One Hard Change to Get Better Survey Answers

I am right now listening to the book Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come by Jessica Pan. It is about how the author, an avowed introvert, set out on an adventure/nightmare behaving as an extravert for a year.


As part of her adventure, she takes a class in learning to hold a conversation with strangers. One of the keys to a good conversation, she relates, is that the person you are talking to sees your questions as genuine. If the other person doesn’t perceive that you are sincere in asking your question--the conversation ends there and then.


It got me thinking. I have always thought of surveys as a form of conversation.


But how conversational was your last survey?




I looked at my most recent survey, and I have to admit that, while it flows well, and some of the questions are conversational, as a whole, it’s a one way conversation, if one at all.


And it certainly doesn’t feel all that genuine.


I mean, who starts a conversation with How old are you? (That is literally the opening line from my last survey.)


Or, think about the surveys you see everyday now: How likely would you be to recommend us to your friends and family?


Really, you are going to start with that? What about asking me how my experience was first?


(This is the problem I have with NPS surveys. They are conversations with a hidden agenda--the polar opposite of a genuine asking. You know if you don’t rate the company a 10, you are going to be asked what they could do to make it a 10. Ever since Nadia Comaneci got a 10 on her Olympics gymnastics routine, no one is satisfied with anything less.)


Perhaps we should start with “How has your day been?” or “What Netflix show are you hooked on?” Or maybe something about the topic of the survey that is somewhat safe and doesn’t give away your qualification screener.


It’s certainly not obvious nor easy to make surveys more conversational. To a certain degree, some questions need to be asked that would never be part of a normal conversation. I do believe, though, that at least moving a survey closer to a conversation will do wonders for response. At the very least, questions can be made more conversational, as can the flow. And the opening question can really make a difference in how it makes the respondent feel.


Maybe turning it into a conversation is overrated. And maybe it is impossible. But I firmly believe this is a reason social media listening is becoming so important. They are conversations. And conversations produce better results.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this because I don't have the ultimate answer. We can all learn from each other. Have you found ways to make your surveys more conversational?


My next survey, I plan to take at least one step towards making it more conversational. I challenge you to do the same.