Communications, Legal Supplier

Seven tips for using SurveyMonkey to get client opinions

By Jana Schilder

Election polls, employee surveys, marketing research, and customer opinions all grapple with the same question: “What do you think?”

Doing market research and customer satisfaction surveys with an organization’s key constituents became much easier when businessman Ryan Finley launched SurveyMonkey in 1999. Using computers and software to crunch Big Data in the cloud was a huge innovation, greatly shortening the response time as well as the actual data crunching.

An aside for Millennial readers: pre-Internet, completed paper questionnaires took weeks to arrive by Canada Post and responses were compiled by hand for all but the largest surveys, which were crunched by IBM mainframe computers. Surveys took months to complete, followed by months to analyze the data. Little wonder that market surveys were big ticket items and only the largest organizations could afford to conduct surveys.

Today, companies that use SurveyMonkey include Facebook, Virgin America,, and Kraft Foods. You can use SurveyMonkey to conduct research on client satisfaction, market research, events, education, and human resources. In 2015, SurveyMonkey had 25 million users, and received 90 million survey responses a month.

At The Legal A Team, a number of our law firm clients have used SurveyMonkey to learn more about client satisfaction issues and concerns, client needs, as well as new practice areas that clients may be willing to pay for. Here are seven “lessons learned” for law firms:

1. Always test out the wording of survey questions on a sampling of clients. You want to make sure that “intent is equal to effect.” In other words, you want to make sure that you are asking the question you want to ask. Misinterpretation of the question, and therefore the survey results, is always a worry when doing client research. Writing survey questions is both an art and a science, and while SurveyMonkey helps with all types of successful survey questions, you want to make sure that the question you are posing has no room for misinterpretation.

2. Send the survey to more than just one contact per company. The temptation is to send the survey to just the general counsel, but if there is an opportunity to send it to a number of people in a company’s legal department with whom you do business on a regular, or even sporadic basis, you’ll be much better off. [Also see #6, below.]

People are busy and just because you want them to fill out your questionnaire doesn’t mean that they will. The SurveyMonkey link goes into their regular email, other email arrives and before you know it four weeks have elapsed and the survey is now closed to respondents. If the response rate is poor, consider sending the SurveyMonkey link a number of times to your respondents. The system will not allow a respondent to fill out more than one survey, however, so don’t worry about a handful of respondents skewing the data.

3. Be realistic about how many questions you can actually put into a survey. Eight to 10 questions are reasonable. Any more than that and people start to get cranky. If they get super cranky, they just stop answering questions and you end up with an incomplete survey questionnaire.

4. It takes longer to fill out a survey than merely read the questions. People like to think about their answers. Many survey questions ask them to rate or weigh their responses on a sliding scale. Take this into account, especially if other practice areas or other departments want to add their questions to the same survey. The survey can grow to an unmanageable size very quickly.

5. Time how long the survey takes to complete. And tell potential respondents how much of their time you are asking for. Everyone gets annoyed when the survey header says that the survey will take seven minutes to complete and survey respondents are still at it 35 minutes later. Don’t trick people who are your clients or potential clients through cross-selling.

6. Know your respondents. For financial advisors, the “know your client” rule is critical. Does the client tend toward conservative investments, or is she a risk-taker? Does the client prefer equities or bonds? If your client is a 60-year-old general counsel, that person may not be so keen to complete a SurveyMonkey questionnaire. Millennials? No problem!

Similarly, very senior people whether general counsel or company vice-presidents, are not motivated by gift cards, dinner gift certificates, and a raffle for a vacation to the Virgin Islands to get them to click on the link and complete the questionnaire. They are busy and they can buy their own dinner when they get to the Virgin Islands on their private yacht, thank you very much.

SurveyMonkey is a “self-selecting” survey tool. This means that those people who want to complete the survey will do it. Conversely — and this is the whopper — those who don’t want to complete the questionnaire won’t.

Self-selection bias is actually a huge problem in research; here’s why. First, a high number of non-respondents will mean that you’ll have a statistically invalid survey; you’ll have a bunch of client stories and anecdotes rather than statistically valid data to base decisions on. Just saying.

Second, self-selection bias weeds out all those people who don’t want to talk to you: frustration, anger and indifference are frequently behind not answering. More important, there is always much to be learned from law firm clients who may be annoyed with you. You may think you know who they are — and then again you may not. This is why traditional polling and market research firms are so meticulous at gathering data using survey sampling techniques that include phone interviews as well as focus groups behind 2-way mirrors.

You learn more about what you can improve at your law firm by talking to annoyed clients. This is where you learn what is bugging them, and where there may be an opportunity to create a better process to use with all your clients. Better still, you may create a new service or practice area after talking to a number of disgruntled clients.

You learn almost nothing from clients who love you — and satisfied clients are great referral sources. They are your biggest cheerleaders.

SurveyMonkey is especially great for consumer products and packaged goods. For high value legal and accounting services, clients expect more than a SurveyMonkey questionnaire.

There is always wisdom in taking the client out for lunch and asking the four critical questions that never change: "What are we doing well? What did we screw up? What keeps you up at night? How can we help?"

To Read More Jana Schilder Posts Click Here