The Tools of Engagement

The Tools of Engagement

12 July, 2021

Feedback is an invaluable commodity for any organisation but receiving it in a form you can use effectively can be difficult. Even more of a challenge is finding a way to ask for it so that your customers will provide it. 

In a year when the ordinary and simple has so often been turned into the complex and time consuming, seeking that input and feedback has taken on new challenges: we have needed feedback ever more as we change the way we do things yet the time others have in which to give it is even more limited.

Good feedback should pay you back. So why make it difficult and costly to provide and how can you make it easier to give?

A conversation with a colleague brought this home.

Too onerous

Jane’s two children are at primary school. Every year the Governors’ have sent a survey to parents.  But hidden in the midst of the comic sans type of the newsletter was a seemingly small bit of news: with all the pressures this year it would be too onerous to send a survey. 

Instead there would be a parent forum, probably held online, with a later request sent asking for “representatives” from each year group. 

I asked Jane a little more about the survey.

Previously, parents were notified by an email that there was a survey to complete but, as Jane told me, there was no link to an online platform. 

Instead a paper copy of the survey was sent home with the children (1 survey per child even if the same parents) on a Monday. It was to be returned by Friday. 

The responses were to be written on the sheet. But of course, all responses would be anonymous. 

I could see why this task was quite onerous. A paper copy being sent home and returned via a child’s bag increases the chance of it not being returned and undermines any anonymity of the responses received. 

Jane suggested that the survey had taken around 5 minutes to complete. Most of the questions were open ended so needed some consideration. 

But it wasn’t the time answering that was the major issue, it was the need to find a pen and a suitable time to complete this task - especially when you could have completed it online.

Bad tool?

Immediately I could see the bumps in the road on this seemingly simple journey. 

I counted over 10 points at which the survey could stall: 

from the survey not getting home in the first place, 

through parents not having the time or being distracted whilst completing it, 

and on to it being lost during its return to school.

And if they did make it back to school, someone was going to have to sit and input all of these answers into a computer to make sense of them.  Even accounting for siblings, in a primary school of around 300 children that’s a lot of time and energy.

So yes, the survey in its present form was onerous to all concerned.

New tool?

But the replacement doesn’t fare that much better. 

From the school’s perspective organising a one-off parent forum saves a lot of data inputting time. It focusses minds and allows the governors to ask questions to clarify and explore issues raised.

But this method also has drawbacks.

In a year when parents’ have been asked to add to their often already busy schedules with home schooling, adding another commitment might be a push too far. 

Added to this, many parents might feel less than comfortable airing their views in such a public forum. Asking for “representatives” is different from gathering views that are representative of the wider group. Far from gaining a broad insight of parents’ feelings, this method might only reveal the narrower views of a vocal minority.

As one parent remarked to my friend, “I gave up on their survey, I’m not putting myself forward to be picked to sit through an hour of that.”

Their voice is unlikely to be heard.

Using the tool right

So in solving the problem the first rule to follow is keeping it simple. Instead of replacing one onerous method with another, it is important to see how better use of the tools could be achieved with a few simple fixes.

So what could they do?

Firstly, make the survey simpler. Not just the questions but the format and the way parents can respond and return it.

The survey could be sent electronically.

Online survey platforms are free or relatively inexpensive to use. For the time poor parent responding electronically whilst cooking the tea is straightforward. And few parents are Internet-free after a year of gone schooling.  And for school staff there is no need to inout the responses, they are collated for you.

When it comes to questions, be focussed.

Knowing what it is you really need to know means you can ask fewer questions but those which fill in the gaps in what you need to know. Strike a better balance between close, tick box questions and open questions that add colour to those views. Nobody likes to be confronted with a blank box but most people will have a view. 

Secondly, follow it up. A survey is a useful tool in a broader conversation. At the very least summarise what people have said and tell them if and how you can respond.  A little goes a long way in keeping the conversation going.

In the case of my colleague’s son’s school, the forum might be a useful follow on where significant issues raised in the survey can be explored further. But a good summary in the newsletter would be as effective in turning feedback into engagement.

Ultimately you want to make users feel wanted and you want to make their feedback as painless as possible. So if you’ve mastered using a survey, why not engage more frequently and seek answers to your new questions through that? Utilising pulse surveys, particularly where you have a close ongoing relationship with customers, clients and stakeholders is a helpful way to gather feedback flexibly whilst enriching your relationship through conversation.

Using the right tool better

Feedback is a resource you should never overlook so planning how you do it and investing in the simple skills you need to make it effective will payback dividends as you move forward.

No one tool is perfect but there are effective and appropriate ways to use a tool to get you the best results. Learn to use all of the tools at your disposal appropriately and you can be rewarded with effective feedback that is helpful as well as having happier customers who will hopefully want to engage with you again.

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