20 stats that will change the way you survey your customers

25th May 2016

If you send customer surveys, you’ve probably noticed your response rates plummeting in recent years. It’s certainly something that I hear more and more often from the customer experience professionals I speak to. It’s an incredibly worrying trend.

You need feedback to grow the business, train your people and retain customers. But if your response rates are down, not only are you missing out on vital feedback, your overall survey results are likely to suffer from ‘non-response bias’.

The small number of customers who are participating in your surveys, are likely to be doing so in response to a particularly good, or (more frequently) a particularly bad experience. Your overall survey findings can be hugely skewed as a result.

I’ve been looking into what’s driving these low response rates, and have uncovered key customer survey stats which go a long way to explaining the phenomenon.

It’s clear from the latest research compiled by Customer Thermometer that older survey methods are not keeping up with the changes in customer expectations and behaviour. Attention spans are shrinking. The world’s gone short format and visual. People know what their time and input is worth.

If your survey response rates are down, these hair-raising stats will help explain why.

1. As few as 2% of consumers will bother to complete a questionnaire.

Why this matters: In order to gain a truly representative picture of customer satisfaction, you need to hear from as many people as possible. Achieving a high response rate needs to be one of your key surveying goals in order to avoid skewed results.

2. 30-40% of all online surveys are completed on a mobile device, and that’s growing.

Why this matters: If your survey hasn’t been optimized to display on a mobile device, then a huge proportion of your audience will instantly face a decision – do they care enough about your survey to put up with the inconvenience of poring over pages which are difficult to read and fiddly to complete? Sadly, most will simply abandon it.

3. The use of phones to read email doubled between 2009 and 2013.

Why this matters: With increased phone usage, comes an increased expectation that content will be presented in an accessible format. We no longer marvel at a web page that displays beautifully on a small screen – it’s now a subconscious expectation. When content displays awkwardly and we’re forced to scroll and zoom repeatedly, the result is always frustration.

4. The average person gets distracted in eight seconds.

Why this matters: If your content isn’t clear and to the point, then you’ll lose them straightaway. You need to grab their attention…and keep it.

(It will have taken you about eight seconds to read statistic no.4 – it really doesn’t give you much space to play with, does it?!  Make sure you convey what you need to quickly!)

5. Readers click links less on mobile devices than on desktops.

Why this matters: Considering the increased usage of mobile devices, this is particularly worrying. It’s more important than ever to minimize barriers to responding to customer surveys. The more accessible, succinct and inviting your survey is, the more likely you are to overcome this statistical slant.

6. Deeper links get fewer clicks – the further down the link is, the less it gets clicked.

Why this matters: Online surveys are often preceded by lengthy introductions, attempting to persuade the individual to participate. But this stat tells us that if the survey links are pushed too far down the page, this in itself reduces the likelihood of people responding.

7. Responsive, visual emails improve click rates up to 15%.

Why this matters: Customer satisfaction surveys are all about asking questions. But what this statistic tells us is that if we want great response rates then we need to work hard to ensure surveys are visually appealing and not too ‘copy-heavy’.

8. Posts that include images produce 650% higher engagement than text-only posts.

Why this matters: With consumers increasingly expecting low effort interactions, it’s not surprising that they’re drawn to images. If you fall into the trap of relying solely on text, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to engage with more people.

9. Tweets with images earned up to 18% more clicks, 89% more favorites, and 150% more retweets.

Why this matters: Not only are people more likely to read content containing images, but they’re also more likely to share it…which means that they’ve really engaged with it. In the world of satisfaction surveys, getting your customers engaged with the content is vital, otherwise they simply won’t provide feedback participate and your response rate will fall.

10. The ad world is embracing short format. Pepsi is rolling out ads just five seconds long, to reduce annoyance and improve engagement.

Why this matters: There’s general recognition that consumers are more likely to be won over by short, sharp bursts of information. People are always short of time, and it’s a big ask for them to sit through a lengthy advert and remain focused…or complete a lengthy customer satisfaction survey.

11. The number of new or unread messages in people’s inboxes is now 300% higher than it was four years ago.

Why this matters: We’re constantly bombarded with emails, so we’re increasingly discerning about which ones we choose to open. We make fast choices about which ones aren’t relevant, interesting or rewarding enough to bother with. So we mustn’t just focus on the content within the email - we must pay equal attention to the subject line and sender details, otherwise it simply won’t get a look in.

12. 79% of users simply scan any new page they come across; only 16% read word-by-word. Users read emails even more abruptly than they read websites.

Why this matters: If content is very long or poorly formatted, it’s very difficult to pull out useful details as you scan it. If the reader can quickly pick out keywords and gain a sense of the content as they scan, they’re far more likely to be drawn in. Even if they don’t go on to read it in full, they’ll still go away with a good overall understanding of your message, instead of becoming bored and simply moving on.

13. More than 84% of communication will be visual by 2018 and today’s fastest growing social media sites are visually based.

Why this matters: It’s easy to keep using the same old wordy question formats. Often surveys are run out each year in exactly the same format to maintain consistency year on year. But this means they don’t move with the times. A customer told me recently that his survey has become 40% longer over the last 3 years as people add questions to the end. When it comes to surveying, start with the end in mind. Not last year’s survey. Make it visually appealing too.

14. There is a growing ‘smartphone only’ population.

Why this matters: These people are more demanding than anyone else in terms of their subconscious expectations. They expect content to be mobile optimised, visual, short, sharp and accessible. Anything that doesn’t meet these expectations is in danger of simply being ignored.

15. Visual IQ is rising higher than any other form of IQ.

Why this matters: This is another stat that demonstrates the importance of the visual qualities of any feedback communications you send. It’s vital not to rely solely on people reading large chunks of text to absorb your message.

16. At most, the average user reads just 20-28% of words during an online visit.

Why this matters: Web copy must be succinct and well laid out, so readers can still gain an understanding from scanning quickly over it. This applies to all types of online content, including customer feedback surveys.

17. People form a first impression in a mere 50 milliseconds.

Why this matters: This is a terrifyingly short time in which to win over your customer. Overall appearances are incredibly important as first impressions can have a lasting effect. Take a step back and look at what your presenting to your customer. Make sure it says the right thing about your organisation.

18. Nearly 50% of all the text written on Instagram last year contained emoji.

Why this matters: Whether you like emojis or not, many of your customers do. Instantly recognisable, visual, and engaging - emojis fit in with a number of trends. They’ve even been called ‘the world’s first truly global language’.

19. Mobile email made up just 8% of email opens in 2011. By 2016 more than 55% of emails were opened on smartphones and tablets. Nearly a 700% increase in five years.

Why this matters: Five years ago might feel like a long time. But it was only 2011. Has your survey changed much in that time? It should have, given that 700% increase! The email-reading world is completely different than in 2011.

20. By 2018 80% of email users are expected to access their email accounts via a mobile device.

Why this matters: It’s important to keep looking for new and innovative ways to respond to this trend. It’s not just about ensuring customer survey response rates don’t fall, it’s about capitalising on this increased use of mobile technology, and finding ways to make it work in your favour.

As a customer experience professional, you must keep adapting your survey strategy to maintain relevance and engagement. So what can you do?

Key takeaways for better customer survey engagement

  • Ensure your surveys are mobile optimised. Have you tried filling in your own online survey on a smartphone? Tiny, fiddly questionnaires that are poorly formatted for reading on small mobile screens are quickly abandoned.
  • Make your surveys as visual as possible to get the engagement right at the start. Use emojis and images to drive interest.
  • Get to the point quickly - focus on high-value content at the start of your message.
  • Employ scannable text. Ensure that it is short and punchy, with keywords that jump out at the reader.
  • Don’t take your customer through a series of clicks and screens to get to the survey, or they’ll quickly lose interest. Embed surveys right within screens, emails or pages your customer is already visiting.
  • Make your surveys timely. All our internal data shows dramatically higher response rates where surveys are sent as soon as possible after the service or interaction has taken place. Don’t wait a year!
  • Ask as little as possible. Ruthlessly interrogate the value of every question you’re asking. And remember the emotional bank balance - make sure the information you’re asking for is a fair swap for their time.

Research sources:

[1]Petchenik & Watermolen

[2]ClearSeas Research

[3]The Pew Research Center

[4]Erik Altmann, Michigan State University Research

[5][6][7]MailChimp Impact of Mobile Use on Email Engagement


[10]Chad Stubbs Pepsi VP Marketing

[11][12][16]Nielsen Norman Group

[13]Cisco Visual Networking Index

[14]Social Intelligence Report, Adobe Digital Index

[15]Study into the Flynn Effect by Wongupparaj, Kumari and Morris

[17]Journal of Behaviour and Information Technology

[18]Instagram Engineering blog

[19]Litmus Software

[20]The Radicati Group

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