The key to any survey is found in its purpose. That shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who reads my blog articles. I’ve continually stressed that all of one’s survey questions should be driven by the survey objectives or purpose.
In this article I want to explore survey purposes that go beyond the standard (identify improvement opportunities, monitor customer satisfaction, measure market perception, etc.) and some that even “cross the line” to unethical. It is important to be able to design your survey in such a way that it separates itself from those surveys with questionable purposes.
Typically the purpose of any survey is to obtain information to help with decision-making. Other possible purposes include:
- Educating your customer base or market space
- Creating a customer touch point
- Obtaining sales leads
- Selling product (phone surveys)
- Giving customers the perception that you are listening to them
- Fulfilling a request from your boss or other external requirements (e.g. ISO9000 requirements)
One might question the use of surveys for some of the purposes above. In addition, I think that each of them makes it harder for those that have a transparent purpose. Nobody likes to be taken advantage of and thus doesn’t want to answer questions if the information obtained is not going to be used for the stated purpose. In each of the examples above the real survey purpose is typically not mentioned. This means they are being used to, in some fashion, mislead the respondent, which makes respondents leery of legitimate surveys.
Why are surveys used in these ways? The reason surveys are used in this way is because of the credibility surveys provide. Surveys are legitimate and essential tools for research and data gathering. People know this. Thus, people will typically make more of an effort to help with a survey than they would with a sales call or with information for their own edification.
Here are a couple of examples of this type of survey that I’ve experienced lately, where people are clearly trying to take advantage of the legitimate nature of a survey and/or market research in order to “lure” in unsuspecting respondents.
Example 1. In the past six months I have received at least three robo-call “surveys” asking me if I would complete a 30-second survey. In exchange for my participation I would receive a complementary two-night stay in the Bahamas. To their credit the authors of this “survey” gave you the option of declining the survey. I never had the gumption to accept the invitation to the survey since to me it was clearly a sales call of some type.
Example 2. Someone used our logo and our name to perpetrate a scam on unsuspecting people. They sent a letter with a check telling people they could cash the check if they did some secret shopping for them, a reputable market research firm, Survey Design & Analysis! The check was for $1,900 and the letter including instructions on what to do with the money. The one item of note in the instructions was to go to Western Union and wire $1,500 to an individual in London. Clearly, the check was fraudulent but they did find some people willing to send their own money back to a perfect stranger before waiting for the check to clear.
Technically this did not involve a survey but the principle is the same. Market research has an air of credibility. It is interesting that so many scams use surveys (or at least piggyback on the image of market research) to lend credibility to their effort.
Legitimate market research and survey use is a big part of our culture as people everywhere try to improve their decision-making. However, as researchers we all have to do our part to separate the legitimate purposes from the suspect ones. For example, in legitimate research it is the research that takes the lead role, not the incentive.
Also, as participants in customer and market research we need to understand that no one receives a two-night stay in the Bahamas for answering a 30-second survey and no legitimate market research firm will ever send you money just to have you send it back to them!
Ed Halteman – A SurveyGizmo Survey Expert
Ed has a master’s degree in applied mathematics and a Ph.D. in statistics, and he has specialized in survey design for many years. Ed currently heads Survey Design & Analysis (SurveyDNA.com) founded in January 2003. He is available for comprehensive survey design and analysis services. Contact Survey Design & Analysis for help getting more out of your next survey.