I've been asked to do a presentation for the local chapter of SOCAP (that's the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals) in six weeks or so. The topic will be how to make surveys more effective.
The undercurrent, according to Mary Leary, the charming head of programming for the Minneapolis SOCAP chapter, is that a lot of their members have become frustrated with how survey data is being used (or rather, not being used) in their organizations. People go through significant effort to collect and compile survey data and look for ways to improve, only to have their results routinely ignored by decision-makers who have the ability to act on the survey results.
This is a problem I've observed a lot, and the bad news is that there's no simple solution.
In order for a survey to be effective, it has to be part of a much larger feedback loop, which I made the focus of Chapter 2 of Gourmet Customer Service. The steps are:
1) Set Goals
2) Gather Data
3) Take Action
4) Validate Improvements
5) Go back to step 1
The surveys take place in steps 2 and 4 (validation means measuring whether the action in step 3 had any actual effect). The challenge is that this loop has to be something that the organization as a whole is committed to. Steps 1 and 2 are often as far as anyone gets, because if there's no commitment to change, it's always easier to do nothing than something. If there's a short-term push for improvement then a company may get as far as step 3, but without validation there's no way to know if the changes actually improved things, and without closing the loop by setting new goals, any improvement is likely to be short-lived.
The good news is that this process isn't rocket science. The magic comes in the commitment to make changes, measure results, and then go back and make more changes--there's nothing special about the expertise of the consultants or the three-letter acronyms used. Over time, even a marginally competent department will figure out which changes are improving things and which aren't, and improve the overall service level.
So hard work and corporate commitment? Yes. Special techniques and magic consulting wizards? Not necessary.