You know this already: When it comes to customer relationships, every interaction matters.

That's why I'm always surprised when a company creates something that makes life harder for customers.

Take the humble survey, for instance. The company starts with good intentions--gather information about a product or service--but too often ends up creating a survey that is too long or too complicated or just plain stupid.

Recently I found myself with a few minutes to spare, so I decided to take a survey from a company I do some business with. (We're not exactly close, but we are cordial.)

Right away, the survey had some annoying features--for example, there was no way to tell much progress I was making--but I trundled along until I got to this question:

"In which of the following categories are you involved in the decision-making process at your company?"

Underneath, there was a list of about 20 categories, such as financial services, real estate site selection and insurance services, and instructions to "select all that apply." For each category, survey takers could choose between three responses:

  • Determine the need/define requirements
  • Evaluate/recommend
  • Authorize/approve

So, for example, at my company I "authorize/approve" insurance selections, so I made that choice.

The trouble was, some of the choices didn't apply. I don't get involved at all in some decisions, or my company doesn't buy those products or services. So I left those answers blank, as I did the last two categories: "Other" and "None of the above."

That's when the trouble started. When I clicked on "Continue," I got an error message: "Please select as least one option per column." Annoying, because the available responses didn't apply to every category, so I had to make selections that weren't accurate. I tried to skip it. But when I got the error message again, I thought, "What the hell!" and selected a choice for every category except "Other" and "None of the above."

No luck. "Please select as least one option per column," the error message read again. I carefully scanned the list. It seemed that the only way to advance would be to put an answer next to "Other" and "None." That made no sense, but I answered "Authorize/approve" just to move on.

Now this error message came on: "You have selected None of the above, so please deselect other selections." Aarrgh! I gritted my teeth, and decided to spite the survey designers (They'll never know my true answers? Bwa-ha-ha!) by deselecting all of the other selections, leaving "None of the above" selected.

Nope, didn't work. "Please select as least one option per column" read the error message. I was now steaming. For a few minutes, I tried different things to get the damn question to advance, but nothing worked.

That's when I gave up. Aborted the mission. Closed the browser and went on my way.

If you are involved in getting customer feedback, here is why you should pay attention to this sad little episode. First, this was a missed opportunity. I wasted my time, and the company lost the data it sought. But more important, because of my frustrating experience, I ended with a more negative opinion of the company (and its stupid survey designers) than when I started.

Remember that a survey is not simply a way to collect information, it's a communication event that can shape people's perceptions, either positively or negatively.

The lesson? Test your completed survey. Then test it again. Then ask someone else to test it. Only invite customers to take your survey after you're sure it works.