Re: Customer Surveys

Subject: Re: Customer Surveys
From: Steven Jong <SteveJong -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 23 May 1996 17:09:01 -0400

Subj: Mail failure
[Kent, my attempts to reply to you privately failed, so I'll try posting to
the list.]

You wanted "to develop a customer survey to determine who is using our
documention, what they think of it, what kind of changes (if any) they
would like, whether they would like electronic documentation, what kind
of electronic documentation they would want, how they would want that
documentation distributed, and so on."

I can tell you that when I worked at Digital Equipment Corporation we did
similar surveys for our customers. We did ask the sort of questions you
mentioned, but we actually had several motives: First, to find out more about

who was using our documentation and what they used;
second, to see if our then-new online document reader software was being
accepted; and third, to ask general, open-ended questions about how well or
poorly we were doing. Looking back on it, I see clearly the agenda we
thought was hidden. I found responses to the last to be much the most useful


I don't have a full copy of the results any more; it was several years and
one company ago. I don't think comments on their acceptance of
Bookreader would be pertinent today 8^(

As far as resources for developing solid and straight-forward surveys go, I
can pass on a few philosophical points. First, the survey needs to be
collected from a statistically significant sampling of your user community.
I know just enough about statistics to know I don't know enough about
statistics to do it, but I think it involves random mass mailings to several
percent of your users, or several hundred people, whichever comes first.
Don't select the sample on the basis of being the closest or the most loyal
or the most vocal or anything like that -- you ruin the validity of the
Don't discard the high and low responses, either.

Second, the survey instrument needs to be neutral. Don't ask a question like

"How pleased are you with our documentation?" and give as possible responses
Not pleased, Pleased, Very Pleased, and Extremely Pleased! I generally see
either 5-point scales or 7-point scales; anything more is probably asking for

too fine a discrimination from respondents.

Third, I suspect there's an upper limit to the number of questions you can
ask before the customer tires of answering questions. I think we asked about
maybe five minutes' worth of time is all you can ask for.

Finally, you can do a lot with responses to open-ended questions such as
"What do you like best about documentation?" and "What do you like worst
documentation?" We used the responses to open-ended questions to create a
list of our customers' critical success factors, which validated the
quality-improvement efforts we were working on. Our responses weren't
surprising -- customers like more illustrations, clear signposts, good
indexes, etc. --- but I'd recommend that you get your own results from your
current customers.

-- Steve

Steven Jong, Documentation Group Leader ("Typo? What tpyo?")
Lightbridge, Inc, 281 Winter St., Waltham, MA 02154 USA
<jong -at- lightbridge -dot- com>, 617.672.4902 [voice], 617.890.2681 [FAX]

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