FEATURE1 October 2010

Hear me out: Let’s ban boring surveys

Ever had an idea that you know is genius, but everybody else thinks is crazy? Here is your chance to share it with the world of research. This month, Annie Pettit of Conversition Strategies calls for a ban on dull surveys.

?What’s the big idea?
The big idea is that I want to review and have the final say on every single survey that researchers write. Any surveys I like will be licensed to launch, whereas all the badly written, bloated and boring ones will be banned.

Who made you judge and jury?
It’s my idea so of course I’ll be the judge. As for the jury, I’m going to hire people who are really boring, really arrogant and really dense. And I’ll make sure my jurors have plenty of other demands on their time – they’ll each have a volunteer job and six kids enrolled in various sports and music clubs (parents of sextuplets will be given preference). They will test out every survey looking for inappropriate language, repetitive questions and ridiculous grids. They’ll give special consideration to questionnaires that are more than one hour long by answering every question with either ‘none of the above’ or ‘don’t know’. And if one person on my jury is unable to finish any survey, that survey will be banned.

“It’s not like anyone answers surveys honestly any more. Why would you bother to read any more questions if you’ve already qualified to receive the incentive?”

If you’re not careful you’re going to end up banning every survey.
What’s so wrong about that? My jury will be a statistically representative sample of large busy families who haven’t got the time to answer surveys. Besides, it’s not like anyone answers surveys honestly any more. Why would you bother to read any more questions if you’ve already qualified to receive the incentive? Are you really going to check all the brand names and SKU numbers from your last trip to the grocery store? How many of your kids’ birthday parties could you plan in the time it would take you to do the rest of the survey? Come on, we all know how it works – you must have entertained yourself making pretty pictures with the little bubbles on the grid questions.

Maybe the odd Christmas tree here and there.
There – you just let out your inner human. Now, can your inner human explain to me what the phrase “consuming calorie-reduced chewing gum on a bi-weekly basis” on this survey means?

That’s the most correct phrase to describe that particular action and product, isn’t it?
Not here on planet earth, no. I’m a big fan of chewing gum, but I have no clue what “consuming” gum means and I didn’t realise it had any calories to begin with. This is exactly why my survey review board is so desperately needed. All this gobbledegook about “action” and “product” won’t slip past us no matter how much revenue the project is set to generate.

Have you considered that you might just be out of touch with the chewing gum category?
Either that, or market researchers are out of touch with the daily lives of human beings. Which is why I’m also planning to start running a workshop for researchers called ‘So you want to be a person’ in which I teach them how to get annoyed when they don’t understand survey questions or how to throw their hands in the air when they only have ten minutes to complete a task that requires an hour.

So if researchers are incapable of writing surveys what are we supposed to do?
I used to lie awake pondering that same question, but now I’ve learned the answer. It turns out that all we can stop wasting our time writing surveys, which means there will be no surveys for me to ban and you won’t have to worry about me being the sole judge of your imperfections. Then we just completely switch over to this thing called social media research because it solves every problem we’re having.

Every problem?
Yes. Including the clogged sink in the bathroom and the laundry that refuses to clean itself. Thank you for letting me enlighten you.

Share your vision with us: robertb@researchmagazine.co.uk


14 years ago

I recently was contacted by Sprint for a survey about their service. I had bought, then returned, a WiMax wireless access point from them and I was pleased to help them know that the damn thing didn't work on the North Side of Chicago. So I agreed to the survey. The CRS went through dozens of iterations about my specific use of technology. Seemingly infinite iterations of "How many times a week do I use view (video, web, audio, email) on my (computer, phone, smart device, laptop, netbook)" I WANTED to give them my input. But finally after 10 questions where the author clearly thought "notebook PC" and a "netbook" were the same thing, I told the CSR she could ask me one final question then I was hanging up. I checked my phone timer at the end of the call and I was on the line with her for 18 minutes. WTF? The design of the survey was totally flawed because only a homeless person or very bored shut-in would actually complete the blasted thing. And despite the plethora of statistical methods around surveys, I seriously doubt that there are robust methods for correcting censored survey data created by shitty survey writing.

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14 years ago

Hear, hear! Riffing off your clogged-sink-problem-solving promise, I recently took a phone survey on behalf of a large hotel chain where I had stayed THREE weeks earlier (having stayed at two other hotels in the interim). There were endless 1-10 questions. I finally said "enough!" in about the 35th minute when asked "on a scale of one to ten, how satisfied were you with the effectiveness of the shower head?" If I could have answered that question after three weeks, I should have been disqualified as a non-human entity. Thanks, Annie. I enjoy your stuff!

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