Let’s have more thoughtful, authentic conversations with our users, and let’s start with surveys.  Your survey IS a bad user experience.  It has no character, I don’t enjoy taking it and I don’t understand how it will benefit me to finish it. Paying me won’t help either.  With payment, I may actually try to finish it, but don’t mistake that for caring about your product. In fact, paying me to finish your survey further cheapens the experience because by doing so, you’ve told me that you are fully aware of how bad it sucks and are willing to put me through it anyway. Taking a survey is about as fun as standing in line to get a driver’s license. Survey response rates are down and attitudes towards data collection are changing.  Here’s a few reasons why.

Every experience counts. We need to put care and empathy into every interaction. In the experience economy people value experience with a product over any of the single features that we can add. Every touchpoint a user has is either adding to their positive mentality about your product or taking from it. A Q&A session or survey is an opportunity cost in the eyes of a customer - what could they be doing with that time otherwise?  Now consider the ramifications of a 25 question 1/2 hour survey with typical demographic and rating style questions and you’ll realize that the survey you just sent out is  damaging user’s perception of your product. 

Personal Data is the new oil.  This has been the title of some blogs and a great panel I attended at SXSW.  Social Networks and targeted advertising have illuminated people to the value of their personal data. Asking someone a personal question is more and more like reaching for their wallet.  

“In practical terms, a person’s data would be equivalent to their ‘money,’” wrote the WEF in its “Personal Data” report. “It would reside in an account where it would be controlled, managed, exchanged and accounted for just like personal banking services operate today.”

If user’s data is equivalent to their money, we as stakeholders should measure progress in data collection by lowering the number of survey’s we send in order to feel confident in our customer’s perception of the product. With the survey’s we do send, let’s take steps to be courteous, authentic and clearly articulate the benefits of having the interaction.  Let’s walk through a few scenarios. 

Have an authentic conversation.  I want to know why I’m answering this question, what’s in it for me?  Am I supposed to trust you the first time we’ve met? On a practical level, I try to imagine each question like a real life conversation in a bar. If a stranger came up to me in a bar and asked, “how does this site compare to your idea of an ideal website, rate one to ten.” I’d probably just tell them to go away. Here’s why;

* First, It’s a deep question, I’m not sure what my ideal site looks like and would need a few minutes to figure it out - a few minutes that you, as a stranger, aren’t going to get from me.

* Secondly, if I tell you this, what are you going to do for me?  Explain that first.  

* Thirdly, I don’t know if you and I are on the same page regarding the difference between a 6 and an 8 on your question scale.  Can we be more specific? how about I think it’s ALOT like my ideal site, or it’s just SORT OF like my ideal site.  See the point?

* Lastly, how about an introduction first, who are you, why are you asking me this, what will change about my life if I answer it?  Let’s be specific. “Hey, I’m Jim, I work here at the bar. I’d like to know how this place stacks up to other bars you hang out in.  If you tell me what’s wrong, I’ll try to improve it.”  

Store Better Data.  People expect a lot these days, ask dumb questions at your own risk.  I can’t tell you how often I get the “How often do you purchase from this website?” question. You can’t tell?! Questions of your users should leverage all the data that you have at your disposal to personalize the experience for people who are using your product. Make user’s feel like you have a clue. 

Keep it short and keep it within the product. For more details about the specifics of writing great surveys, here’s one of my favorite posts. Generally speaking, don’t create a survey that takes a user more than 5 minutes to finish.  Additionally, try introducing 1-2 question survey’s onsite within the product instead of sending email surveys.  Within email, the user is disconnected from the product; they may not have visited your product for weeks.  Asking the question on-site provides better results and doesn’t force your user to try to remember the thing they liked or didn’t like 3 weeks ago. 

In summary, Let’s try to take our user conversations up a notch.  Entertain someone, make them laugh, be real and you’ll be rewarded with more honest feedback and loyalty.