Low-Cost, Hosted Online Surveys Open up Opportunities for
Businesses to Quickly Gain Insights Into and Be Responsive
to Their Market Needs
By Anne Ramstetter Wenzel, for Hostedware Corporation
Hosted web survey companies have emerged over the past several
years to provide business owners, managers, and professionals
with the ability to quickly conduct their market research
surveys via the Web. Conducting web-based surveys is a low-cost
method for you to monitor market trends and developments on
a regular basis. Surveying people or companies who buy your
type of products or services can lead to insight into why
they buy, how they choose their vendors, and what their purchasing
plans are for the future.
You can use surveys to evaluate packaging alternatives, brand-name
awareness, or reactions to a new company's name. You can survey
recent purchasers of your type of product to find the typical
age, income level, geographic location, sex, race, or education
level of your potential customers. Web-based surveys, when
taken by respondents via a web site via a hosted survey software
company, lower market research costs for larger companies
and allow smaller businesses with limited budgets to acquire
strategic market information quickly and economically.
Hosted surveys are online software tools provided by companies
that license the use of their technology for your use. Hosted
web survey companies have invested in the hardware, software,
programming time and expense, networking equipment and systems
needed to develop easy-to-use programs you can use to conduct
market research or customer-satisfaction surveys. Hosted web
survey companies also continually provide server space, secure
access, and disaster recovery plans for customer data protection.
Most hosted survey companies provide tutorials, question templates,
and customer service support along with their software so
that you can quickly design and implement surveys.
There are no paper or survey printing costs associated with
online, web-based surveys. Nor are there interviewer training
or salary costs. With mail surveys, you pay for the production
and postage costs of the survey, whether or not the survey
recipient responds. With telephone surveys, you pay the interviewer
to conduct the survey as well as listen to people decline
the opportunity to take the survey. With hosted online surveys,
however, you pay only for submitted survey responses.
For example, if you purchase a 500-response package from
Hostedware, you pay $1.25 for each completed and submitted
response, a fraction of what it would cost you to produce
the survey, conduct telephone interviews, or mail the surveys,
and sort through and code the results. Web-hosted survey results
are coded and stored automatically by the hosted survey software,
further reducing staff time needed to conduct surveys.
The low setup, e-mail distribution, and response costs of
hosted surveys allow you to sample larger numbers of respondents
over larger geographic areas. Generally, the larger the number
of responses to your survey, the more likely your survey is
to yield responses that truly represent the opinions, ideas,
or demographic information of the market you're surveying.
Web-based surveys enable you to survey large numbers of people
or companies at a very low cost, yielding more useful and
insightful results than smaller, manually conducted surveys.
Market information gathered from web surveys becomes available
quickly: Most respondents will take the survey very soon after
receiving the e-mail invitation. You can view survey results
as they come in and easily analyze the results with automated
reports provided by the hosted survey services. The "real-time"
survey results enable your company to respond quickly to market
information and insights gained from survey results. Hosted
survey results are stored electronically and anonymously on
a secure server, which saves on paper survey storage costs
and allows business owners and managers who are authorized
to view the results easy access to the data and reports.
Most hosted survey companies offer you the choice of using
pre-designed templates with typical questions used on surveys.
For best results, however, consider making use of the flexibility
of creating your own survey questions and design. Make use
of the ability to specify the fonts, colors, styles, and backgrounds
for the final look of your survey.
When designing a questionnaire, consider how the data will
be used. What are the marketing or sales people, production
managers, or business owners trying to find out, and what
type of decisions are they going to make based on the data?
For example, are they trying to learn the demographics of
people who will buy the type of products or services the company
sells? If so, you should ask buyers of your company's products
about their income level, education level, race, sex, or any
other demographic information decision-makers could use to
refine their marketing efforts. If production managers want
to forecast sales or the types of packaging they should order,
create survey questions that will yield information about
future buying plans or packaging preferences. Will the data
you collect be relevant to decision-makers?
Multiple-choice or rating-scale questions are the easiest
to design and the easiest for respondents to answer (e.g.,
"Please rate your level of satisfaction with our product:
Very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, neither satisfied nor
dissatisfied "). You should, however, consider adding open-ended
or essay-style questions to your market survey. Although open-ended
responses are not easily coded, they can add rich insight
to your understanding of market needs and trends. Respondents
will often share insights that would otherwise be difficult
to share if given only multiple choice survey questions to
Always pretest your survey. Pretesting for question clarity
is most important. No matter how much thought you've put into
your survey design, respondents will often view the questions
quite differently than you would. Others may find your questions
or survey instructions difficult to understand. The answer
choices you've provided for respondents might not fit with
the answer they would like to give. When inappropriate answer
choices are given, respondents will either abandon the survey,
or they will answer incorrectly in order to continue to progress
through the survey. When you pretest and find that respondents
are confused by some of your questions or you find that the
answer options don't match up with respondents' true answers,
you can redesign the survey for better results.
Pre-test for technical glitches: Make sure instructions are
easy to follow and that scrolling from page to page and submitting
the survey is easily done. Contact your hosted survey company
customer support if something strange appears to be happening
to the technical workings of your survey: They should be happy
Conduct your first pretest on friends or colleagues in order
to easily and inexpensively catch the most blatant survey
errors. Redesign the survey in response to your pretest feedback,
then conduct a second round of testing on a few people or
companies from your larger pool of respondents, making sure
you don't survey these same people again! Most often, hosted
survey companies offer a small number of initial survey responses
at no charge. Using your initial "free" responses for your
pretest means the testing phase of your survey design will
not require any out-of-pocket expenses for your company.
It's important to assure survey respondents that their anonymity
and privacy will be protected. Privacy assurances are most
often given in the introduction to the survey, but they can
also be included at the close of the survey to make sure respondents
hit that "Submit" button! You may consider adding a gentle
reminder on the footer on all pages of a multiple-page survey
that you will protect the respondents' anonymity and privacy.
Once you have refined your survey to ensure that you will
gather the most accurate and usable results, you are ready
to survey your respondents. If you don't have your own pool
of e-mail addresses to survey, your hosted survey company
should have pools of prescreened respondents' e-mail addresses
you can purchase.
A general-type pool of respondents can be used, providing
the first few questions screen the survey respondents and
allow them to exit the survey quickly if they do not qualify
as members of your potential market. Otherwise, you should
carefully craft your pool of respondents to include people
or businesses that fit the demographic profile of your typical
customer, or have recently purchased the goods and services
about which you are surveying.
Many hosted web survey companies allow you to utilize the
richness that web-based surveys can offer by allowing you
to import photos, videos, or animation to your surveys. Photos
or movies help respondents to easily recognize the brands
or products that they're evaluating. Respondents can easily
evaluate the look of a product or package and provide feedback
in the survey.
Animation or audio clips can give respondents additional
information they can use for more carefully providing opinions
about a new product, package design, or company name. Video,
audio, and animation can also be used to provide the respondent
with additional instructions on how to answer a survey or
a particular question, helping to avoid misleading answers
or unusable submitted surveys responses.
Including visual and audio aid makes the survey-taking process
a more visual and enjoyable experience for respondents.
When conducting your first few web-based surveys, work closely
with your hosted survey software company. If you are a business
professional who wants to harness the strategic market information
that surveys provide and you have little surveying experience,
don't be afraid to ask for help and support. Make use of the
technical and customer support that comes along with your
hosted survey services. This will ensure that your first surveys
get up and running as quickly as possible. Also, be sure to
ask your hosted survey company to provide you with a pool
of qualified respondents.
The primary benefit of using a hosted web survey is having
your survey results delivered to you in a report format that
is easy for you to read, understand, and interpret. You should
be able to easily download your results with a single click
into your favorite spreadsheet, database or statistical analysis
software. If you don't have a statistician on staff, your
hosted support company should provide customer-support professionals
who will take time to explain statistical functions and measures
relevant to your research results.
Real-time market research surveys are now available for business
decision makers to use to their advantage. By using web-based
surveys, you can now receive market information quickly and
at a low cost, enabling your company to quickly plan and respond
to emerging market opportunities.
Anne Ramstetter Wenzel (www.econosystems.com),
economist, author and marketing consultant providing entrepreneurs,
corporations and professionals with strategic economic and
market information for use in business decision making and
Corporation is a pioneer in providing online software
solutions for research, education and performance improvement.
Hosted Survey and Hosted Test are used by human resources
professionals, market researchers, education and training
organizations and membership associations worldwide.
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