Surveying your customers (end users) on a periodic basis establishes a permanent record for your help desk operation. The results from two or three semiannual or annual questionnaires come in handy when you’re reporting to senior management on the effectiveness of the company’s technical support team.

For a Web-based company like TechRepublic, which frequently surveys members and publishes results on a dynamic basis, developing an in-house survey tool is a given. But if you work in a company where development resources are limited, you could use a tool like the one offered at, which eliminates virtually all of the development costs of creating a Web-based survey.

SurveyMonkey in a nutshell
I heard about during a job interview. The interviewer told me the new hire would be using SurveyMonkey to create, among other things, surveys to ask students what they thought of internal technical training courses.

The short scoop on SurveyMonkey is that it has created a Web-based wizard that makes it easy to create online surveys, and the reporting tools are impeccable. With this kind of tool available, there is no excuse not to survey your end users and find out how they rate your help desk operation. All you have to do is write the questions and key them into the SurveyMonkey system.

The free and nearly free options
Just how cost-effective is SurveyMonkey? The answer depends on how many users you expect to take your survey. Here are SurveyMonkey’s two basic propositions:

  • Free services—If you expect no more than 100 users to complete any of your surveys, subscribe to the basic service. After providing a name and an e-mail address, you can—for free—use SurveyMonkey’s technology to create as many basic online surveys as you need, for whomever you want to survey.
  • Subscription-only services—If you need to accommodate up to 1,000 responses to your survey, you can upgrade to SurveyMonkey’s professional subscription. As of this writing, the professional subscription fee is $19.95 per month. Each response over 1,000 costs $0.05 per survey.

In addition to the increased number of responses per survey, the professional subscription gives you full access to advanced features and privileges, including:

  • An unlimited number of questions across an unlimited number of pages, with results stored for an unlimited amount of time.
  • The ability to randomize the order of possible answers.
  • Skip logic, or the ability to skip over questions that don’t apply to a user, based on the response to an earlier question.
  • The ability to download survey results.

About the interface
When I visited the first time, I completed the generic survey and reviewed the sample reports. I liked that the demo was live, since my answers to the survey showed up in the online reports. I also liked the way the reports dealt with the Other question, in which users can enter free-text responses to a question. The survey interface has a clean design that doesn’t get in the way of the text of the questions and potential answers.

I registered for SurveyMonkey’s basic subscription using only a name and e-mail address, and I could immediately start creating a survey of my own. For practice, I recommend modifying the template of the generic survey. Just click on a question’s Edit button and replace the generic text with your own for both the questions and answers.

You’ll find that SurveyMonkey’s built-in question formats can accommodate just about any way you want to present questions to your end users. As Figure A shows, you can present possible answers for single choices, multiple choices, a matrix of choices, or open-ended answers.

Figure A
These are some of the options for presenting possible choices when you create your survey.

Collecting responses and viewing results
After you set up the questions for your survey, you have a number of options for how you collect the responses. You can decide whether to require users to complete the survey in a single session or to allow users to come back and pick up where they left off. With the professional subscription, you can also password-protect your survey and establish a cutoff date after which no more surveys will be allowed.

One way to invite users to complete the survey is to hard code the survey URL into a link on your intranet page. You can also send an e-mail message with a link back to the survey, in which case you won’t be able to track who has responded. You can also have SurveyMonkey send out the invitation e-mail and keep a list of everyone who responds and completes the survey.

The basic report displays the number of responses and percentages for all of the questions in your survey, and you can restrict that view to one question at a time if you like. With a professional subscription, you can filter the results based on responses to display only specific subsets of your survey data.

About the company
In addition to many free services and user-friendly interfaces, there was something else about I really liked. It publishes a list of links to its competitors and invites you to compare features and price lists.

The value of surveys
If surveys are so important, why doesn’t everybody survey their end users on a periodic basis? In larger organizations, there’s a perception that surveys cost too much. Everyone wants the information, but you hear objections like, “Our developers have higher priority items on their to-do lists than creating a survey-and-reporting tool.”

That response is understandable when you consider what it costs the company for the survey owner to write the questions and for developers to create a survey-and-reporting tool that meets everyone’s requirements., and companies like it, can help bridge that gap between what you need and what you can afford.

How do you survey your users?

For Jeff’s take on surveying help desk end users, see “Learn to survey your end users the right way.” To share your experiences with survey technology, please post a comment or write to Jeff.