Developing Actionable Online Surveys

Online surveys are becoming an essential tool to service members. Are credit unions taking full advantage? Here are suggestions for improving your online survey program.


Over the past few years, advances in online survey technology have resulted in the ability to conduct online surveys quicker and cheaper than ever before. But member feedback surveys should be carefully designed and reviewed with the same careful consideration as any other member communication.

Members who answer online surveys at their credit union website are investing their time and effort and become frustrated with poorly designed surveys that don’t enable them to adequately provide their input. But if done well, member surveys can help reinforce perceptions that the credit union is actively listening and working to improve member service.

The following recommendations are based on experiences gained through Callahan’s Internet Strategy Consortium, a shared cost research group of credit unions that has conducted quarterly online surveys of credit union members since 2001. Here are some issues to consider when planning an online member survey program:

Carefully consider your target segment and survey objective

Although a wider spectrum of credit union members are using the credit union website for research and information, you will hear mostly from your online banking users even if your survey is placed on your homepage. If you’re trying to understand why members don’t use your website for education or information, or barriers to online banking, a mail or telephone survey is more appropriate.

Design short, targeted surveys

Online surveys should be fairly short in length – 10 to 15 questions, depending on the length of each question. Members will become frustrated if asked to complete multiple pages of survey grids and questions, and are less likely to finish. Many survey technologies enable question branching and skipping – this reduces the burden on members, and enhances the reliability of the data.

Use both open and closed ended questions

Rating scales and multiple choice questions are typically used in online surveys to streamline analysis and increase usability of the data. But credit unions should ensure that their surveys provide space for targeted open-ended responses in order to provide members with the opportunity to go beyond the anticipated responses and fully explain their issues.

“I would like to thank you for a common sense survey that allows the customer to contribute rather than just serve the survey.”

Many times, member comments raise issues that the credit union staff had not considered. Additionally, hearing the member’s own words can help more clearly illustrate issues than simple percentages.

“Since we are limited to 6 online transfers per month it would be nice to have a listing on the accounts page of how many are remaining during the month.”

“I went to the help menu. I would like to search using words as well as the headings that you furnish.”

Use the information provided

After each survey, make sure that someone is assigned to read and distribute member comments. Members often expect that someone will follow-up with them. No matter how strict the question wording, members with a specific complaint will take any opportunity to describe it, even if it’s not relevant to the current survey topic.

Some credit unions use positive member comments for their marketing campaigns and on their website to illustrate credit union benefits.

“I really enjoy my membership at the credit union. The people and managers are always very friendly and very helpful. All you have to do is ask. Thank you!!”

“The credit union has been very helpful in assisting me in trying to clean up my bad credit (due to primarily "slow pays" against my credit report) as a result of an ugly divorce. I really appreciate the help that the credit union has provided for me. I enjoy banking at the cu and the convenience of your online banking, Thank you!”

Frequency of surveying

Member feedback and information is a valuable commodity that should not be wasted. If the credit union utilizes surveys too frequently, they risk lowering response rates due to respondent fatigue. Even worse, members may grow skeptical of answering online surveys if they don’t think the credit union is making changes based on their comments.

What’s the optimal frequency? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. While it depends on the length and variety of survey topics, most experts would agree that 6 to 8 times per year is acceptable. Another aspect to consider is the size of your online membership – if you’re continually going to the same small segment of members, fatigue could happen sooner.

To learn more about online member survey or the Internet Strategy Consortium, please join our webinar, “Effective Online Surveying: Obtaining Actionable Member Feedback.”




March 6, 2006



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