SurveyUSA is regularly approached by older, “experienced” researchers and asked, “How much will it cost to complete this exact survey?”
Not uncommonly, when SurveyUSA looks, there will be 100 or more data points to be gathered.
Paraphrasing what we hear from the potential client: “We’ve been fielding the same questionnaire for 20 years; we’ve always done it this way.” And when SurveyUSA asks, rhetorically, “How long in your experience does it take a respondent to complete this questionnaire?” … the answer comes back: “20 or 30 minutes.”
In today’s world, 20 or 30 minutes is an eternity. Nobody has 20 or 30 uninterrupted minutes to do anything. We live in a world where the average attention span is 5 seconds — 140 characters.
This puts SurveyUSA in a bind. We can agree to field the research, knowing that it is the wrong thing to do, pocket the money, and go to confession, or we can push back and tell the client, “It’s really important that we, at a minimum, cut your instrument in half, and better yet, into quarters, so that no one piece of the project is more than four to six minutes long.” Four to six minutes is the outer boundary of what a respondent might be willing to sit through in today’s world, before the respondent begins to feel like he or she is being abused.
“Respondent abuse” is a very real phenomenon.
It happens too often because clients are focused on the client’s needs, and researchers are focused on the researcher’s needs.
Nobody is focused on the respondent’s needs.
SurveyUSA is focused on the respondent’s needs.
In 2017, SurveyUSA was honored to receive a QUEST Award for Research Excellence, for designing surveys that are easy for the respondent to complete. The importance of the award is that is is not the subjective opinion of a panel of judges, but rather, it is the algorithmic output to a computation, devised by Survey Sampling International, that measure how much effort it takes a respondent to complete a survey.
No research firm intentionally abuses a respondent. Our competition just neglects the respondent to such an extent that it becomes abusive.
Did SurveyUSA’s unwavering focus on the respondent and aversion to respondent abuse occur by accident? Is it something that SurveyUSA discovered late in life?
Back in the 1980s, before he founded SurveyUSA, SurveyUSA CEO Jay H Leve was in charge of an outfit at Citibank world headquarters called “Humanware.” Humanware existed before the home computer had even been invented, before “user friendly” was an idiom, and way before anyone knew what the Internet was or would become.
Humanware had one job in Citibank’s R&D process: to prevent the computer hardware guys, who were focused on hardware, and to prevent the computer software guys, who were focused on software, from losing sight of the individuals who ultimately had to use the cash machines and home-banking appliances that Citibank was developing. Dissimilar as 1980s consumer banking may seem to 2017’s opinion research, the two disciplines require almost exactly the same set of skills: The ability to ask an unambiguous question, and the ability to solicit an easy, honest answer, without intimidating the customer or the respondent.
Further evidence that there is a straight line between Leve’s work at Citibank in the 1980s and SurveyUSA’s respondent focus today:
The genuine genius who invented the concept underlying user-interface design and who coined the term “Humanware,” Larry Weiss, today owns his own market research company, LineScale Research. If you can afford the Master, hire LineScale. If you prefer to work with one of his disciples, hire SurveyUSA.