Are surveys relatively meaningless?

customer-surveyFeedback. I find it to be invaluable in multiple contexts.

Each semester I encourage my students to complete the course evaluation because I want to know what they think about my class.  I instruct them to share whatever is on their minds as long as they’re thoughtful and respectful.  I’m not afraid of being critiqued.  As a reflective practitioner, I’m always looking to improve my instruction (e.g. revise assignments, create new activities).

Today, I feel like everyone is asking us for feedback: car dealerships; property managers; cable providers; insurance companies; and even different offices at the college where I teach.  I’ve filled out multiple surveys in recent months.  My approach: be honest and direct.  My goal: reinforce the positive aspects about what I experienced and challenge people to rethink what’s negative (not just offer some general complaints).

However, I have to admit that I sometimes wonder about what changes will result from the suggestions anyone makes.  Since not all feedback is meaningful, how does the leadership sort through the dearth of comments?  In addition, it’s possible that some organizations (e.g. businesses, institutions) administer surveys to give people (e.g. customers, employees) the false impression that their input can influence daily operations.

Then again, if that were true, why did the cable technician who visited my apartment coach me on how to rate his work performance before he walked out the door?  Yes, he steered me toward a favorable evaluation.  This raises another important issue: people intentionally manipulating responses, thereby undermining the integrity of surveys as a measurement tool.  So, where does that leave us?

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