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In a recent post, we wrote about the accelerating decline of the random sample, which is being driven by the mobile revolution and heightened aversion to anything that interrupts the customer experience. In the traditional market research world, the random sample is often accompanied by its partner in crime: the long-form survey. Happily, the long-form survey is dying out just as quickly as the random sample.

Long-form surveys are fading for 5 very important reasons:

1) Long-form surveys trigger poor customer experiences

2) Long-form surveys replace listening with questioning

3) Long-form surveys don’t translate to mobile

4) Long-form surveys yield unreliable insights

5) Long-form surveys are eclipsed by big data & text mining

Let’s look at each of these 5 reasons in a bit more detail.

1) Long-form surveys trigger poor customer experiences

Nowadays, folks work multiple jobs, have myriad ongoing commitments, and face seemingly endless demands on their attention. Customers simply do not have the time or patience to answer 30-35 question surveys over the course of 10-15 minutes. The negative experience created by this enormous time commitment can do serious damage to a brand’s online reputation. A feedback program that demands more than 2- 3 minutes of customers’ time is doomed to failure.

2) Long-form surveys replace listening with questioning

“The mindset of Old Research is fundamentally around asking questions,” says the Chief Research Officer of TNS North America. Proponents of the long-form surveys replace listening (good) with questioning (bad). They choose to interrogate their respondents with questions that are of interest to them, when they should be providing a platform for customers to opt-in and alert the brand to real challenges, pain points, and revenue opportunities.

3) Long-form surveys don’t translate to mobile

Want an exercise in masochism? Try completing a 35-screen survey on an iPad. Or try scrolling through a 40-question survey on your Android phone. Having fun yet? Didn’t think so. Long-form surveys evolved in the pen-and-paper world. They barely survived the transition to the desktop world, but that’s where the story will end. The very nature of the mobile medium restricts feedback events to no more than a handful of questions.

4) Long-form surveys yield unreliable insights

Because of their high abandonment rates, long-form surveys yield polluted data and unreliable insights. Here’s how this dangerous process works: 1000 randomly-selected customers start a survey; by question #10, only 500 are left and by question #25, only 250 are left. Perhaps the original 1000 were representative of the entire customer base, but are the final 250? Should a brand still rely on metrics collected after 75% of respondents have abandoned the survey? Probably not.

5) Long-form surveys are eclipsed by big data & text mining

The market research industry built the long-form survey for an era when customer opinions were scarce and mining insights was a painstakingly manual (and expensive) process. Fortunately, that era has come and gone, and we now live in a world where ambient, opt-in feedback from all channels is plentiful, and sophisticated algorithms can inexpensively mine unstructured data sets and derive more insight from a paragraph of text than a 35-question survey ever could.

Bottom line: along with the random sample, the long-form survey is a staple of the market research industry. But there are major flaws and shortcomings inherent to the methodology, which explains why it is dying out so quickly.  When confronted by market research vendors, brands looking to invest in a Voice of Customer program need to be aware of the limitations and dangers associated with the long-form survey.

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