Survey Fatigue: 4 Ways to Make the Most of Attendee Feedback

Don Neal

Don Neal

Never doubt the power of customer, member, or attendee feedback. Knowing what those who use your services, buy your products, or consume the benefits of membership want and need from you is the sine qua non of running a business, leading a nonprofit, or organizing an event.

So why then, according to tech research company Gartner Inc., do only one in three organizations actually use that feedback to make changes? Even worse, how is it possible that only one in 20 tell their customers what changes were made as a result of the responses to a survey or research conducted?

We are bombarded with requests to “tell us what you think,” but why would I if you’re not going to let me know how you are — or are not — considering implementing my recommendations?

Part of the problem is the survey questions themselves. I’ve read hundreds of post-annual meeting/conference survey questionnaires, and most of them aren’t written to be actionable and are rear-view-mirror oriented. For example, when we ask people about the city, venue, or structure of a convention center at a recent event, their responses won’t be relevant to next year’s location. Furthermore, many issues are largely out of an experience designer’s or meeting planner’s control — like if someone complains that the hotel they chose is too far away from the general session. You can’t be held responsible for everything.

You will no doubt get better results when you take a new approach based on the following:

  1. Ask only one question at the conclusion of your event: “How likely are you to recommend this event to a colleague or business associate?” Ask on a 1–10 scale. This is the NPS (Net Promoter Score), and you can read more about it at
  2. Conduct on-site, focused strategy sessions with at least five key segments of your audience: first-timers, loyals, young attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors. These are not focus groups. These are directed conversations and new product–testing forums. These really work to help you make next year better.
  3. Have your event secretly “shopped.” Bring in a professional team to evaluate your event through the prism of multiple objectives: what your organization seeks to accomplish, what each of your key audience segments wants and the degree to which you are delivering on their wishes, and how well you’re doing on the four dimensions (4Ds) — the physical, physiological, emotional, and intellectual aspects — of event and experience design. If you haven’t evaluated your event against best practices, it’s a good investment, and it always produces a return.
  4. Communicate with your audience within 30 days after your event. Tell them what you learned. Share with them how you are working to build upon what worked, be honest about what didn’t work, and let them know you’re going to make the necessary changes. Better yet, notify them once you do.

We all suffer from survey fatigue. Yelp, Uber, your bank app, and even the airport restroom want to know what we think. It’s time to take back the power of member feedback. It’s time for a new approach to collecting it, using it, and communicating what you’ve done to make their experience better.

Don Neal is founder and CEO of marketing, strategy, and experience agency 360 Live Media (

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