How to Design an Effective Membership Survey
Most people are familiar with surveys and have answered some type of questionnaire, whether it was about a product, a political issue or even customer service. Almost always, the purpose of a survey is to discover what people think, feel or plan on doing about a particular topic or issue. As an example, to better understand what is important to fitness professionals, IDEA recently conducted a work satisfaction survey to evaluate how fitness professionals rate their job satisfaction, compensation, training and job responsibilities. As a fitness facility owner or manager, you want to know what’s important to your members. A survey is a good way–often the only way–to effectively gauge what the majority of your members want, what matters to them and if you’re meeting their expectations. You may already conduct regular surveys. But do you get the response you want or need? Maybe it’s time to revise your existing surveys or create a brand-new one. This article provides you with a practical plan for administering successful membership surveys.

Getting Started

Whether you have created numerous membership surveys before or you are making your first attempt, these practical tips will help you design an effective tool.

Designing, implementing, executing and communicating the results of a survey can go a long way toward improving customer relations and enhancing your facility’s competitive position within the marketplace (Aldred 1998). There are many different ways to design and conduct a membership survey. Taking certain steps will ensure that the survey you create is effective. Conducting a survey involves five general phases. In phase 1, managers identify the purpose(s) of the assessment; decide if a survey is the most effective method for accomplishing the objective(s); and, if so, design a plan for conducting the survey. In phase 2, a survey coordinator and/or survey team develops the survey. In phase 3–the survey administration phase–the team identifies respondents and conducts the survey. In phase 4, the survey data are entered into a computer, verified and analyzed. In phase 5, the results of the survey are fed back to the customers (Edwards & Thomas 1993).
Phase 1: Purpose of the Survey

As you look around your fitness facility, ask yourself what you want to see improved or changed. Do you wonder why your group exercise numbers are dropping? Do you have usage problems in the strength and conditioning area? Are all your treadmills being used while no one uses the other cardio equipment? Do you wonder why people purchase memberships and then don’t use them? Do you want to assess the quality of your programs? A properly designed survey can address all these legitimate concerns. Once you have determined your survey’s

November-December 2001 IDEA HEALTH & FITNESS SOURCE

purpose, you can begin developing the actual questionnaire.
Phase 2: Survey Development

The first step in constructing a good survey is forming a survey team, which should include the facility manager, the program director and employees from the department the survey will affect. This team is responsible for determining the format that best addresses the survey’s purpose. For example, a one-time-only survey provides a snapshot of a particular point or period in time, while a longitudinal survey, conducted over a long period of time, tracks members’ opinions and discovers whether or not they have changed. Your survey team must also determine the right questions to ask and the appropriate order in which to ask them. Even the way the questions are asked needs to be considered. Do you ask open-ended questions, provide multiple-choice questions or have respondents rank items on a sliding scale? The answer depends on your objectives. Research on survey design suggests that questionnaires with lists of

answers to choose from do not allow respondents to freely express their opinions from their own frame of reference (Pothas, De Wet & De Wet 2001). Generally, open-ended questions allow respondents to do this, rather than answer from the survey team’s frame of reference. For example, you could state a question this way: “Circle the three pieces of cardiovascular equipment you would like us to purchase more of” and list all the cardio equipment you currently have. However, you may be leaving out a piece of equipment you don’t have that customers want. Asking an open-ended question, such as “List your three favorite pieces of cardio equipment” would eliminate this bias. On the other hand, the results of open-ended questions are harder to tally than the answers to multiple-choice questions. Usually, a combination of easyto-tally multiple-choice questions and harder-to-tally open-ended questions provides the best results. (See “Writing Good Survey Questions” on this page.) Once you have determined the questions, have a small sample of respondents

complete the questionnaire to see if it is clear, concise and effective. If necessary, make final changes before administering the survey to a larger sample.
Phase 3: Survey Administration

writing good survey questions
Good survey questions are: