How to Get Outstanding Open-End Responses
Getting good responses to open-ended questions via online surveys is a challenge. So much so, that new technologies have evolved to probe on responses just as live interviewers used to probe people on phone surveys. But can you get really outstanding open-end responses to online surveys without fancy technology?
The answer is yes, it just takes a smart and thoughtful approach:
1. Make the survey interesting and relevant to them. Which means the survey needs to ask questions about them not about you or your brand or what they think of you.
2. Ask the open-end question at the end of the survey. All the interesting, relevant questions earlier get respondents thinking about the topic you want.
Here is an example. We just completed an online survey of Chinese Americans about their approach to money and finance. We needed a large, representative sample so we could report on the population as a whole, but we wanted deeper insights into the “why’s” behind the measures without the huge expense of focus groups, or ethnographic work, or other types of intensive qualitative work.
At the very end of the survey, we asked a simple yes-no question with a single open-ended question as a follow up:
“Do you think there are unique aspects of Chinese American families, culture, and history that have shaped how you think about and deal with money? [IF YES] How so? Please tell us as much as you can about how being Chinese American affects how you think about and deal with money. We value your thoughts and opinions, so please share as many ideas or thoughts as you can.”
Here is an example response:
“Chinese are good at saving money because the welfare system is not good enough in the past few thousand years. What’s more, saving money is not only for themselves but more for their children. If a Chinese guy who spent money as much as he/she can get/borrow, it’s was commonly considered as bad guy and would be disqualified for wife/husband candidate especially they are born in a middle to low level family. Most of them keep the long-lasting habit even if they are living in America where the welfare system is pretty good which has no need to save too many money for future. Good things is that Chinese people will calculate before spending. Very few Chinese will spend more than they can pay off. Bad things for Chinese American is that most of them are not good at investment (I am learning how to invest now). Put money in a saving account look earning money every month which make them happy. However, the buying power is shrinking due to higher inflation rate. Here is an example: My parent is afraid of borrowing money. I am planning to buy a house with mortgage. They didn’t support me to borrow which is unsafe and is not a good deal to pay interest. They are more willing to offer their saving to help me buy a house. I spent many time to explain that if I take mortgage, I can get more tax return; I can use the money for investment etc. I do not need to pay too much interest and I might pay no interest and possible earn some if the investment performance is good. What more, if transferring money from China to America, there are international wire transfer fee from both sides plus currency exchange charge which is not saving money at all.”
True, we have selected the most outstanding response as our example to show you. But even the short responses were rich and insightful, such as :
“Chinese people save a lot and value entrepreneurship and investing more than the average American.”
“Always saving for the future; living within means; minimal borrowing.”
“Cultural and traditional ways are expected of me as if we were still living in my parents’ home countries. I don’t think my parents’ ways and expectations match up to the way we are living.”
The lesson: People like taking surveys and sharing their opinions and stories. Even open-ended questions in quantitative surveys can capture respondents’ goodwill and insights if we let them. All it takes is skillful survey design.