance of how your survey looks, mobile optimisation etc. But many of these articles overlook one of the most fundamental ways to engage respondents; making the survey relevant.

Too many times I’ve answered surveys that ask me for perceptions of brands I know almost nothing about. I don’t drink coffee but have qualified for a survey that seemed to ask me every possible question I couldn’t answer on the subject of coffee. I’ve gone through a 10 minute B2B survey about how I’ve sourced credit in the past and how I plan to do so in future (I have never taken out a business loan in 10 years and have no plans to do so).

In all of these cases the survey designer has failed to root the questionnaire in my reality. The questions aren’t relevant to me. The designer has made the mistake of assuming that what is important to them is important to the respondent.

It’s obvious that respondents will be less likely to drop out and give higher quality responses to questions they can answer from their own experience. Irrelevant questions lead respondents to choose random answers just to get through the questionnaire which, in turn, makes the resulting data meaningless.

Therefore it’s worth spending time making sure your survey is rooted in the realities of respondents’ lives. One way to do this is to make sure the right people are answering your questions. If you’re asking about brand perceptions make sure the respondents know at least a little about the brand. If you’re asking about an organisation’s customer service make sure that respondents have relevant experience of that organisation.

And, crucially, test your surveys, ideally with people who fit into the target audience. Even informal face-to-face piloting with family or friends can massively help to identify the questions that respondents can’t answer due to a lack of understanding or relevant experience.

As ever, it all boils down to having a mind-set where respondent experience is fundamental. Good survey design depends on it.

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