Skewed Questions – Skewed Data

Asking clients – or potential clients – for their input helps build a customer profile and will let you know where products and services on offer do or don’t measure up. It also makes customer and prospects feel like their opinions matter to you.

But think about how you ask questions. If you go to your preferred search engine and ask these two questions:

  1. Should toilet-paper use an underhand roll?
  2. Should toilet-paper use and overhand roll?

What do you think will happen with the results you get? I’m betting both will be different from asking, “How should I put toilet-paper on the roll?”

Clients all seem to start out with the right intention: to gather data from a prospective audience to better meet their needs or test a theory. However, internal pressures regarding their own performance metrics and the need to drive sales often undermine legitimate questions to the point where the questions a prospect receives become a push poll.

While you achieve the short-term goal of getting the answer you want, it works against your ultimate long-term goal of understanding your client in a way that allows you to build a business relationship.

Varnishing the unvarnished truth

Let’s say your company, Acme, has had problem with product reliability. The company has worked hard on improving the product and you’ve worked hard on public awareness about product improvements. Now you’re tasked with seeing if the public awareness campaign has rooted itself in the buyer’s consciousness. You might start with a survey that asks:

  1. How would you historically rate the reliability of Acme products?
  • Reliable
  • Somewhat reliable
  • Unreliable
  • Not sure
  1. How would you rate the current reliability of Acme products?
  • Reliable
  • Somewhat reliable
  • Unreliable
  • Too soon to tell
  1. Please take a moment to describe your experience with Acme products:

Seems like you might be opening a can of worms with that. It’s easy to feel like you should soften the tone for your own sake. A little touch of softness would bring back the metrics that Acme would like to hear, no?

  1. Is the work that Acme has put into product reliability worthwhile?
  • Yes, the improvements are working
  • I can’t tell yet
  • I’m still having trouble
  • Acme was always reliable
  1. Will Acme’s reliability improvements as something that will benefit your business in the future?
  • Yes, reliable equipment is key to my success
  • No, I don’t trust Acme at all
  • Reliability doesn’t affect my company

Clearly, there’s a difference in what you’re asking. The latter set of questions will disallow certain reactions or make them more difficult to express at the very least. It also doesn’t really tell you what’s working or not. Worse still, questions that try to steer a customer’s response make it seem like their opinion doesn’t matter to you.

Give push polls the shove

Push polls erode trust. You may have heard the term used in relation to politics. They’re done in politics because, well, nobody trusts politicians anyway. They also hide behind nominal “Market Research Firms”. When your name is on a questionnaire, is the short-term metric worth the risk of your prospect getting a possible whiff of dishonesty?

We all know that we get better by facing hard truths and overcoming them. While the temptation is always there to cut ourselves a break by asking easier questions, it’s not really helping you in the end.

Speaking of questions… Contact us with some.

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