Eleven Easy Ways to Improve Your Survey Response Rates

    Surveys are a powerful and cost-effective way to gather information, identify and diagnose problems, and uncover new and emerging opportunities. However, one of the biggest challenges that many companies face in conducting surveys is getting the right mix of people to take their surveys and also getting a high enough response rate to ensure that their survey results are accurate.

    Survey response rates can vary widely depending on whether you are conducting your survey via phone, email, a paper survey, etc., what industry you’re in, and whether your survey is going to customers or employees. Although there is no single way to improve your response rates, the following are some easy steps, identified by Allegiance, Inc., a feedback management company, that you can take that, when combined, will help you improve your survey response rates.

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    Click through for 11 tips to help improve your survey response rates, as identified by Allegiance, Inc., a feedback management company.

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    Knowing your survey audience allows you to tailor all of your survey questions and communications to them. For example: Who are they? What type of topics are they interested in? When are they most likely to be available to take your survey? What is the best communication channel to use to reach them (e.g., online, email, IVR, mobile, paper surveys, etc.). Keep in mind that survey topics that may be of interest to some individuals or groups may be of little or no interest to others. What’s more, people are more likely to respond to surveys from companies or people they know or have an existing relationship with versus a stranger, so plan accordingly.

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    The shorter your survey is, the more likely people are to take it, and the higher your response rate will be. However, don’t make your survey so short that you’re not able to collect the information that you need. In general, try to develop a survey that is no more than 5-7 minutes long.

    You should also make it as easy as possible for participants to take your survey. For instance: 1) Provide respondents with a way to save partially completed surveys so that they can return and finish taking the survey later, if needed; 2) Put harder or more complex questions at the end (to reduce survey abandonment rates); and 3) Put any sensitive questions at the end.  Even if you tell people that your survey is being conducted anonymously, many still may not trust that and may abandon your survey once they come to a sensitive section. By asking this info, if needed, at the end, it will minimize your survey abandonment rates.

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    Make sure that you’re working with an updated, clean and valid contact list. Otherwise, invalid email or mailing addresses will make it difficult to deliver your survey, and prevent some people from participating.

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    Test your survey with a smaller group of people before sending it out to your entire participant list. By doing so, you’ll be able to identify any issues that may exist with your survey or your contact list and fix them before your survey goes out. Doing a pilot test will also give you a general idea of what you can expect to see as an overall response rate from the full list.

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    Tuesdays through Thursdays are generally the best days of the week to send out a survey invitation for B2B surveys; the day of the week is less of an issue for B2C surveys. However, avoid busy times such as major holidays or major events such as a presidential election, etc., as these types of holidays and events will adversely affect your survey response rates.

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    Prior to distributing the survey, send out an announcement to all those you would like to participate. For the cost-conscious, announcements need not necessarily be sent via postcard or email. You can include the announcement in a bill, in a newsletter, or on your website.

    In the announcement, let people know that you’re planning to conduct a survey and when to expect it. You should provide a brief explanation about what the survey will be about, why you’re conducting it and why the survey is important — surveys that are perceived to be important achieve much higher response rates. In addition, include information such as how long it will take to complete the survey, what you’re planning to do with the results and what your policy is for safeguarding participants' personal information. Also, be sure to give people the option to opt out of taking the survey — an opt-out should be included in all communications, including the survey invitation and reminder.

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    Create a survey invitation that is short, concise and  written in a friendly and welcoming tone. The invitation should be personalized (i.e., “Dear Susie Smith” and/or “We’d like your feedback about your service experience on Nov 1, 2009”). If you’re sending an email survey, use different subject lines for different groups to make them more relevant to your audience. For example, if you’re sending out a product-related survey to your customers, you might use the subject: “Your use of our XYZ product.” If you’re sending out a survey to all of your employees, you might use “A message from our CEO.” Also, the signature line needs to be from a top-level executive related to the survey. For example, a survey related to support experience should likely come from the VP of Support, not the CEO. To ensure that your survey invitation makes it into people’s email inboxes and doesn’t get tagged as spam, be sure to adhere to the CAN-Spam Act. 

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    It’s important to send at least one reminder note to survey participants around three to five days after sending your initial survey. Your note should remind people that you need them to take the survey, convey a sense of urgency about the importance of taking the survey, restate the survey deadline, and stress why it’s important for you to get their feedback. Allegiance typically encourages its clients not to send out more than two reminders per survey. Also, be sure to only send out a reminder to those who haven’t yet taken your survey. The one exception is if your survey was conducted anonymously. In that case, consider sending out a reminder to everyone on your contact list. Otherwise, if people find out that some people received the reminder and others didn’t, they may question whether or not the survey was conducted anonymously.

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    In some cases, offering people an immediate reward for taking your survey can help dramatically improve your survey response rates (more than 40 percent in some instances). Survey incentives can be a coupon, a gift card, cash, movie tickets, a discount off of a product or service, the chance to enter a drawing (i.e., fill out the survey and your name will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a big prize), etc. The point is to offer a survey incentive that your survey audience will care about and want. Also, keep in mind that survey incentives are commonly used for B2C surveys and less so for B2B surveys, as there may be a conflict of interest policy prohibiting offering incentives for B2B surveys. It is advised that you use incentives sparingly and keep the “incentive” focused on how you can better meet your clients’ needs.

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    If you’re unsure about how to develop a survey questionnaire, which survey methodologies to use for a particular audience, whether or not to offer people an incentive to take your survey, and/or simply need help collecting your data, you may want to consider hiring a third-party vendor to help you with this. Doing so can save you a lot of time, headache and grief in conducting your surveys. Be sure to hire a firm that offers best practices support so that you will have all of the support you need throughout every stage of your project.

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    Research shows that people are more likely to complete a survey if they believe that a company will act on the results. Whenever possible, publish your survey results and your company’s plans to act on the results. In addition, promote the fact that your company is listening and what you’ve done with survey results. If people see a pattern in your company gathering and acting on survey data, they will be more inclined to take your surveys in the future, which will in turn, help improve your future survey response rates.

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