Kevin Karty on improving poor survey experiences

On this latest episode of our ‘Now that’s Significant’ podcast, we're joined by Kevin Karty, CEO of Intuify. Kevin has a PhD from MIT in Political Science & Quantitative Methods, and has 18 years of experience in market research and technology.

We discussed the state of surveys today, and how we need to ensure that we're producing the most engaging surveys as possible for the benefit of not just our customer, but our clients too. We touched on how to improve our surveys to get better responses, higher quality data, and insights. We talked about the power of technology in all of this as well - how if we can get people responding on mobile phones, can help reach people where they’re more comfortable.

Kevin begins by talking about how boring, antiseptic surveys are big contributors to the decline of data quality in the market research industry. He reinforces the idea that, as researchers, we all need to start caring more about the experience of the person on the other end of the survey, creating better experiences and engagement for them. It can dramatically improve our data and the insights we deliver. 

In part, improving the survey experience is about how we are asking the questions. He said that “we know that somewhere between 80-95% of decisions are made unconsciously...if that is in fact how people make decisions and how people think, why don’t we take those insights and apply them to our own industry?” He explains that by using specific principles of design, plus cognitive research (framing, fluency, focusing effect, skin in the game), and applying them to how we ask questions in the first place can elicit better responses because we are actually helping people to express themselves more fully in the survey environment. 

“Taking a survey should not feel like taking a survey… it should feel like an interactive way of expressing myself, that just happens to generate this really high quality data that we can use to answer these questions and build insights.”

Do we have a moral obligation to survey-takers? Kevin says yes, and treating them like human beings is the first step. He says, “I sometimes feel like there’s a callousness in our industry, like ‘I pay for these people, they’re a commodity and I can buy them off of a marketplace.’ This is a bit dehumanizing in terms of how we treat respondents on surveys, which has repercussions.”

Tapping into advancements in mobile technology and user interface design can help with improving the survey experience. “You can take a twenty minute survey… and you can drop it down 30% just by making the engagements faster.” Mobile continues to transform the landscape around us, as our phones - our constant companions - know more about us and our behaviors than even our closest friends. This translates well for survey taking Kevin says. “People are more honest when they’re answering questions on their phone, than they are on other devices.” He continues by saying, “there’s a huge opportunity to really get more personal, get more immediate, get more authentic. If you’re not doing surveys on phones you’re missing 60% of your survey audience.” 

So how can we improve our surveys? “Do not underestimate the use of imagery,” says Kevin. “Even things like ‘thank you’ or ‘welcome’ images are helpful. Humor is actually helpful - it activates your brain and causes you to pay attention. Whether that’s a meme or just being friendly - so not being quite so formal. Anything you can do along that line goes a long way in keeping people engaged and focused.”

What happens when we get surveys right? “There’s an awesome feeling of delight,” says Kevin. “When you deliver this insight to a client that just opens their eyes. When you get a survey right, when you capture the emotion and get the data correct. When you share that, you can see somebody’s world expand.”

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