Today, probably more than ever before, business leaders in a competitive global marketplace are interested in understanding how employees, customers, business partners, or any group of individuals and stakeholders are thinking. It’s easy for decision makers to assume they know what customers want, when developing a new product or service. But how much do they really know about the needs, wants, and behaviors of the people who mean the most to their business?
Nearly every group of individuals consists of subgroups or segments, whose needs, wants, and behaviors differ. By conducting research in understanding what segments you’re dealing with, you’re able to create products, services, messages, advertisements, etc., that these groups can understand and connect with. And, with the growth of the internet, surveying customers, employees, friends or anyone else has become extremely easy. The key is good, reliable online survey software.
Why Survey software?
Survey software tools provide the capability to create a survey where the painstaking administration tasks are automated. Typically, we think of these automation tools as online survey tools that generate an HTML form to post to the internet, allowing your group of interest to submit their responses via the web.
Internet survey software tools make it easy for anyone to do a survey. In fact, many of the tools available today are built with the goal of enabling anyone to create professional online surveys quickly and easily. And many of them do! Today’s online survey tools do make it simple to create a survey and launch it. They can be tremendously useful in capturing customer, employee, and stakeholder feedback quickly and simply.
However, using these survey software tools can sometimes be like driving without a rear view mirror and without a map. You may think you’ve reached your intended destination using the best route. But in fact, you may not have taken the best path after all. Worse, you may not even be at your intended destination, and you won’t know it. Or, another destination may have been a better one to meet your needs — and you didn’t know it existed!
What Should You Look for in an Online Survey Software Solution?
Because you’re probably new to the idea of creating, distributing, and maintaining any kind of online survey, you should consider finding a software application that makes it as easy as possible to get up and running–with minimal spin-up time. And, because you want your solution to target specific recipients in the most effective manner possible, you want it to be the best web-based tool you can find. For starters, look for online survey software that offers:
If you’re considering an online survey tool, there are a number of options to choose from, and it pays to do your homework.
Types of Survey Software Tools
An important thing to keep in mind when evaluating what survey tool is best for your needs is that one size does not fit all. The right solution for your business will depend on several factors. A key first step is understanding the basic differences between the available products you have to choose from. Basically, there are two major versions of online survey tools to consider, PC survey software and hosted survey software.
PC Survey Software
With these tools you buy desktop or server-based software that resides on your computers. The system will generate an HTML web form that you then post to a website. When a respondent submits a completed survey, typically the data arrives to a designated email box. The application will then process these emails and load the results in a database. There are several key advantages of this approach:
Hosted Survey Software
With hosted survey software, you rent the use of an application at the vendor’s web site. There are literally hundreds of products out there, so comparison shopping is advised! With this scenario you create a survey interactively on the web site and the HTML survey form is posted on the hosting company’s website. The key advantages of this approach are:
With the PC-based tools, you become responsible for posting the form and its associated scripting files. But a word of caution: This can be a troublesome proposition. The hosted approach is simpler, but in the very long run, it may cost more. However, when you include all the costs associated with the PC-based survey tool approach, hosted surveys could be less expensive. Some companies for security and privacy reasons may require the survey to run on its own servers. In this case, the hosted applications lose out. Remember: It all comes down to what’s best for your unique requirements.
Key Features of Online Survey Software
The potential feature list for survey tools can get pretty lengthy. Many features may be unimportant to you—while others may be critical to your needs. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you create a survey and find out the survey tool you selected doesn’t support certain features. So two words are important: due diligence. All the survey tools you evaluate should support the following basic features:
Comprehensiveness of Survey Question Types
Look at the survey question types supported. (Note: the survey software tools may use different names for these question types.) All will support multiple choice, interval rating, and open-ended comment boxes. But are there limits on the number of points on interval scales? How large a text buffer can you have for comment boxes? You may also want to use semantic differential, forced ranking, or fixed sum survey question types. Are these available? Does the tool provide a running sum as the respondent completes the fixed sum question?
Can you customize the formatting of the output that the respondent sees? Shading of alternate questions is a nice feature. Can you add a logo and custom HTML? Can you require an answer for selected questions only? Does the vendor force you to have their “ad” at the bottom of the screen?
Conditional Branching is a very useful feature to pass respondents by a series of questions that are not applicable. Is this supported? Can you loop through a series of questions for multiple occurrences of some event, for example, feedback on a number of different classes taken? Is text piping supported in the looping? Frequently, it is helpful to branch based upon the response a person gives. For example, for a low score you may want to branch to an open-ended comment box. Is this supported? Upon completion of the survey, can you redirect the respondent to a specific web page?
Ease of Use
How easy is it to create a question or apply a scale to a series of questions? Can you create your own library of questions or scale types that you can readily call upon for future surveys? Respondent Friendliness. Check for the experience of the respondent. If the respondent makes an error in entering an answer — a particular problem with forced ranking and fixed sum question types – what are the error messages? Does the system support halo text or some other means of providing further explanation of a survey question?
Integration with Transactional System
If you’re performing event or transactional surveys, does the system integrate with your transaction system to provide a seamless transfer of contract information? Are there administrative controls to control for repeated surveying of an individual?
Will the survey tool create a random sample from a list of contacts? A stratified random sample? Will it tell you an approximate sample size you need for a certain level of statistical accuracy? Can you restrict access to the survey only to those to whom you’ve sent an invitation? Can you send out reminders to those who have not completed the survey?
As you can see, the capabilities of survey software tools can be quite extensive – and the above is not even a comprehensive list! Do your homework and think about your true needs.
How Your Company Can Benefit from Online Survey Software
Make no mistake about it. The right online survey software tool can deliver enormous benefits to your business. Some of the key ones include:
You can create a survey quite quickly — once you learn how to use the tool. Survey invitations are typically sent out electronically through an email. That email will contain a link to an HTML form that is the survey questionnaire. Responses are then captured electronically, either through incoming emails or by direct loading into a data base, depending on the type of survey tool used. This data collection function is by far the key benefit of online survey tools. If you’ve ever processed a hardcopy survey by postal mail and keyed in the data, you’ll see the benefit from survey automation tools very quickly!
The out-of-pocket cost of these tools is quite low. You can buy a PC-based tool for $500 or less or you can buy it as a service in a hosted application, typically paying a monthly or annual subscription fee. The fees can be as low as $15 to $20 per month for a basic tool. If you need more sophisticated features, the monthly cost could be much higher.
Unlike telephone or postal mail surveys, you can survey 10,000 people as easily as 10 people. This scalability is part of what makes this a low cost method.
Quick Data Capture Turnaround
Since you may be soliciting feedback information about organizational performance, such as a customer satisfaction survey, how quickly you get the data back is important, especially if this is a transactional or event survey. Quick data capture allows addressing a customer issue promptly, which is a key element in successful service recovery practices.
When web-form surveys were a novelty, response rates were quite high, perhaps above 50%. Today, response rates typically are in the 20% to 40% range. However, the relationship you have with your group of interest is the single most important factor in driving the response rate, not the administration method.
Internet web form surveys are flexible. You can create a fairly complex survey questionnaire with these tools, using extensive branching and other available survey features. It’s better to determine what functionality you need and then select the tool, rather than the other way around. Create your expected scenario of how you will use the survey software and look at the price.
How Should you Select a Web Survey Tool?
Determine Your Needs. Develop your survey questionnaire in a rigorous fashion, discussing the role of the survey in your organizational process, and being sure that the survey properly captures the true concerns of the respondent group. The questionnaire along with administration requirements will become your requirements statement.
Make Cost Comparisons
Cost comparisons can be difficult since each survey software company may use its own pricing algorithm. Pricing may be driven by the number of survey projects, the number of responses to a specific survey, the number of invitations sent for a survey, or the number of questions in a survey. Also, the features you want may drive you to a higher-level package or customization.
Take a Test Drive
Most survey tools allow you to download or use the software on a free trial basis (at the very least you can arrange an online product demo). Some will let you execute a survey project, limiting the number of respondents’ data in the database or some other limitation. Definitely take a test drive. Two products may compare well on price and features, but check out their ease of use.