That was the sound of the pain you just inflicted on your customer by sending them this latest invitation for a survey from your company.That’s the 7th survey this year (and 2 reminders for each survey) and it is only September. 

There was

  • the annual customer satisfaction survey
  • the brand equity survey
  • a post-call center satisfaction survey
  • 2 web satisfaction surveys
  • Oh, and the product innovation research survey

Add that to the other ~300 survey invitations that that customer received from companies she does business with, companies she doesn’t do business with, web sites she visits, her doctor’s office and the hospital (separately), her car dealer, her airlines, retail stores she goes to, and her alumni networks.

Wow. That’s a lot of surveys for one person.

How Many Surveys Do You Get Each Day?

There are currently no reliable statistics on how many survey invitations people encounter in a day. We conducted a little informal research and estimate it is about 1.3 per day, every day. This excludes all the web pop up survey invitations and the bottom-of-receipt survey invitations.

Surveys Are Easy to Send, Burdenful to Receive

Thanks to technology advances it is very easy to send out surveys. You can ask more questions of more people in a shorter amount of time and, assuming you get enough respondents, the results can be statistically significant. This makes them sound more reliable than non-statistically significant results, (and assuming the questions, answers, and conditions the survey was answered under were ideal, the results are more reliable if count of people is important to the project).  

Surveys have become the default form of research that companies use whether it gives good insights or not and whether it is good for the customers or not and whether it is the right research method to learn what you need to learn. In many cases, it just happens to be the easiest one for organizations to execute. Surveying is also one of the easier research methodologies to understand as a layperson – questions and multiple choice answers.

Too Many Surveys Can be Damaging to Your Goals

1. It results in survey fatigue. “Survey fatigue” describes what happens to a respondent in the middle of a laborious or boring survey and also describes what happens to someone when they are presented with too many surveys. Ultimately, they answer a fewer number of the surveys and their answers get less reliable the more fatigued they get during a survey or a period of being inundated with surveys.

2. It masks the real need for other research. Organizations become reliant on the cadence of survey results and forget to ask whether the data are helping with the real questions they need answered or whether there are other, better methodologies for the task at hand. For example, companies using satisfaction survey results or brand equity survey results to drive product innovation work or strategy planning with, not surprisingly, marginal results. 

3. It affects your customer’s experience. Anything you do with your customer is part of their experience with you. The “let’s do a survey!” culture in organizations almost always operates outside of the design team and the customer management team. Surveys seems so harmless however your customer sees the survey as just another part of the experience they evaluate you on. The ‘It’s just a little survey’ culture means that many organizations give all departments access the customer contact lists and permit departments to mail surveys or launch web surveys without much supervision or coordination. 

Don’t get me wrong – we are very pro-research.  And we are proponents of better research not more research. But, the overuse of surveys, the cavalier nature with which organizations execute them, the reliance on marginally helpful data and insights for key business decisions, and the impact of all of this on customers is bothersome. We’d like all organizations to be more judicious and strategic when they decide they need to understand their customers better. There are lots of ways to get insights on, and from, your customers that has less impact on them, and the research industry, than so many surveys.