Is Anyone Else Sick of Online Surveys Yet?

Online surveys. I hate them. Probably get 3-4 a week. Every. Stinking. Week.

They come from my travel services, hotels, airlines, places where I buy stuff, from my music and video subscription services, member organizations, and the list goes on.  And on.  And on. 

How are we doing?

Over the past couple of years there’s been a breach in the online survey floodgates and we’re drowning in pleas begging us to tell companies how well they are doing. For me, they arrive in my “IN” box, usually with a cheerful headline like, “Tell Us What You Think!" Ok, I will – but be careful what you ask for. 

Arts and cultural organizations have been getting in on the action lately, too, and I wish that they wouldn’t.

Now, you’d think a fellow who gets paid to provide fundraising advice would welcome every opportunity to give an opinion, right?  Not so.  I haven’t warmed-up to the online survey phenomenon because for the most part, I think it’s a sham.

Why the skepticism?  Because in most for-profit environments, surveys are used by the marketing department whose mission it is to influence customers, not to redesign a company’s products and services.  Just look at the next five online surveys you get and judge for yourself.

I contend that most online surveys are actually one of the following:

  • A commercial (influencer) disguised as a survey;
  • A clumsy attempt to say “we care about you”;
  • A means to capture additional customer contact information; or
  • A plea for validation that how the company treats customers is ok with me.

Arts and cultural organizations are quickly joining the parade of online surveys – and although their motives are often more transparent, we should still take pause. Look, arts organizations deal with such narrow segments of the population, do we really not know what patrons want?  Is it truly probable that arts organizations are so out of touch – or out of answers – that they have to resort to e-blasted online surveys?  In some instances the answer is ‘yes’, but don’t make the exception the rule.

Relying on patrons to tell you what they want is unrealistic, unsophisticated and unreliable.  Plus, at our core, don’t we already know the answers?  They want to be entertained, enriched, enlightened and educated.  They want good value for their money and they want to view your organization as a resource to the community rather than another entitled “non-profit” mouth to feed.  They want you to add value to the community and they don’t want any hassle when they partake in your organization’s offerings.  They want to be thanked and appreciated for their support, too. 

Do you really want a survey to tell you any of this?  Of course not, so let’s choose a better course.  Talk with your patrons.  Observe them.  Study their habits.  Then make good decisions tied to the behaviors you uncover. If your organization is hitting the mark you’ll be rewarded with a growing patron base.  If it isn’t, you won’t. 

If you want to be valuable to your patrons, then have value.  If you want loyalty, then make their experiences memorable.  There is a big difference between getting to know your patrons through their behavior versus their opinions.  One is real, and one isn’t.  One brings in money and loyalty, and the other doesn’t.  One quietly inspires repeat business and involvement, and the other one sets false expectations when the organization’s real ability to change is limited.

People are smart.  They know the orchestra or opera company won’t radically change its programming…or the museum can’t do much about a parking problem…or the ballet company won’t perform more “tap” because of the results of an online survey.  Organizational growth comes from careful introspection, self-awareness and self-analysis, anchored in unflinchingly productive core fundamentals that usher innovations based on many, many variables.  Your patrons can’t do this work for you, no matter how many questions you ask them.   So get out there.  Talk.  Observe.  Study. 

Oh, and one final thing, if you enjoyed this article, please take this quick online survey to tell us what you think!

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