What are surveys?

Customer satisfaction measurement is widely used in tourism and hospitality. Most travellers have stayed in hotels or visited attractions where they were asked to fill in guest surveys about their experience of the quality of service. Typically, guests are asked to rate a range of simple statements in terms of cleaning standards, the variety at the breakfast buffet, the reception’s help and efficiency, the décor, etc. Such questionnaires usually invite the guests to leave suggestions for service improvements. There is a long tradition for the development of surveys that may not only be of value for minor adjustments and improvements to the product or service, but that also aim at identifying future needs and demands. The advantage of surveys is that they provide precise answers to specific questions, and that conclusions can be drawn from a large number of responses.

How to use surveys for innovation purposes?

The first step is to envisage the information categories that are needed for the innovation process. Where exactly does the organisation lack information? It could be a smaller issue, rather than the whole organisation. For example the IT-provision in a hotel, or the facilities and services connected to a particular beach.

Next step is to select the target groups. A representative selection might be optimal, but a selection could also be justified. A wellness facility might want to develop services for male users, and then target their survey to get information from males only. Surveys can also be targeted to non-users in order to study reasons for their lack of motivation.

Data collection methods are varied: paper based surveys, where the answer is dropped in a box at the facility. Or E-surveys, as follow-ups on visits or to users of the home page. Or telephone interviews. Best answers might be acquired when linked to a purchase situation. There are many ways to construct survey questions. Likert-scales are easy for the respondents, and informative, for example to get insights into !How important is it for you to?”. Product and attributes can be ranked by the respondent. Inclination to pay for services can be investigated. Background data, for example demography, is usually a must in surveys. Most surveys let respondents comment in their own words, thus giving the receiving organisations a greater richness of detail.

In general a survey questionaire should be brief. The questions should be tested properly before rolling out.

Over the years, specific instruments have been developed to assist the measurement of consumer perception of service quality, most prominently being the SERVQUAL instrument. The merits of the SERVQUAL are that it systematically identifies different types of service gaps, some of which might be helped with the introduction of innovations. SERVQUAL is one way to handle the “blind spots” that many managers and employees suffer from in terms of their own services.

Surveys in the innovation process

It is crucial to look openly for both expected and non-expected results. All outputs from the survey must be considered carefully. Sometimes managers and employees will tend to push inconvenient results away by claiming that “customers don’t understand”, “we already do this”, etc. In this case, the survey is likely to be waste of time.

Respondents are often too postive and polite, and therefore critical voices are particularly useful for an assessment of the product or the service delivery.

Surveys may be used prior to workplace seminare or management meetings where innovation is on the agenda. A good survey may be a way to create ideas for new services, but can also be decisive in terms of limiting the products variation or focusing on specified target groups.

Make the best of surveys for innovation

  1. Focus on the nagging innovations problem – where competitors do well, where we do badly
  2. Ask for the bad news
  3. Ask brief and focused questions, leave room for comments
  4. Engage the employees in the survey process and stimulate the curiousity about the conclusions
  5. Decide how you follow up – also on scary information
  6. Invite internal and external stakeholders to discuss the survey results
  7. Repeat surveys regularly
  8. Be grateful to the respondents for their time and commitment – they are not obliged to help you.

Literature and links

Ritchie, R.J.B. & Ritchie, J.R.B. (2002) – A framework for an industry supported destination marketing information system – Tourism Management, 23: 439-454.

Saleh, R. & Ryan, C. (1991) – Analysing service quality in the hospitality industry using SERVQUAL – The Service Industries Journal, 11(3): 209-221.

Veal, A. (2006) – Research methods for leisure and tourism: A practical guide – Harlow: Prentice-Hall

Zeithaml, V., Parasuraman, A. & Leonard, B. (1990) – Delivering quality service. Balancing customer perceptions and expectations – New York: The Free Press