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Very few users open up an IT department satisfaction survey with glee — they usually delete them, often leaving IT professionals in the lurch about their performance and areas for IT improvement. But, according to some survey experts, getting great ROI from a survey is just a matter of preparation, wording, and timing — and knowing what to do with the results.

Howard Deutsch, CEO of the Monroe Township, New Jersey-based survey company Quantisoft, said that many IT managers that come to him haven’t thought through their surveys well enough. “They have not done a good job with them — they’re not easy to understand and they’re all over the place,” he said.

Get a senior manager involved

He feels that it is important to have a senior member of the IT staff have a hand in crafting the survey. Said Deutsch: “Sometimes they’re not being thought through very well because they’re not being done by the right person. You need someone who has a broader sense of the business.”

David Saffran, senior vice-president of client service with the Toronto office of surveying giant Ipsos Reid, said that consulting with upper management about what they’d like to get out of the survey could help yield usable results.

Many employees are reluctant to fill out internally distributed IT surveys, according to Deutsch, due to confidentiality issues. He said, “They are a little bit fearful that their responses can be traced back to them.” Deutsch said that he has seen cases where an internally-distributed survey had netted positive results, while a similar survey administered by an outside vendor resulted in much more negative answers.

And if there have been significant problems with IT management or the company is of a certain size, New York City-based Mercer Human Resource Consulting director of employee research Paul Sanchez recommends running a survey by a test panel so that they can give final feedback, optimizing it for when it goes out to the general populace.

Having a company manager behind the survey initiative can also help raise awareness about the importance of actually answering the survey. Said Saffran: “You should work with the CIO to get that buy-in from your peers — you can ease the way ahead of time with an e-mail.” The CIO or IT manager can also encourage response by framing the survey with an introduction that lays out how answering it will help improve the day-to-day experience of the user.

Skip the incentives

The specifics of the survey are very important, according to Deutsch. “A lot of customers and end users of IT don’t want too frequent surveys — they want them at a reasonable pace,” he said. This goes for both incident-based surveys (checking up on a newly installed application or something gone awry) and annual general perception surveys.

According to Deutsch, incentives can increase the response rates somewhat, but not significantly, as many employees will answer just to improve the quality of IT service and their company as a whole.

Deutsch also suggests that IT managers need to readjust their ideas about what constitutes a good response level. He said that a good level of responses would be 12 to 20 per cent for an incident-based survey, and between 18 to 19 per cent and 40 to 50 per cent for the general perception surveys. “You want the right responses,” said Deutsch.

Don’t hide the results

Quantisoft offers a comprehensive report with its surveys, analyzing the results (complete with demographics, graphs, and tabular reports) and including an executive summary, allowing for an easily quantifiable ROI to be handed to the boss. Sanchez said that the marketing or communications department could also aid in putting together the summary of the survey findings for distribution to executives — and employees. Whether a report is generated internally or externally, Saffran and Sanchez agree that it is imperative that the results are packaged in a way meaningful to users and distributed to them, complete with an action plan for the future.

Saffran said, “(By distributing the survey in the first place), clearly the IT department has set up the expectation that they’ll improve. Responders assume that things will improve or be effected in the future and you need to respond to this immediately.”

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