10 ideas for recurring IT user satisfaction surveys, a helpful vehicle for analyzing perceptions of IT's services and the health of your business relations.

Guest blog by Michael Blanford, a business and technology consultant.

Mike BlanfordObjective measures of information technology service are essential to performance planning, monitoring, budgeting and management control.  As a service provider you watch a collection of metrics that might include availability, response time, utilization, first call resolution rate and the like.

Consider, though, that your customers’ perceptions are formed more subjectively.  After all, the goodwill earned from a year of 99.99% system availability can be lost with an outage in the middle of year-end close.  IT-centric performance measures are important for managing services but don’t capture the feelings of your users.  The strongest, most effective relationships develop when users are confident in your commitment to their success.  It is a level of alignment that transcends a dashboard full of green indicators.

IT performance beyond the dashboard

So how do you gather and exploit subjective information about your services?  No doubt you meet with functional peers in various formal and informal settings.  You speak with users when you visit their sites, perhaps you include time for Q&A in your presentations, publish a newsletter or accept feedback through a link on your intranet.  These can all be helpful but they are point inputs and will lack consistency and structure.  A recurring user survey process is a helpful vehicle for analyzing perceptions of your services and the health of your business relations.

Survey tools are inexpensive and easy to use.  They allow you to conduct effective surveys and analyze feedback but not without some advance planning.  Your survey should be designed to guide the respondents’ thinking, allowing you to draw meaningful and actionable conclusions from their feedback. 

10 Tips for better user satisfaction surveys

Here are 10 ideas I have found to have proven their value through repeated survey cycles:

1)      Keep the survey short and simple
Use clear and concise language.  ‘Test drive’ your survey to be sure it can be completed in 10 minutes or less.  You can cover a wide range of topics in a survey but focus any single question narrowly on a specific aspect of service.  Stay mindful that language and cultural differences will cause your questions and a respondent’s feedback to be misinterpreted in ways you won’t expect.

2)      Avoid transactional surveys that request feedback upon closing a service request
These may be useful in some settings but they’re overused, being offered by most every bank, airline, and car rental or merchant you deal with.  They can be inconvenient for respondents who would rather get back to their work and may cause their feedback to be skewed.

3)      Employ well-constructed multiple choice questions
These help you tally statistical results but always include the ability to also collect freeform comments.  Make sure that response choices are defined consistently (i.e. ‘a’ is always the most favorable response or ‘1’ is always the least favorable response).  Offer a wide enough range of responses to get good differentiation in the feedback; a range of seven choices works well.  Include an “n/a” response so a user can indicate a question does not apply to them.

4)      Design your questions to learn the respondent’s perceptions
Don’t try to measure hard and fast results.  For example, consider asking “Do we resolve your problems promptly” rather than “Do we resolve your problems within X hours per the terms of our Service Level Agreement?” 

5)      Allow anonymity but encourage self-identification 
Make the respondent’s name optional but require relevant attributes like work location, business function and role.  Use drop down lists to ensure data consistency.  When a user expresses a problem and does provide their name go out of your way to ensure they get a personalized response.  It sends a powerful signal that you and your organization listens and takes comments to seriously.

6)      Survey everyone 
Feedback from department heads, senior managers and executives is important but gives an incomplete picture.  Solicit feedback from everyone who uses IT services, typically anyone with a network account.  Cover all locations and all functions of the business you support.  And don’t overlook field-based employees; they can have special needs and unusual service challenges.

7)      Use the survey to seed thinking into your user base 
For example, frustrations over service or work priorities can be tempered by asking if users understand the formal problem management process, how to submit a project proposal or how priorities are evaluated and managed.  Such questions emphasize that there are formal work management processes and help ingrain them as standard operating practices.  When you see pockets of negative feedback to these questions you have an obvious education and training opportunity.

8)      Announce the survey and send reminder
After the survey is announced, send a reminder or two to solicit additional responses but keep the overall survey window short.  Consider leaving your survey open for no more than 2 to 3 weeks depending on the number of sites and potential respondents involved.  Expect an initial response rate around 30%; push to grow it closer to 50% with a couple of timely reminders.

9)      Tally results quickly and publish them broadly 
Use your intranet, staff meetings, town halls, etc.  Acknowledge good results along with the bad.  Expect some cheap shots and rude responses, especially in the initial survey cycle; they fall off quickly when it becomes apparent that you read comments and deal openly with legitimate issues.  Analyze feedback in as many dimensions as possible to understand how each sub-group perceives their service.  Service quality naturally varies by location and different business groups have different needs.  Above all, make the feedback you collect an active and visible part of your planning processes.  Survey feedback alone is not justification for approving projects and budgets but it is a helpful set of planning data.

10)   Repeat
Repeat your survey regularly, trying to keep questions intact from year to year for easy comparison.  An annual survey works well in most large organizations.  Examine feedback from year to year to understand changes and trends.  The first survey is important to set baselines and institutionalize the survey process.  Subsequent can surveys provide insight into your progress, opportunities and relationships across the business.

An annual user survey is a low-cost, low effort endeavor given the information it can yield.  It helps connect you as an IT leader with every user you support and offers to engage them in the evolution and execution of your IT services.  The transparency and openness it demonstrates are invaluable in building and maintaining strong, lasting partnerships across your business. 

About Michael Blanford

Mike focuses on strengthening bottom line business performance through process improvement, technology upgrades and organization alignment. His career includes IT and Operations leadership roles in businesses ranging from start-up to the Fortune 50. Follow Mike on twitter: @Mike_Blanford.


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