Many companies use surveys to get a better sense of what customers, prospects, and visitors think about them, what they offer, or even what opportunities exist. That’s a good thing. Many of those companies let the IT department develop those surveys. That’s a bad thing.

It isn’t that the IT people don’t know how to accomplish the task at hand. In fact, they’re very good at it. The problem is that they are focused on getting the right information and aren’t aware that a survey creates an impression with the person who is responding. So they design the survey to ensure that they get every piece of information, regardless of how they do it.

That shows up when you inadvertently fail to answer a question, or you leave a space blank. Immediately, the screen flashes a message in red (or even in RED AND ALL CAPS) to let you know that you failed to provide the needed answer. Instead of making you aware of that in a friendly, encouraging way (“Excuse us, but we didn’t receive your response to this question, and we’d really like to know what you think.”), it typically says something like “You failed to answer a mandatory question” or “Unable to process survey without this item.” Often, the prompts programmers write into surveys cross the line into what I can only describe as snotty.

Not important, you say? I beg to differ. If I eat at your restaurant, fill out the survey to tell you how tasty it was, and then get an insulting, snotty message when I go to fill out your survey, my lingering impression will not be the delicious entrée or responsive server. It will be that snotty message.

A different issue crops up in surveys that ask for sensitive information, but don’t offer the respondent a way to opt out. Most surveys request some demographic data, but respondents may not wish to share information about their race, their income, or the number of children they have. Savvy marketers always include an option that says something like “I’m not comfortable answering this question” to give them an alternative. Without it, many people will simply delete the rest of the survey and deny the marketer some valuable information.

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