What's the best way to send customer surveys?

23rd Mar 2016

The channel you use to collect customer feedback is as crucial to your Voice of the Customer (VoC) program as any decision, for the channel you use to survey customers can have important implications for your VoC program.

Choosing a customer feedback channel, though, is about more than just response rates (although it is important), it’s also about how a channel affects the quality of your feedback.

In this article I will take you through some of the main channels in use today, and what they mean for customer feedback.


SMS has a lot of advantages. Receiving an SMS is something we all open, and we open them fast. The familiar vibration grabs our attention with an average response time of just 90 seconds. 

With our innate tendency to open any text message we receive (said to be at 99%), compared with email, you can be sure to conquer the first hurdle and have people reading your survey invite. As such, it is understandable why so many studies claim SMS to have a response rate anywhere from a 25% – 50%. 

SMS might seem like the golden egg with little need to use anything else, but some factors do limit it. Firstly, SMS is more expensive than other options.

Also of concern is that not all customers will give you their phone number. While email is something we all give out without a thought, people are often more reserved about handing over their phone number.

Depending on your industry, customers also might not be as receptive to SMS as you think. Contact through a phone number feels personal for many, something that is for friends and family, and maybe the occassional update from their mobile carrier.


Survey links sent via email are the most common way for companies to gather feedback. Many claim that it is not as high as SMS, around 10%, although others claim it to be 25% – 30% or up.

Whether email has a lower response rate than SMS is up for debate. However, email is inexpensive, addresses are easier to acquire than phone numbers, and you are not restricted to a small invitation text. With email, you have the ability to design and tweak your invitation to maximize your response rate. 

One new design feature that is improving response rates and highlights the rigidity of other channels is email invites with embedded questions. This means embedding the first question of your survey in the body of the email, and as customers click their response, the survey opens in a new screen with the first question prefilled.

This method is particularly useful for metrics such as the Net Promoter System (NPS) or Customer Effort Score (CES), which begin with a Likert scale question. For Likert scale questions are simple to answer and require little mental energy, as they do not require respondents to make a comparative judgment as with multiple choice questions.


Surveying through websites offers differing ways to conduct a survey, can reach a wide audience and can meet a lot of needs, but it is a channel that should be used carefully.

Typically collecting feedback through this channel involves a small pop-up asking the customer just one or two questions, as such NPS and CES tend to be employed. A simple pop-up like this means companies can measure a wide variety of experiences.

Some use it to improve customer support with customers that use a chat option, while others survey customers at the end of set of help pages. It is also effective for e-commerce at the end of a transaction screen, while many also employ the pop-up survey in software applications.

Pop-up surveys, in the digital landscape, are effective at raising response rates because it grabs the customer’s attention during the touchpoint. However, while response rates may rise, you need to be aware it is a specific touchpoint/transaction and not the entire relationship that you are surveying. For NPS, which encompasses both relationship and transactional surveys, conducting a relationship survey through a web-based channel could create poor data. For the respondent could have their response biased by their recent transaction rather than considering the entire relationship.

A further limitation is that, in certain cases, you won’t know anything about your customer – not even a name or demographic details. Customer support often requires no registration or submission of details, while pop-up surveys for website visitors have no way of knowing who the respondents are.

A good example of this is a recent introduction by Twitter that allows brands to survey customers at the end of a private message conversation. And while surveying at the end of such an interaction still has a benefit, it is important to realize the limitations it has due to the little information you know about the respondent.

Lastly, pop-up surveys are designed to measure the customer experience of a touchpoint, which means surveying the customer at the end of the touchpoint not half-way through. However, this can problematic. For example, in an e-commerce purchase, a finalized payment and post-transaction screen, may not actually be the end of the transaction? The purchased product is still yet to arrive, and it may be better to survey customers via email after the product has been received.


Phone surveys consist of two types: person-to-person interviews and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) surveys meaning automated surveys.

Person-to-person interviews are the dinosaur of customer surveys. While they can provide in-depth insights, they are fading out of use as they are slow, expensive and experiencing dwindling response rates.

IVR surveys are most commonly employed in customer support, surveying the customer after they have spoken to an agent. This type of interviewing offers a quick response time, essentially immediate, but response rates sit in the single digits and lack quality as it is hard to collect verbatim feedback.

Are you mobile friendly?

Except for phone-based surveys, make sure your survey can open on mobile devices. Whether it is a small in-app pop-up survey or a link in an SMS, it needs to be optimized for mobile. Increasingly people are living by their phones, and although computers still dominate, a survey invite is often something a customer might leave for the bus ride home.

The bottom line

There are many more ways to administer a customer feedback survey, for example, many in retail ask the customer to complete a survey in the store via a tablet. 

However, what is important is understanding what is right for you, and the effect that different channels have on the quality of customer feedback. 

Pay attention, especially, to whether the channel elicits a transactional or relationship based response. Sending a relationship survey through a transactional channel or vice-a-versa, will create feedback that does not accurately reflect the purpose of the survey.

If it is response rates you are chasing, then SMS or email are your strongest options, as they also provide the most reliable data.

And while research differs over whether email or SMS receives higher response rates, simply test both and see what works best for your industry or marketplace.

This article is republished from the original post with the author's permission. 

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