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The advent of social media has meant that customers are more likely to share their opinions on brand experiences than ever before. However, these tend to be polarised views – either lauding a brand for exceptional service, or slating them for under-delivering against expectations.
Customer surveys are therefore an important way of gauging opinions that reflect the entire spectrum. So it is bad news, then, that consumers are becoming less and less enthusiastic about providing structured feedback via company surveys. Indeed, research by Customer Thermometer suggests that as few as 2% of consumers will now bother to complete a questionnaire.
There are a host of factors that influence response rates. Some of them are not something that can be influenced – for instance, response rates can vary according to sector. Clearly, there’s little your brand can change about that, although it’s something to bear in mind when it comes to measuring response rates.
As Adelynne Chao, associate director of Morar-HPI, notes: “If you can find out what the typical response rates are for your industry this is a great way to benchmark yourself, in terms of customer engagement. In the surveys we run for our clients, some B2B sectors can have response rates under 2%, vs. engaging consumer sectors which can be as high as 10%.”
Other common factors that influence response rates include:
- Brand recognition - surveys by well-known brands typically receive more responses than less known sources.
- Customer loyalty - the higher the brand affiliation, the higher number of responses, meaning that organisations who can increase loyalty can potentially enjoy a virtuous cycle of increased response rates to surveys leading to greater customer insight, which in turn enables the brand to identify service improvements that will further ramp up loyalty and survey response rates…and on and on.
- Demographics - some sections of the population are simply more receptive to surveys than others, so the profile of your customers could strongly influence your response rate.
But over and above these factors, there is the small matter of engagement. Quite simply, even if you have loyal, brand-aware customers that are being reached on the most appropriate survey platform, if the questionnaire fails to capture – and keep – their interest, then they will never complete it.
Martin Powton, marketing manager at Wizu, explains: “Surveys are an essential part of any customer feedback programme as they give companies an effective way to collect customer feedback at key stages throughout the customer journey. However, with some research suggesting survey response rates average between 10% and 20% it is now harder than ever to actually get your customer to provide that valuable insight. In order to combat this, you need to find new ways to engage your respondents throughout the feedback process.”
With that in mind, let’s examine some of the most effective ways to increase survey response rates.
Consider your survey platform
Customer surveys can obviously be conducted over a whole range of different platforms, and response rates do vary according to platform.
For instance, FluidSurveys reports that the average response rate for email surveys is roughly 24.8%, compared with an average response rate of 8-12% for telephone surveys. This naturally points to email surveys being a better option, but you also need to take into consideration the preferences and demographics of your own audience.
For example, if your customer base predominantly consists of digital natives it may be that sending out links via social media will achieve greater response rates still. The key is to know your audience and understand which platform they are most receptive to.
How can you incentivise participation?
Surprise, surprise – incentives can influence response rates.
“Today’s consumers are wising up to the value of their data for businesses,” says John Bird, UK general manager at 360insights. “What will have a real impact is the offer of a cash reward or incentive accompanying a purchase. This could be a free gift or a pre-paid debit card loaded with £50 to spend where they like. Our research showed that these types of incentives foster brand advocates who are more likely to interact with your business. For example, 68% of UK adults said they would be more likely more likely to post a product review if they had received a cash incentive accompanying a purchase.”
Anca Staples, content executive at Adestra, recommends a more sophisticated approach, matching the incentive to the survey.
“If you ask for short and simple answers to multiple choice questions, the prize or discount doesn’t need to be too generous, but if you have a lot of open-ended questions or you’re asking for sensitive data and information, make the incentive worthwhile.
“You’ll be surprised how selfless people can be sometimes. If you want to try something else other than the standard £50 Amazon voucher, offer a donation to charity for every complete survey. People might even share it with their colleagues and friends if it’s for a good cause.”
She continues: “If you use a prize draw, make it so only complete surveys are entered into the draw to avoid someone skipping most of the questions to get to the end.”
But there is a possible downside of incentives that organisations should bear in mind.
Jake Pearce, head research officer at Maru/edr, explains: “There is evidence that incentives can help improve response rates, although our own testing of this approach has found it can create a positive bias to the answers as the respondent – consciously nor not - operates on an ‘I’m being paid so I’ll be nice’ model. The closer the interaction is to the experience without the need for an incentive, the higher the response rates. We actually find that making sure the questionnaire design and length are appropriate has a more significant impact on response rates than adding in an incentive.”
“Customers are looking for a more personalised experience with your brand so your survey experience should be no different,” says Powton. “Try to include elements of personalisation in your invitation by including context or customer specific information.”
And there are varying degrees of personalization, with even the most simple steps having some impact.
Pearce explains: “Personalising the questionnaire, instead of starting it with “dear valued customer” or similar, is vital to improving an organisation’s survey response rate. Adding the customer’s name could be the deciding factor between a valuable response or no response at all.”
Have a purpose, share the purpose
Surveys are cheaper and easier to conduct than ever before. However, there are downsides to this. Firstly, there is a temptation to bombard customers with surveys, which can lead to survey fatigue and a reduction in response rates.
The other thing is that it encourages brands to just bang them out without a clear purpose, just so they feel they’re keeping in touch with their customers. And the problem with this is that if the brand doesn’t really understand why they’re conducting a survey, then the customer sure won’t either. So why should they respond?
As Powton explains: “Do your recipients know why they are being asked to provide feedback? If there isn’t a clear reason why you are asking these questions and how their feedback will be used, then your response rates will suffer. The more they feel their feedback is valued and important, the more likely they are to complete.”
Open the survey with a short explanation of why the survey is being conducted and how the customer’s feedback will be used to meet this objective.
Don’t be afraid to send a gentle reminder to the customer. If there is yet to be a response a week after the original invitation then send a reminder – but keep it to just the one as you don’t want to pester and ultimately irritate them.
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.