Online Surveys and the Alabama Effect: Never Ask What You Already Know

Recently, my friend Bill purchased a new computer over the internet. To his delight, three days later, it is waiting for him when he got home. After he set up his computer, there was an survey from the company waiting in his email.

Design a Survey - Pre-Population

Unfortunately, the survey began by asking him the model of the computer he just purchased. Hmm — shouldn’t they know this already? As he struggled to find this information, he spilled his coffee all over his desk.

The company angered a valued customer because they didn’t take the simple step of filling in Bill’s known information.

Don’t do this. Some of your customers will drop out of the survey, while others will be reluctant to answer identifying questions — which could introduce the GIGO effect into your survey.

This is best illustrated by the Alabama Effect.

And no, we’re not talking about what happens when you drink too much moonshine.

When Americans are asked in surveys to indicate the state in which they reside, a disproportionate number of people choose Alabama. If you’re thinking only Alabamans answer surveys — that’s not the case.

And you’ve probably already guessed the reason, Alabama is the first option on the list.

Studies show that a lot of people just don’t feel comfortable providing personal information in surveys.

That’s the bad news. The good news is if it’s your customers, your employees, your partners, someone you’ve interacted with before, you probably have a whole range of background information about them. Why ask what you already know. Simply pre-populate it in the survey so it’s there when you’re analyzing the data.



Pre-Population, or linkage, is a feature we designed so you could take your surveys to a new level of clarity, convenience and respect for your customers, while conducting more powerful analysis.

You create a question, tell the system that the answer will come from a list that you built and hide the question from the survey participant. For instance, a participant receives a 10-question customer satisfaction survey. But, three or four questions (such as demographic information you already have) are included in the survey from another data source.

While the purpose of your survey is not to profile individual respondents, you do want the ability to segment the data based on any number of variables such as gender, location and product purchased.

Pre-Population also has the advantage of shortening the survey by removing questions that participants either won’t answer, or feel uncomfortable answering. In the past, people were using surveys in brute manner — ask questions, get answers. Pre-Population goes beyond brute force by creatively merging data from different databases.

The benefits include higher participation rates and better quality data. By “eliminating” the questions respondents don’t feel comfortable asking, you ensure that they will be more honest when addressing product or service related questions in the survey. Also, you can use this feature to update databases and conduct ballot initiatives.

Pre-Population is a flexible feature with many practical uses. It’s an important tool for creating a smarter, more efficient organization.