I have mixed feelings about client and market surveys. Sometimes they provide useful insights into the moods, opinions, values and priorities of your clients — and they can, if you view the “outlier” responses closely, add valuable insights to your understanding about service problems and strengths.
But surveys can be a nuisance and, realistically, the results are often skewed by (a) the question-asker’s bias and (b) the fact that only certain people, at certain times, are willing to complete the surveys, thus interfering with validity. (And intrusive efforts to force response, for example, by telemarketing-type calls, only add to the problem. When anyone calls me with a “survey” on the phone I abruptly hang up.)
The bias in surveys is often explicit. One of my friends (and former employees) has an extremely successful event survey business. He sets out questions for event organizers (shows, festivals, and the like) and hires a squad of poll-takers to gather responses, assembling the data into reports. Fair enough, but the reason for the surveys, he acknowledges, is to help put the case forward for more funding and support for the events and festivals. So you can be sure the results will be presented in a way that make the event look really valuable, useful and relevant — and worth every cent of the funding requested.
I’ve used surveys creatively to protect a business relationship under attack (unfortunately I cannot explain exactly how that happened here because it would give away some business secrets). As well,the ongoing Construction Marketing Ideas blog poll: How do you attract most of your new business (see sidebar) receives a few responses each day and, I think, provides a truly valid snapshot of where most architects, engineers and contractors find new business.
So, I think surveys have their place. For some fun, I’ve set up a small survey with this posting.