8 key strategies to increase survey response rate
There’s nothing quite as disheartening as rolling out a big important survey, only to find that none of your customers have the least intention of filling it out.
Surveys are crucial for giving companies key information about everything from customer satisfaction levels to what consumers are looking for from the next big thing; they’re also incredibly cost-effective, and can allow you to reach a huge amount of people. But if you’re going to rely on surveys for key intel, you need to know what tactics to employ to bag a healthy response rate.
In this blog, we’ll explain survey response rates, explore the benefits of high survey response rates, talk you through the factors that can influence survey response rates, and share strategies for increasing survey response rates.
What is a survey response rate?
Surveys are just dandy for gathering information on your target customers and plugging any gaping gaps in your data – but only if you get enough people to respond.
A survey response rate refers to the number of people from your sample group who fill out and return your survey. This is how you work it out:
Response rate = Number of people who completed the survey / total number of people you sent it to x 100
Following this handy little formula will give you your response rate as a percentage – allowing you to monitor the impact of different strategies, and the effectiveness of your engagement when it comes to distributing surveys among your target segments.
It’s important to note that your response rate isn’t the same as your completion rate. While your response rate relates to the number of people who completed your survey once it was sent to them, your completion rate is the percentage of people who finish your survey once they’ve started it. Confused? Don’t be.
You can calculate your completion rate with the following formula:
Completion rate = Number of completed surveys divided by the number of survey respondents.
Survey data can come from open-access portals such as suggestion boxes. You didn’t send your survey to them, but they’re still giving you intel. A high completion rate suggests your surveys are hitting the mark.
Factors that can influence survey response rate
Any number of factors can impact people’s willingness (or ability) to fill out your survey. If it’s difficult for them to complete, overly time-consuming, or provides a generally poor experience, people are unlikely to invest their precious time into giving you feedback.
A poor survey experience could come from dissatisfaction with your choice of topic, badly worded questions, repetitive questions, complicated questions, too many questions, a lack of cohesion in the areas you’re investigating, a confusing lay-out, unclear instructions, or glitches with technology.
The type of survey itself can also affect results: people may be less willing to fill out a paper survey than an online one. Sensitive topics – or particularly niche ones – may return fewer results, as can surveys that don’t feel personal to your sample group.
There are also factors outside of your control, such as the interest level and motivation of people in your sample group, your previous relationship with them, demographic factors – such as lifestyle and education – and whether there’s anything in it for them.
If you want to ensure high response rates for every survey you send out into the world, you’re going to need to address any pain points or hurdles to provide a positive survey experience. It also helps if there are incentives for completion, reminders and follow-ups, and assurances of anonymity.
How to increase survey response rate: Our 8 key strategies
Now that you understand the myriad benefits of boosting your survey response rate, let’s look at eight of the most effective strategies for encouraging customers to answer your call.
- Make it worth their while
With so many demands on people’s time, it’s not surprising that surveys often get left unanswered. Why – in somebody’s incredibly busy day – would they sit down to answer a whole heap of questions? There are some good eggs who do it out of love for your brand, but others will need a gentle nudge. Besides, you don’t work for free, so why should customers give their time without a little incentive?
Offering rewards and incentives can increase the likelihood of people filling out your survey. You can enter all respondents into one big prize draw, but offering small incentives to every person who completes your survey gets better results. You might give them money off their next purchase or send them a gift as a thank you.
You could even offer larger incentives for the first 50-100 people who return your survey, as this will add an air of urgency and increase the speed of responses.
- Create your own survey panel
An effective way to increase your survey response rate is to create a group of pre-selected volunteers as your research panel. This saves you having to spend time looking for the right respondents, and if they’ve already volunteered to be on your panel, chances are they’re going to fill out your survey – as and when you need it.
It’s important to make sure that your research panel is diverse and contains an adequate number of representatives from every customer segment that you need to be targeting, and whose opinions you need to consider. Panels are particularly useful if you don’t have a captive customer base to send your surveys to.
- Employ psychological theory
Have you ever heard of cognitive dissonance? Don’t worry: it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. Dissonance refers to a lack of harmony; cognitive dissonance follows the theory that by reducing dissonance in your surveys, you can influence a person’s decision to respond. Clever, eh?
Put simply, if you create a survey and cover letter that aligns with a person’s value system, they’re more likely to respond – especially if you indicate that failing to respond goes against their self-beliefs. If you appeal to a person’s helpful nature for example, not completing your survey creates a feeling of dissonance. They’ll then try to alleviate that dissonance by, you guessed it, filling out your survey.
You can also help your case by clearly explaining how you’ll use and act on their feedback and make them feel important by stressing just how valuable and transformative their input could be.
- Get your timings right
If you’re planning to send out surveys to your customers after making a purchase, don’t delay. Research suggests that response rates significantly increase if you ask for feedback as soon as your product or service has been delivered or used. The feedback that you collect straight away is also more accurate than opinions garnered even a day or two later.
If you’ve sent out your survey in good time but are still waiting for responses, give your customers a gentle nudge by following up with a reminder. Using new language with every communication, you can send up to three follow-ups without becoming annoying.
Another great tactic is to close the loop by communicating outcomes or feedback on survey results. This level of follow-up will make your customers more likely to complete any future surveys, as they already know you’ll put their opinions to good use.
- Choose the right medium
There are lots of different ways that you can gather feedback and roll out your surveys. The trick is to choose the right channel for your business, its customers, and the insights you’re attempting to gather. Email surveys can return better results than SMS (text message) surveys – but however you format your survey, it must be easy to respond. Optimize SMS surveys for mobile, or if you’re going down the email route, consider embedding questions into the body of the email itself for ease of access.
- Avoid over-complicating things
Surveys should be short and sweet; well-focused and to the point. If you introduce too many questions, or your questions are too wordy, confusing or complicated, people are going to get bored and quickly give up – leading to low survey response rates. If your survey absolutely needs to be longer than is comfortable for most people, be sure to offer a good incentive!
- Make your expectations clear
People like to know what they’re getting themselves into, and offering feedback is no different. It’s a good idea to tell people at the start of the survey how long completing it is likely to take. If they need to head out the door in five minutes, and your survey takes seven minutes to fill out, they know not to start it right now.
Add in a few friendly cues to encourage completion – such as ‘almost done’, or ‘nearly there’ – to increase the chances of people making it to the very end.
- Personalize your surveys
As with anything in market research or customer experience, personalization gets results. If you communicate why you chose this particular customer to complete your survey, they’ll feel valued – and more than just another number. Include key info that you already have on them and talk to them in a human way. For example: “Hi John, we hope you’re having great fun with your new cocktail shaker. Would you mind if we interrupted the party to ask you a few quick questions about your experience?”
How can Forsta help?
Forsta’s online survey software can help you to truly understand your customers, increase survey engagement, and access the insights that’ll transform your business.
Sample Marketplace, our fully automated system, lets you acquire a sample up to 80% faster, while our Microsoft Word uploader and ready-to-use survey templates means that creating surveys has never been faster.
With multiple collection points (online, CATI, CAWI, CAPI, mobile and more) and device detection capabilities, we create a better survey experience to get you a better survey response rate. And with the highest standards of security and compliance, that’s another thing off your mind.
Whether you’re a first-timer or seasoned pro, our software has you covered. Download our data sheet to find out more.
Ready to launch your next customer survey?
Survey response rates typically vary between 20-30%, with a 50% response rate considered pleasingly high, and 10% viewed as concerningly low. If you’re currently at the low end, don’t worry. Follow the tips and techniques in this blog, and you’ll be raising your rates in no time at all.
And if you want a helping hand from the market research pros, don’t hesitate to give us a call.
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