Although Internet commerce and business analytics programs make it possible to infer and detect how customers behave and what they want from your business, the one sure-fire way to find out what customers are thinking is to ask them.
For most businesses, the best way to do this is through surveys. And although many Web site tools and applications make it easy to poll site visitors, none of these programs can handle deep, extensive surveys such as those about product use, marketing effectiveness and customer experiences.
Companies can opt for strictly Web-based services, such as www.websurveyor.com, to handle Web-based surveys, but many businesses will need a solution that can handle Web, e-mail and print surveys; can compile all the information from these surveys; and can be used by nontechnical staff.
Perseus Development Corp.s SurveySolutions XP covers all these bases, and does so with a user-friendly interface, using standard technologies that can easily integrate with most companies established Web and e-mail infrastructures.
Using SurveySolutions XP, which shipped last month, eWeek Labs was able to easily build complex surveys; deliver them through Web, mail or print; and compile and analyze results.
Several versions of SurveySolutions XP are available from Perseus. The Standard edition provides basic Web and e-mail survey support for $495. The $995 SurveySolutions Professional version, which we tested, supports advanced survey options such as branching and tables, accessibility compliance, and a local Access database for result analysis. An Enterprise version, which supports enterprise deployments and SQL databases, is also available, and prices range from $4,995 to $26,995.
The main user interface of the product is very similar to Microsoft Corp.s Word, although SurveySolutions does not require Office or Word to be on the system. Surveys can be created simply by typing questions and choosing response types or by using several wizards provided with the product. It is also possible to import surveys created in Word.
While the wizards worked well with simple survey questions, users should avoid them and work in the main interface for more-advanced matrix and branching questions. We could easily view and edit all question properties within the interface; choose between presentation options such as drop-down menus and radio buttons; and switch among the editing view, the Web view, the e-mail view and a print view.
One option that seemed a little backward to us was how the deployment and results handling were defined for Web-based surveys. All options, such as how these capabilities are deployed on the server, what the response message would be and how results would be handled, are defined in a Web properties option that must be set for each survey.
This meant that if we had to make changes to the server or any of the results management, we had to reopen and re-save the survey questionnaire. We would prefer a post-creation deployment option that makes it possible to easily change settings for any survey.
The Survey Is in the Mail
deploying e-mail surveys is as simple as mailing them. Mail surveys can be text- or HTML-based: Web surveys are almost as easy. The Web-based surveys are simple HTML files that use a basic Perl script to handle results generation. We were able to easily deploy these to a variety of servers, including Apache and Microsofts Internet Information Services.
There are many results options as well. For Web-based surveys, we had the option of getting results e-mailed to us, having them saved on a file on the server or having them displayed automatically after a user completed the survey. Any responses that were sent via e-mail, either from Web-based surveys or from surveys sent through e-mail, were automatically culled from our in-box and added to our response database.
SurveySolutions XP has a fairly complete reporting engine, making it possible to view trends and results in survey responses through reports, charts and tables. The product can also easily export results to third-party analysis tools such as those from SPSS Inc.
East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.