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Web vs. Paper Surveys

Web vs. Paper Surveys

written by – Jim Vereide 06/12/2013

I frequently have customers ask how to better their response rates on their surveys – both online and paper format.  In almost every instance, I wish I had an immediate answer to rattle off or a “Survey Genie” I could turn to who possesses magical powers and immediate insight into the customer’s internal processes and target audiences.

– But I digress.

The reality is there is not a specific, all inclusive answer.  Hopefully this post will help steer you in the right direction by exploring the following questions about your business, internal processes, and target audience.

What is your objective?

One thing to keep in mind when publishing your surveys is the content your survey contains and the data you are attempting to gather.  For example,  if you are a clinic looking to measure how satisfied your patient was with their last visit, you will likely find a more accurate reflection of your patient’s satisfaction by having her submit answers immediately after the visit.  Therefore, it’s best to have a paper form ready for the patient as she is leaving the appointment.  Not only will you likely find that the data you are gathering more accurately reflects the patient’s viewpoint; but you will also find a better response rate by presenting the survey to the patient in person, as opposed to giving them the option to do it online after.

Now, say the same clinic wants to track post care follow-up information on a patient a few months after the visit. In this case, obviously the patient is no longer in the clinic but has luckily provided them with her email address. This would be a great application for hosting a web survey.  The patient can visit your website, where you host a link to your survey or you can email the link to the survey directly to the patient.  The data the clinic needs requires some time to have passed since the initial visit and instead of mailing out a paper survey – which sounds archaic – you can e-mail a URL with the survey. 

Who is your audience?

My mother taught me that people are like snowflakes: no two people are alike.  We identify with millions of different trends, groups, or factors.  Think about all of the demographics that make up your client base or target audience.  Are they computer/internet savoy?  Are you looking for their response on-site (in person) or remotely (follow ups, pre/post on site responses)?  How can you make this process as seamless and streamlined as possible for your audience?  And most importantly, how large is your audience, or how great of a response rate do you expect?

Where is your audience? (Location, location, location!)

When I was seven, I started a lemonade stand in my parent’s front yard with the intentions of making enough money to retire when I was eight.  At 35, I now understand that my  business plan was a bit ambitious to say the least.  Though in retrospect, I believe it was my high expectations of my own performance that gave me the courage and motivation to pursue the dream of a lavish lemonade lifestyle at 8, no matter what the naysayers may have said.

On my third day, I found myself getting discouraged at the business -or lack thereof – I was getting on my dead end, cul-de-sac location.  It was then I noticed a crew of construction workers one block up the road from my front yard, digging ditches in the hot summer sun.  After a few minor adjustments and assistance from my Little Red Wagon, my business was mobile and now open to remote audiences.  It took exactly two minutes for me to completely sell out of my day’s inventory; but more importantly I had found my ideal customer base, and I knew where they would be for the rest of the week.  Two more days and countless pitchers of lemonade later, I was rich and on a path to success (relatively speaking of course).


The point of this cute anecdote (as well as asking the preceding questions)  is to underscore the importance of knowing your customer base. That’s what AutoData’s software does. Whether handing your patient a paper survey or having a customer fill one out online, having the option for both will give you an advantage. I guess the answer to the question posed at the beginning of the blog is: why not use both paper and web! Utilizing paper and web surveys will extend your survey’s reach and give you more pertinent data to make your organization the best it can be.


– Jim Vereide
AutoData Systems
Business Development Director

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