Collecting Feedback…Survey Says?

A leader’s toolbox should contain a number of precision instruments that, when utilized properly, are able to effectively collect, interpret, and implement feedback. Yet, in this never-ending pursuit of feedback, leaders have become increasingly dependent on one particular all-purpose tool to get the job done. But what happens when a sharp tool gets overused? It becomes dull and ineffective.

The all-purpose tool that I’m referring to is the survey. The survey has become the go-to method for acquiring feedback across all industries. If you’re wondering why your survey’s response rate is low, it’s because you’ve got very heavy competition.

I recently tracked the number of survey requests I received over a seven day period. During that one week, I received in excess of 25 survey requests. Most were unique requests; however, some were follow-up reminders. These requests primarily came from restaurants, retail outlets, news and leisure websites, financial institutions, market research firms, professional organizations that I work with, and the organization that I work for. They were received by e-mail, snail mail, pop-up windows, phone calls, comment cards, and printed on receipts directing me to a phone number or website. Some offered rewards, some did not. Some guaranteed anonymity, some did not. The estimated amount of time per survey ranged from five to 20 minutes.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume each survey took only 10 minutes. Had I actually taken the time to complete each survey (I did not), I would have spent 4-5 hours of my week, or roughly 30-45 minutes per day, on just surveys. But since surveys don’t rate very favorably on the WIIFM scale, they fall to the bottom of the priority list and, more often than not, don’t get completed. To put it bluntly, survey requests currently rank just below telemarketers and spammers on my list of favorite things.

Of course, the survey can be very effective if used appropriately. And let’s face it, it’s not going away. But we should also utilize other instruments in the toolbox. Feedback can be divided into two broad types: solicited and unsolicited. The survey is an example of solicited feedback. But the most valuable of all feedback is unsolicited, and unfortunately, it’s the most frequently overlooked.

There is nothing more beautiful than someone choosing of their own free will to take the time to stop and tell you how great you’re doing or even how bad you’re doing. It’s real, it’s honest, it’s in the moment, and best of all, it wasn’t done simply to get you to stop sending survey requests. It’s meaningful. This is the stuff we should really be paying attention to. But since we didn’t see it coming, we often aren’t prepared for it and let it slip away.

If you have an efficient system for capturing unsolicited feedback, or if you have a survey success or horror story, we’d love to hear about it. Please share your thoughts in the comment box below…it should only take you about 10 minutes to complete.

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  • Comments (1)
    • Terry
    • October 26th, 2010

    Adam, I enjoyed reading your blog. It made me smile. As you know, I am challenged with sending surveys out and getting a significant amount of respones. Could there be a better way? Probably! I agree unsolicited feedback is extremely valuable!

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