Customer satisfaction survey?

Subject: Customer satisfaction survey?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 17 Feb 2006 08:17:19 -0500

Jennifer Gidner wondered: <<Our small (2-member) Technical Writing shop has been told that we will be measured this year by the results of a customer satisfaction survey that we must create. Yikes!>>

The first step in designing such things is to sit down with the people who will be interpreting the results and find out their parameters for success: What metrics do they want you to collect, why, and how do they intend to use those metrics? For a few thoughts along those lines:

It's particularly worth noting that since you have no baseline data at this point, it's hard to say whether any given review is good or bad. It's often more effective to use this first year as a way to identify baseline statistics, then perform the review again next year to see if you've improved or maintained a high level of satisfaction.

You may also want to try diplomatically changing this from a simple metric exercise to a way of obtaining focused comments that will help you improve. Management is often really taken by the idea of continuous quality improvement, and you can make the chore of obtaining measurements more useful to everyone if you seek feedback that provides clear targets for improvement. A few more thoughts:

Don't forget that randomly targeted surveys are going to attract more responses from people with an axe to grind, and few other responses. Most user satisfaction surveys attract a response rate way below 5% unless you add some hefty bribe to encourage participation. The negative responses are good if your goal is finding problems in need of improvement, but not so good if you don't want your managers to fire you because of all the negative comments. <g>

It may be more effective to take an approach such as focus group interviews or usability reviews, in which you bring people in or talk to them on the phone (select them according to useful criteria such as "broadly representative of our audience") and specifically get them to work with you to review the documentation. More expensive and time-consuming, but worth it if your goal really is to get useful data.

A powerful alternative is changing the problem you're trying to solve away from rating satisfaction and towards evaluating success. The gold standard for this is "reduced number of calls to tech. support". If you can work with your tech. support department to identify the main documentation problems (things people can't find in the manuals) and can separate documentation problems from interface or usability problems, so much the better. Don't let them blame you for things that aren't your fault!

<<Such as, what are good questions? What is a good scale?>>

A good question has two characteristics. First (selfishly), it provides the answer you need to impress the heck out of your manager so they give you a raise and an extra week of vacation. <g> This suggests that you need to ask questions whose answers will give you positive feedback.

Second (less cynically), the answer to the question must give you something you can act upon. To find out whether you can, ask the first five people who wander past your desk to answer the questions. Analyze the results and ask yourself the question "now what?" If you can't answer that question, then your survey is useless other than to give your managers useless numbers to compile in a file.

Let's say your satisfaction rating is 3 out of 5... perfectly respectable. What do you do about it? If all you collected is numbers, you can't do anything about it because you don't know what cost you 2 points. This suggests you need some of those "negative" questions in my second article to help you pin down how to improve.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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