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FAQ: Survey Research

Can the integrity of a customer survey be impacted by self-administration?

Yes. Let’s take some lessons from a case study. An organization in the travel industry had outstanding reviews from almost all of its clients on its self-administered customer surveys. Customer surveys were passed out by the tour director on the second to last day of the tour and were collected by the tour director the following morning.

Customer reviews were really good. In fact, the company was able to boast they received a 99% recommendation rate from their guests. All in all, things looked positive for the company. However, they had noticed a trend toward gradual decreases in returning clients and, even more puzzling, it seemed that few people were actually being referred to the travel company. Somehow things didn’t add up. Why weren’t people referring their travel company?

One of the new company directors made a controversial decision to outsource their customer survey to a third party. Much to the company’s surprise, the information gathered by the third party didn’t even seem to be from the same company. Only seventy percent of customers said they might consider recommending the travel company to others. Hardly a glowing endorsement. Furthermore (and despite the substantial cash outlay for the tour packages offered by the company) some clients were abandoning ship and leaving early—they weren’t even around to answer the customer survey! Finally, it surfaced that tour directors became scapegoats when clients were dissatisfied with company offerings, even if the points of dissatisfaction were beyond the tour director’s control. Knowing this, it wouldn’t be surprising if several dozen surveys from unhappy clients went missing.

This case study demonstrates poor survey administration practices that likely led to skewed response rates as well as affirmation and socially desirable response biases. Ultimately, this created an inaccurate picture of the organizational state. Unfortunately, this sort of occurrence is not uncommon.

Are there best practices in survey research?

To achieve changes in behavior from survey research, it is important to follow these best practices to give you a comprehensive view of your organization:

  • Scientific psychological research is essential for obtaining the highest quality methods, principles, and data.
  • Benchmarking to know exactly where you stand across departments, business units, and your industry.
  • Analysis to provide clear, concise marching orders. These are the drivers that will result in the greatest, most immediate improvement for your organization without guesswork, without debate.
  • Taking action on pure, hard facts improves the employee-customer experience, and increases your financial performance.
  • Creating synergy by utilizing one vendor for all of your research needs including employee, customer, and market research. With one vendor, each feedback system is created, deployed, analyzed, and acted upon in concert with all others, providing a clear path to managing your organizational performance.
  • Every organization’s primary battle is to win the hearts and minds of its customers. The more customers return to an organization, the more they spend, and the higher the financial performance of that organization. Employees’ loyalty and enthusiasm for the organization propels customer loyalty, which in turn, improves the bottom line.
Can survey research increase profits?

Yes! Employees directly impact customer experiences and customer loyalty directly impacts the bottom line. This series of relationships is known as the Employee-Customer Profit Chain.

When employees are not engaged, their lack of commitment negatively affects their coworkers, customer interactions, and their productivity. Although the costs of engagement are visible through decreased productivity, sales, and employee grumblings, you cannot truly understand the overall level of engagement without a survey research study. Keeping your finger on the pulse of employee attitudes, satisfaction, and engagement allows you to identify workgroups, departments, or locations with low engagement scores so that you can take action to stop the negativity before it results in increased turnover and customer loss.

And, when employees are disengaged, the level of service your customers receive declines. Employees lack friendliness, helpfulness, and stop responding in a timely manner. And then customer satisfaction falls, sales decline, and the bottom line suffers. Successful companies understand that keeping a close eye on customer loyalty means maintaining market share and achieving financial goals. With regular surveying of customers, you will understand what they really want, how they are treated, and the likelihood that they will continue their relationship or become an advocate for you.

It is in a company’s best interests to retain customers and engaged employees, as it costs less to keep a happy client or satisfied employee than it does to replace one.

Do I need to survey all employees?

With customer surveys, you can survey a sub-set of the customer base as long as the sample is representative of the overall population. However, with employees, factors other than validity must be considered. Employees are much like families and inclusion should be an important part of the company culture. When an employee survey is deployed to a sample of employees, those who are not asked to participate may feel undervalued or insecure about their future at the organization. When all employees are asked to participate in the survey, it reinforces that the survey is designed for organizational improvement and with sufficient representation from each workgroup, department, etc. you can understand key issues and perceptions within those units.

Does employee engagement start the first day?

Yes! Although significant time and effort goes into the hiring process to ensure the new hire is a good fit to the position and the organization, oftentimes little thought goes into the orientation process and how that impacts the employee experience and perception of the organization. The onboarding process should welcome the employee to the organization in a way that captures and maximizes their engagement.

Employees need to be introduced to the organization, both physically and culturally. Can they find the cafeteria? Do they have their badge? Do they have the equipment they need? Do they understand the mission and values of the company? All of these elements set the stage for the employee’s experience with the company.

An Onboarding Survey can measure not only the orientation class and initial impression, but the entire onboarding experience. A survey at the end of week one may delve into the orientation itself and how quickly they received the tools for their jobs. An Onboarding Survey at the end of the introductory period, typically 90 days, should measure their level of engagement with the job, their work teams, and the company. It can also provide important insights into the level of support they receive from their managers, training needed, and likelihood of staying with the company for the long term.

How do business to business (B2B) surveys differ from business to consumer (B2C) surveys?

When we think of customer surveys, we most often think of end-user or consumer surveys: how was the service at a restaurant, did the service advisor respond in a timely manner, would we stay at the hotel again. But, there is another type of customer survey, the business-to-business, or B2B customer survey. In this type of customer survey, companies survey business partners and customers. While a company may have over a million end-users, they may only have a few hundred business partners.

These relationships are just as important to the financial wellbeing of the company as relationships with end-users and employees. Some may argue that they are even more important. After all, I can’t purchase a soda if they haven’t made it to the shelf through transportation, distribution, and wholesale partners.

When conducting a B2B survey, it is important to survey multiple levels within the relationship. Yes, we want to know what the decision makers have to say, but we also want to understand how our day-to-day and procurement contacts interact with us. For example, we may want to understand invoices are accurate, if account representatives are knowledgeable, and if they plan to renew their contract.

A B2B survey has a different approach than a business-to-consumer survey. While online surveys may be used effectively with both populations, we may also need to employ a telephone strategy with a B2B survey. The use of multiple deployment methodologies is important for small B2B populations and to ensure we achieve valid data across multiple reporting groups.

How do we reduce employee turnover?

An employee exit survey helps identify reasons for voluntary employee turnover. The cost of employee turnover can be extensive and high turnover can easily destroy profitability and decrease market share. Employee turnover costs include lost productivity, both of the lost employee and those who must cover that employee’s work, recruitment costs to find a replacement, training for the replacement, new hire costs, and more.

So, how do you minimize turnover? First, you need to determine why people are leaving. Yes, you can ask them when they submit their resignation, but they may be hesitant to tell a poor manager that he’s the reason. The best way to understand why people leave the organization is through an employee exit survey conducted by an unbiased third party. Employees should be surveyed as close to their exit date as possible to maximize response rate.

A well-designed employee exit survey provides valuable insight into the reasons why employees leave and helps you identify and address those problem areas within the organization. Are employees leaving because of managers, career development, compensation, or personal reasons? Is turnover higher among certain employee populations such as specific job functions or generations?

Armed with information about why people are leaving allows you to address those issues to reduce turnover, improve employee engagement, morale, and productivity.

How Do You Make a Survey Part of a Company's Culture?

An employee or customer survey is a highly visible project. Clear and open communication are integral to the process.

Within the communications, management should make it clear that they are committed to the process and to reviewing the information it produces. But only management can prioritize the corrective actions indicated by the survey for the good of the organization as a whole. Only management can decide which issues can be addressed this year and which need to wait due to budget, manpower, or other restrictions.

Although management must approve the improvements and corrective actions to be taken, management may place the responsibility for making recommendations for improvement on those who will be responsible for implementing them: the managers and employees themselves. This ensures that everyone is involved in transforming the organization, and in making employee and/or customer feedback part of the culture.

With poor or no communication, the survey process can cause division and distrust, so a plan of frequent, open communications regarding the process, its results, and follow-up action is a key element in making it successful. Since people will talk about the survey informally as well as formally, you need to leverage this energy to maximize results. You may have numerous organization-wide announcements to build support and enthusiasm. These announcements may include basic information about the process, key dates that employees can calendar to minimize questions, and statements of commitment from management that assure employees they want to hear what employees and customers have to say.

When designing your internal survey communications use your company logo and colors. You may use terminology like “First Annual” or “Continuous” to reinforce management’s ongoing commitment to the process.

How does a patient satisfaction survey differ from other types of surveys?

Patient Satisfaction Surveys are unique from other types of satisfaction surveys because there is usually a large client base and that client base is frequently comprised of non-repeat customers.

From a research design perspective, this means that the customer contact database requires more updates to remain current. Also, timeliness of a patient survey is a greater issue because to address potential service failings quickly patients must be surveyed in a timely fashion.

In regards to survey design, patient satisfaction surveys are often slightly more complicated due to the large number of contact points between a patient and their healthcare provider. It is important to address each of these facets to ensure quality remains consistent across the organization and the totality of the experience is a positive one. By focusing on the factors that would lead a patient to recommend a healthcare provider to others, a company will be able to isolate and identify what contact points and service elements are most critical to ensuring they receive positive “word of mouth.”

On a final note, the healthcare arena is a place where gathering survey data can be particularly useful. Patients may be less likely to provide direct negative feedback due to a lack of available alternatives and a desire to ensure they continue to receive quality treatment. Would you really want to tell the only orthopedic surgeon covered by your HMO that he has a very cold and brusque attitude? The ability to collect patient satisfaction data in a confidential way is particularly important for ensuring you receive quality data.

How does an internal customer survey differ from other types of employee surveys?

There are a number of different types of employee surveys including experience, onboarding, engagement, pulse, satisfaction, 360s, and exit surveys. Another type of survey deployed to employees is the internal customer survey. An internal customer survey measures employee satisfaction with an internal department or team.

Shared services departments, such as Human Resources, Marketing, IT, Legal, and Training, can use this feedback mechanism to gauge their communication, responsiveness, service level, and productivity. An Internal Customer survey can improve interdepartmental support and increase efficiencies. When employees are supported internally, they have the tools and information they need to improve the customer experience.

How long does the process take?

ClearPath Feedback Management is an ongoing process complete with ClearPath Research, ClearPath Benchmarking, ClearPath Analytics, ClearPath Synergy, ClearPath Action, and ClearPath Financial. The phases of the project vary in length depending upon methodology, frequency, and your own timing needs. NBRI can prepare and manage a personalized Project Plan for you based upon all of these factors.

How often should I conduct survey research? I have a fairly large population I would like to survey. What should I do?

When it comes to conducting survey research, you might think the more frequently you collect data, the better. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Surveying a group repeatedly at close intervals can lead to survey fatigue, where respondents become disinterested, or even actively annoyed, with the request to complete a survey. However, it is important that you are gathering information frequently enough to ensure you are monitoring change over time. If you want to improve on any level, it is critical to continually monitor performance to ensure the changes you have made are only positive ones. How can you conduct this type of research without pestering respondents?

A stratified random sample is the solution to these issues and ensures the resulting research is valid. A stratified random sample can sort respondents according to specific demographics or characteristics. Within each specific demographic or category, a random group is sampled. Sampling in this way ensures statistical validity is achieved while simultaneously ensuring that specific groups are not over sampled.

How should I develop a 360 degree feedback assessment?

There are three steps to this process: sample identification, question development, and administration. After the targets of the 360 assessments have been determined, you must then identify the appropriate respondents to engage in the 360 assessment. These groups should include peers, managers, and subordinates, because each of these groups will see a different side of the individual being assessed.

The second step is to develop an appropriate question set. 360 degree feedback often presents a bit of a conundrum because frequently people are required to assess multiple individuals, meaning surveys should be kept fairly brief; however, they must also be comprehensive to ensure a robust picture of the subject. For this reason, it is important to consider the types of knowledge, skills, and abilities a person must have to succeed in both their job role and the organization. Questions should then be tailored to meet the demands of this position, ideally keeping things short and sweet.

Finally, the survey should be administered in a way to ensure respondents do not become confused about which individual they are assessing. In 360 degree feedback, supervisors are frequently placed in a position where they must evaluate several employees. Unfortunately, the large volume of individuals who are assessed may lead to error, with respondents attaching the ‘wrong’ results to people, with dire consequences. For this reason, careful and meticulous administration techniques become particularly important.

I have a diverse workforce. How can I survey my employees online?

An employee survey should be accessible to the employees and employees should be allowed time during work hours to complete the survey. In some work environments, online surveys are difficult to implement due to lack of accessibility or comfort with technology. For example, employees on a manufacturing floor are unlikely to have ready access to a company email address or computer to complete the survey. And retail locations may have only one computer with limited online access making an online survey difficult to facilitate.

There are many ways to deploy an online employee survey for these types of workgroups. For example, the employer can bring in kiosks, laptops, or tablets for employees to use in completing the survey. Individual logins may be provided to employees using letters, postcards, or other similar methods. Many companies utilize this type of set-up for annual benefits enrollments and it is equally effective for an employee survey.

However, there are instances in which a kiosk will still not provide the level of accessibility needed for an employee survey. Oftentimes organizations with a large population of field employees who are seldom in the office and do not carry laptops or company issued smartphones/tablets find that an online solution is not the best option. In this case, utilizing a telephone and/or paper survey for a portion of the employee base may be the preferred method. Using multiple methodologies is an excellent way to reach all employees, maximize response rates, and increase the validity of your data.

I was thinking of conducting an online survey. What do I need to know before rolling it out?

An online survey is a great choice because it can be implemented quickly and it is cost-effective. It is also fairly simple to distribute the survey to respondents for completion. The relative ease of this type of survey is somewhat beguiling, but beware: collecting the data from an online survey is only one half of the equation. The analysis itself must be considered during the survey design process. Often online surveys contain too many questions and a lack of focus due, in part, to the ease of using this medium. For this reason, proceed carefully to ensure your survey has a robust, yet well-designed, structure.

One of the perks of an online survey is the potential to match respondents’ answers to an address file that contains information about a client or employee. This requires a more advanced usage of Information Technology, but it can be a great way to discretely gather information that will allow you to understand patterns in your client or employee base.

My organization is thinking of conducting an employee satisfaction survey internally. Is this a good idea?

It is certainly possible to develop and conduct employee satisfaction surveys internally. However, it might not be the best decision because it comes at the price of confidentiality. To ensure adequate response rates, at least one person within the company must know who has responded and who has not. And unfortunately, the survey is no longer confidential.

Ensuring confidentiality is a sure-fire way to “loosen the tongue” because employees will feel sufficiently secure to say what they want without fear of reprisal. A supervisor’s rating is likely to skyrocket when they are the ones in charge of distributing and collecting employee responses. Unfortunately, the data from internal employee satisfaction surveys is subject to greater distortion, particularly when conditions in the organization are less than perfect. Ultimately, this can gloss over some of the more severe issues in an organization and prevent an organization from coming to grips with its most critical problems. Giving employees the ability to speak their mind in a forum that provides sufficient anonymity is critical to ensuring that opinions represent the real unvarnished truth, and not a composite of what they believe they should be saying.

Our new property has been open a year. It's been fairly popular so far. Would a guest satisfaction survey be a waste of money?

It seems like your business is doing well, and a hearty congratulations on that. However, all it takes is a slight slip in service to generate a few negative reviews that ultimately damage the credibility of the business. A bad experience on a Monday can hit the internet almost immediately and lead guests to change their mind about staying with you by Tuesday. Furthermore, guests may be reasonably content with the property, but have no intention of returning. In this case guest satisfaction would be reasonably high, but we wouldn’t know how to ensure a continued stream of guests.

You can maintain your position at the top by continuously and meticulously monitoring guest satisfaction. A guest satisfaction survey allows you to quickly take action when standards start to slip, which is likely before the first complaint is received. As the old adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure.

What can I really learn from an employee survey?

The question here should be: “What can’t you learn?” A well-designed employee survey can tell you just about everything. A good employee survey is a like a full-body checkup for the organization. An employee survey can tell you whether you have problems with communication, if all levels/departments/areas have confidence in a recent change in organizational strategy, whether employees have adequate resources to treat customers correctly, if turnover is about to spike due to dissatisfaction with compensation, whether employees are receiving adequate recognition for their work, what areas of the organization are lagging behind in terms of growth and productivity, and if employees are being properly developed.

It is true that an employee survey might highlight problem areas that executives already know exist. However, it can reveal the magnitude of any problems that exist and allow an understanding of which issues to tackle first. How much do we have to worry about it? Is it a problem across the entire organization? What is the main issue or problem we should confront? An employee survey can address all of these issues and more.

What is scientific psychological survey research?

Scientific Psychological Survey Research is often viewed as a mysterious and complex task. However, survey research relates to the numerous human dynamics that are universal to all organizations in all industries, whether related to employee or customer populations. These dynamics are simply called ‘topics,’ and associated with each topic are survey questions, or ‘items,’ that assess how each topic is expressed in any population. It is recommended that you use survey topics and questions based upon empirical research. Following the strict practices of scientific research ensures that your survey instrument is valid and reliable. This means that your survey results will be representative of the issues within your organization.

What is synergy and why is it important in survey research?

Most business people realize the imperative of surveying in order to obtain feedback from key stakeholders, but it is a widely overlooked fact that this is psychological research, the assessment of human perceptions, and as such, must be approached in a scientific manner to protect the integrity of the data.

The quality of the survey questions, the scale, the validity of the survey, representative samples, confidence levels & sampling errors, and much more impact every survey research study. Whether the result is pure, clean, actionable data or contaminated, misleading data is often a function of the knowledge and expertise of those conducting the research.

Multiple vendors add to the number of the sources for error, provide various and inconsistent report formats with which managers must become familiar, provide various and inconsistent project support staff and processes, provide no overall accounting or budgeting for your business research needs, and these are just a few of the considerations bearing on the decision to use a centralized, synergistic solution for all of your organization’s survey research.

It is recommended that you utilize a vendor that conducts every type of business research with a holistic approach and advanced analytics so that you will be well positioned to leverage survey data across the organization.

What is the scientific psychological survey research process?

The first step in creating a survey is the most important. At this stage, you must decide who will create the content of the survey. This process avoids two very important pitfalls in survey research: including questions that are not needed, and more importantly, failing to include questions that should have been asked. Both of these mistakes reduce the validity of the survey and directly impact participation and results. There are generally four possible content drivers: management, consultants, employees, or customers.

Management can be compared to a lookout in the crow’s nest of a ship. Management can see to the farthest horizon and from the top of the ship to the deck. But it is impossible, with hundreds or thousands of employees and customers, for management to see everything that is happening everywhere, such as below deck. In many cases, what happens below deck is critical, and it is equally critical that management be made aware of what is happening before it proves costly to the entire ship! So, it is specifically because of management’s blind spots that conducting surveys is so important, and that management not be the sole determinant of the content of the survey.

Outside consultants have little or no intimate knowledge of the Client Organization, so they cannot know the key issues without preliminary research. Many issues are universal to all organizations, but how those issues are expressed within each organization is unique to each, and is critical to the development of the content of the survey. Clearly, consultants should not be the sole determinants of the content of the survey.

The best source of information is employees for employee surveys and customers for customer surveys. The content of the survey should be driven by research, facts, hard data discovered through confidential one-on-one interviews of a stratified, random sample of the target respondents. Interviews will tell us if ‘communication’, for example, is an issue, but also, whether communication is too fast or too slow (speed), too much or too little (volume), as well as numerous other, some unexpected, aspects of communication and how they are working in each organization. This way, highly specific survey questions are selected from our professional survey content.

Then the survey serves to quantify to what degree each aspect of each issue exists throughout the organization or customer base. This provides an enormous amount of power to take precise, targeted action, saving time and money.

What should the survey respondent experience for an online survey launch?

The survey and all communication pieces should be branded for your organization. Each survey recipient should receive an Announcement email. Sending an announcement will boost response rates, allow bounced email addresses to be corrected, and ensure that all emails are delivered properly prior to deployment. Next, each survey recipient should receive an Invitation email with a link to the survey. All the respondents need do is click on the link to open the survey. Only non-respondents should receive a reminder email and up to three reminders should be sent to non-respondents. The survey should allow respondents to save responses and return at a later date to complete the survey.

Why should I conduct a customer satisfaction survey? I think my customers are happy with me, otherwise, they wouldn't come back.

If only things were that simple. Customer retention is not entirely contingent upon customer satisfaction. Retention can be a result of the lack of available alternatives, apathy, or even contractual agreements. This means when a competitor opens shop or pre-existing agreements conclude, “happy” customers might disappear into the sunset. Meanwhile, what these customers say to others about you may make or break your business for the next year. If customers are elated with 90% of their experience with your company, wouldn’t you want to know how to improve that other 10% to create a truly phenomenal customer satisfaction experience?

A well designed Customer Satisfaction Survey pinpoints what you are doing well and what you need to improve upon. You can identify areas where you can develop or improve to ensure you are maximizing your performance. Then, you can be certain customers are coming back with a smile on their face.

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