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The cost-of-living crisis and low response rates

21st Jul 2022
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As many of you know, I also have a podcast. We invite our listeners to share their business problems, which we call pickles, with us and address them in the episode. This past week, our podcast featured two pickles, and I thought I would share them here since many of you are facing similar issues in your organization.

Pickle #1: How can you increase survey response rates to create a more robust voice of customer data?

Jane writes:

In August 2021, you did a podcast about increasing email response rates, and I was keen to learn from this. However, I realized that my issue is not quite the same. We're implementing a Voice of the Customer (VOC) program on a customer platform in a large business-to-business (B2B) organization. The data needs to be robust to get buy-in from colleagues to use the insights and identify critical improvements. So how would we go about increasing the response rates on surveys sent through email to busy customers? 

So, how can Jane get busy customers to complete emails and get the buy-in from people that this effort is worthwhile?

We did a podcast a little while ago with one of the researchers from Attest around the Five Rules of Customer Research.  One of the key points from that episode was organizations sometimes forget to consider the respondents' experience, which is essential. If there is a lot of friction in managing the survey process, it can frustrate respondents and discourage their response. Therefore, making it as easy as possible to get the data you need is necessary. Otherwise, you can spend all that money for nothing. 

When it comes to increasing response rates to customer surveys, we have some other specific advice, including:

  • Consider how you can motivate customers to respond: At the heart of this effort is the art of persuasion. In other words, you need to encourage customers to respond. The easiest way could be monetarily, but compensation is not the only way to motivate responses. In some cases, particularly B2B situations, giving some of the data you collect back to respondents through quarterly reports of your data responses or something along those lines could motivate them. In addition, you might generate insights that the respondents find helpful. Another motivation might be to explain how their responses can form an information-sharing community where the respondents can communicate and solve problems collectively. 
  • Leverage your company's relationships: Many B2B companies are set up where customers have employees they work with regularly, whether that's their sales representative, account manager, or customer service point of contact. These relationships are an outstanding resource for getting responses from customers. However, be warned that you might need to babysit your employees (and convince them that this is a good thing for the customers, more on this later…); your employees guard those relationships and will want to know that their customers won't be annoyed or inconvenienced by the process.  
  • Remember that quality still trumps quantity: The one bit from Jane's pickle that worries me is that she said, "the data needs to be robust." I'm not too fond of the implication that volume is better than quality responses. I would prefer "the data needs to be the right amount." As long as you have statistically valid answers, I wouldn't worry about sheer volume. However, once you get into numbers, my antennae go up because you start to get into politics within an organization. Relying on numbers as a metric could lead to members of the organization dismissing your results because the perception is that the data is not robust enough.  
  • The numbers should still be statistically valid: Quality is essential, so lower numbers would be okay. However, if your numbers are too low, you can get a skewed perspective, negative or positive, driven by the sample group and size. So yes, Jane, get more data, respect the statistics, but don't overgeneralize from a small sample. Get as many responses as you can. 
  • Follow through with communication after the survey: Imagine that you are the client who fills out a survey repeatedly but never knows what happens after that. It would feel pretty frustrating, and their interest in responding will eventually wane. To combat this ennui, ensure that you act on the communication you receive and follow up with respondents to let them know how their responses inspired it. If you do, then in a year's time, when you ask them again, respondents will be far more likely to continue to participate. 
  • Don't bombard customers with requests: If you ask too many times, you become easier to ignore. Organizations often feel pressure to get their feedback at a statistically relevant level by a deadline. However, I would argue that getting responses takes time, and rushing them will only damage the quality of your answers. Instead, understand that getting enough responses might take longer than you anticipated, and let it go. 
  • Involve the internal team in your process to gain buy-in: Ask the internal team to assist in the survey design. Ask them what problems the employees are having with customer engagement in the experience and what might help them move forward. This approach shows that you want to fix things, not just tell the internal team what the customers say they are doing wrong. 
  • Measure whether your efforts are working:  Are the surveys having the desired effect internally? Externally? Are the metrics that your organization values being met or improving? When you can show your results, people will see something in it for them, which makes it easier for you to get what you want: responses. 

Hopefully, that information for Jane was helpful for you, too. Now, for something from Elizabeth. 

Pickle #2: How is inflation affecting people's ability to buy?

To answer Elizabeth's question, I visited Attest customer research, where they have Attest's US inflation sentiment tracker, which has up-to-the-minute data on what people think about it. When I was there a few weeks ago, it said that nearly 25 percent of people say inflation has a very high impact on their lives, and another 26 percent say it has a high impact. Around 36 percent said the effect is moderate. So, in other words, over 50% of people say the impact is high or very high. The UK numbers are slightly lower, coming in around 43 percent for a high or very high impact. So, the question becomes, is the difference that inflation isn't as severe in the UK, or is it that Americans react to it differently than people in the UK?

We had a podcast about inflation  a little while ago, and one of the points we made is that this is a massive concern for people. Attest also reports that consumers are changing their spending habits due to inflation. In the US, 49 percent of people are cutting back on non-essentials, which means things like clothes and meals out. Another 35 percent are cutting back on essentials like food and fuel. 

As I read this data, nearly 80 percent of people are cutting back on things like clothes, gas, and food. I saw an opportunity for companies to build customer relationships. Communication and understanding can go a long way to creating a connection with customers, as they did during the pandemic. 

However, a price increase is probable, even inevitable, for most businesses. Therefore, how you raise prices is an essential consideration. Past work we have done with a cancer clinic and a financial organization collecting debts has proven that challenging situations can still have excellent customer experiences. For example, people in cancer treatment judge how they were treated during their experience. Sure, the patients hated having cancer, but they appreciated how hospital staff treated them while they had it.

So, it is essential to treat customers with dignity and respect for organizations today facing price increase pressures and the bewilderment of customers facing them. Even better if you can help them solve their problems. 

We produced this article in partnership with Attest.

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