Worst Practices In Surveys: Harvard Business School

April 24, 2007

I never give any money to the Harvard Business School (HBS). So finally, they sent me a survey, asking why not.

(For the record: I always think that giving to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is so much more important than giving to a corporation with a $25 billion endowment.)

Now, I applaud them for actually asking why I never give. But their survey was really lousy. And unlike companies, who may be stuck with a pre-packaged web survey from an outfit like BizRate, this is a school that can afford to buy anything they want — especially when it comes to raising money.

Rarely does someone pay for your time when you fill out a survey. So if I am donating my time, why don’t the people who put together the surveys allow me to skip some of the questions? If I don’t like a question, I’m going to lie, anyway, right? And if you had all the money in the world (like HBS does) you could even create a survey that points out that you missed a question and still lets you skip it (in case you don’t want to answer.)

Well, the HBS survey was one of those incredibly hard to fill out surveys — specific numbers of answers required here and there, not much thought put into usability. So finally, I wrote Bill Sahlman, the senior dean for external relations, since he had sent the original email.

Dear Bill: I tried to take your survey but never succeeded, due to error messages. {Screen shot of error message was included.}

I am a conversion scientist and web analyst. When you require people to answer questions, you lose them. It is even worse when they WANT to answer the question and can’t find the answer.

I wasn’t important enough for Bill to answer personally — despite how important I tried to make myself sound –  so someone named Courtney Fanning wrote me back.

I am replying on behalf of Bill Sahlman. The error your received is likely due to the limit of options. For some questions, you can only check 2 options. IF you check more than 2, it will not allow you to continue. Thank you for taking the time to complete the survey.

Sorry Courtney. I never took the survey.

End notes: I promise to go back to custom filters for Google Analytics later this week. Many thanks to Stephan Hamel (again) who updated this blog to www.lunametrics.com/blog in three places (so I can thank him at least twice, right?), and to Eric Peterson, who updated us as well.