Get a Better Response Rate with Customer Surveys!

Businesses are often surprised to learn that their customers may not want to participate in survey research. “But our customers love us!” they cry. It’s not how your customers feel about your business that is keeping them from responding; it’s how they feel about participating in survey research. Concerns about privacy, data security, how the information will be used and simply lack of time all work together to result in non-response to customer surveys.

In fact, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, by researchers at the University of Michigan, the American Society for Quality, and the CFI Group, as the only national, cross-industry means of customer satisfaction in the U.S. reported in 2012: “The American Customer Satisfaction Index found that response rates for e-surveys were averaging between 5% and 15%.” That means that 85% – 95% of your customer voices will not be heard.

Is that level of non-response a problem?

The old saw about customer surveys is that you get responses from very unhappy customers and very happy customers, and the ones in the middle typically do not participate. So, if you are looking for positives and negatives (for example, for communications, or process improvement) that response rate might be acceptable, as long as you are very careful not to over-state your results. However, if you are looking for a comprehensive picture of your customer base, that response rate is not acceptable.

So, how can you increase participation?

The first rule of thumb for surveying customers is “Don’t Over-Survey.” How many surveys are too many surveys? That depends on your customers, their relationship with you, whether your surveys are short or long, how valuable customers perceive your surveys to be, whether you offer an incentive and a host of other factors. DIY survey tools make it very easy for anyone to survey customers, so the first step is to get a handle on precisely how often customers are being asked for feedback. There may be a lot more surveying going on than you know! The second step is to monitor response rates to all customer surveys. If you see them declining, you know you have a problem, and you may be surveying too frequently. The third step to managing over-surveying is to encourage sampling of your customer base. Too often, DIY researchers adhere to the “more is better” school. Rather than take a random sample from the customer database or thinking hard about which customers they really must include, they survey everyone. Managing how customer samples are drawn is an important element in preventing over-surveying and the resulting survey fatigue among potential respondents.

Here are additional tips to encourage better response rates to customer surveys:

  • Email Timing. When is the best time to send your survey invitation? It depends, of course, but typically, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons are optimal. (For more detail, take a look at CheckMarket’s or PeoplePulse’s). The important thing to note here is that you will get the lion’s share of completed surveys in response to your initial invitation, so time it to make it count!
  • Hook Them with Your Subject Line. You only have one chance to make a first impression, and your subject line is that chance. The most important advice here is to keep it short (less than 50 characters) and to include “WIFM”: what’s in it for me? Make sure your subject line includes how the customer will benefit from participating. So, “Help Us by Completing This Short Survey” will not work to optimize response.
  • Invite Wording. Is there some secret sauce to survey invitations that get people to participate? Not really, but there is information that you need to include. First, personalize the greeting (if possible) and let them know why they are receiving the email. How did you get their email address? Tell them why you are doing the survey, how long it will take, and how you will use the information. Be sure to give an accurate estimate of the time it will take them to complete the survey. If the results will be confidential, say so! Don’t sell them on your business and above all, thank them for responding.
  • Reminders. Reminders work. They don’t have a huge impact on response rates, but when we’re talking about 5% to 10%, every response counts. The reminder email should contain most of the information in the invitation but should be shorter. The rule of thumb is that two reminders are the optimal number. Be careful how closely together you send the invitations – give respondents a few days before you nag them.
  • Incentives. Incentives have been shown to increase response rates for all types of surveys. In general, giving each respondent a small incentive works better than “sweepstakes-type” incentives where respondents are entered into a drawing to win a more valuable prize. Depending on your industry or category, discounts and coupons may work to increase participation, but typically logo’s items are not recommended.

Do something!

Our final tip for increasing response rates is to make sure that customers know you are using the results of these surveys for their benefit. What problems are you finding to solve? What produce development ideas have they uncovered? Let your customers know that their feedback is valuable and useful so that they become your partner. That is a critical part of encouraging customers to take time to participate in your surveys.

Customer participation in surveys is an industry-wide problem. However, if you treat your respondents with respect by delivering well-crafted, intelligent surveys that adhere to marketing research industry best practices, you will start to build a relationship with your customers that will eventually deliver enhanced response rates. That is the best way to survey customers – and get high-quality information in return. 

Great Questions encourage Customer Participation: Read our Blog [link]