Like a freight train in a fogbank, we're barreling towards another national election with only a vague idea of what lies ahead.
As usual, that means we're in for another year (and change) of nonstop political polls and pontificating. Political polls have a remarkable record in terms of being able to predict the outcome of major elections (with some notable glitches), and a lot of the best practices for customer surveys come from lessons learned in trying to accurately forecast the contents of the ballot box.
Political junkies know to ask several important questions when interpreting the results of a poll:
1. What's the margin of error, and is the survey accurate enough to support the conclusions being drawn?
2. Is the sampling method biased in any way which would change the results?
3. Are the questions fair and unbiased, or are the questions designed to elicit a particular response?
These are all important questions to ask about customer service surveys, too, and many existing surveys fall down on at least one of the three points. In the call center environment there are some important additional considerations, however, which don't come up in political polling:
4. Is the data timely enough to be actionable?
5. Does the survey itself leave customers with a positive or a negative impression?
6. Is the survey data matched to other call data (agent name, type of call, etc.) for analysis?
Sometimes the latter three issues will impact the first three--for example, a customer service survey might specifically focus on a group of customers which are likely to have had problems, in order to look for ways to improve. Since we're not trying to predict the outcome of a future event, sometimes it's desirable to sacrifice some accuracy in order to achieve the larger goal of improving service.
It's important, though, to treat the results of every survey with the same skepticism you'd apply to the political poll showing that your favorite candidate is going down in flames. Ask the important questions, and know what the data says (and doesn't say).