When Brand Republic and Snap Surveys recently conducted a study about the discipline of market research, a strong majority (64%) of respondents reported that survey feedback was vital to their organisations. Furthermore, over half (60%) also said that it was vital to the jobs that they performed.
Clearly, most businesses and professionals appreciate the importance of customer surveys. So why is it that there are so many bad surveys out there? As consumers, we’re constantly asked to respond to surveys, whether it’s via email, SMS or phone. Many of these requests go unheeded, but even in the unlikely event that we agree, a large number of these surveys are then aborted midway after they become tiresome or confusing.
If customer opinions really are so important to businesses, why aren’t they doing a better job of collecting them?
“Generally, I don’t think it gets the attention it needs, it’s done by marketing or customer service departments and is rarely a key business driver,” suggests Guy Washer, managing partner at sapioresearch.com.
“Once you get buy in from senior decision-makers and you put customers genuinely at the centre of everything you do it works but, a lot of companies just play lip service to the stats. Really successful companies put customers, and their agility in responding to their needs, at the centre of everything they do.”
So, if your business is serious about surveying your customers, what are the common mistakes that you should ensure you avoid?
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1. You’re not providing enough of an incentive to complete the survey
Not enough surveys communicate why customer feedback is so important, and how it will be used to ultimately improve the customer experience.
Jake Pearce, head research officer at Maru/edr, says: “It’s important that any survey is framed so people understand and truly believe it is in their interest to respond.”
However, for many time-poor consumers, even this isn’t enough to encourage their participation. They want a bigger incentive.
“For consumers, filling out surveys means time spent away from… literally anything else they would rather be doing and for very little immediate reward,” warns John Bird, UK general manager of 360insights. “The promise of an improved service 6-12 months down the line is rarely enough to boost response rates.”
Washer agrees. He adds: “Why should I complete a survey if I’m not going to get something back? Increasingly people are not altruistic and just saying it will improve our product or service doesn’t wash. People want something back.”
2. Your survey is too long
“We’ve all clicked onto a customer survey, got to the third page, seen that it’s still only 5% complete and then swiftly closed it down,” says Adelynne Chao, associate director at Morar-HPI. Indeed, according to OpinionLab, 80% of customers have abandoned a survey halfway through. What’s more, 52% of customers said that they would not spend more than 3 minutes filling out a feedback form.
Research indicates that the more questions being asked, the fewer respondents who start a survey will complete the full questionnaire. In a study examining over 100,000 surveys to explore how questionnaire length influences the completion rate, SurveyMonkey found that the drop-out rate increases with every additional question.
“Length is a major issue, so letting people know how much time they have to dedicate to the survey is imperative,” says Anca Staples, content executive at Adestra. “Even if it is a long one (say 30 minutes), setting expectations might surprise you in that those who are dedicated will know what to expect and that will improve the quality of the answers.”
3. You're conducting surveys too frequently
Not surveying customers enough is certainly an issue for some organisations. But the other side of the coin can be just as harmful.
Global survey company SurveyMonkey estimates that it collects more than 2 million survey responses ever day for its clients, which it says represents 99% of the Fortune 500. That translates to billions of surveys per year. Little wonder that consumers have survey fatigue.
“An email every day can too quickly become an email to delete every day and then unsubscribe,” says Chao.
Pearce adds: “If customers feel like they are being ‘over-surveyed’ they will be unlikely to respond to requests to complete questionnaires.”
Organisations need to ensure they strike the right balance between not surveying enough and surveying too much.
4. Your surveys are badly designed
“One of the most common problems poorly structured questionnaires that are hard to follow and highly repetitive,” says Pearce. “Customers become disengaged with the questions that are being asked, leading to unrepresentative answers.”
Beth Horne, digital analyst at Brilliant Noise, adds: “Many surveys are not easy to navigate and use the wrong type of questions. This results in disengaged respondents and limited actionable insights.”
The questions, in particular, need to be simple and straightforward in order to avoid creating confusion.
Horne continues: “People often find it difficult to articulate their opinions when asked directly. They also find it hard to determine how they would feel about an imaginary situation or a non-tangible product. It is much easier for them to describe their current behaviour or product preferences. Additionally, when the answer options to questions are too restrictive, people are forced to select an option that is not representative about how they feel, creating a barrier to real insight.”
5. You are only surveying on a single channel
The relative ease of online surveying – whether via website feedback forms or email questionnaires – has made it particularly attractive to marketers. Research by Snap Surveys found that social media (59%) and online surveys (54%) are by far the most popular channels used for customer feedback. The next most popular, telephone surveys, are being used by half as many organisations (34%).
But while online research is popular, the reality is that not all consumers can be reached online. In order for survey results to be an accurate reflection of your target market, businesses must reach a representative cross-section of these consumers. This means that organisations must be prepared to use multliple channels for their survey strategy.
“Surveys are best when combined with other forms of customer feedback such as call centre recordings, emails, social feedback, online review site feedback, etc.” notes Susan Ganeshan, CMO at Clarabridge.
6. You're not following up with the customer
One of the biggest disincentives to respond to company requests for feedback is the feeling that the business will disregard the responses. Organisations need to reassure customers that their feedback has been taken on board, and action is being taken, otherwise they will feel like their survey answers have disappeared into a giant black hole – and will be disinclined to contribute again in the future.
In the public sector, the NHS has begun introducing patient survey programmes that require hospitals and NHS trusts to publish feedback about them and outline how they are responding – a good example for businesses to follow.
“I think many marketers forget to follow up with those who filled in the survey,” says Staples. “Using data from the answers to segment future communications or to personalise future messages is very easy to do in a modern email service provider and it will show the person who filled in the survey that they didn’t do it in vain. Or, you can use the data to inform people what changes have been made as a direct result of their input. Either way, recognising the value of their contribution afterwards can go a long way.”
7. Your surveys are being conducted at the wrong time
If you want accurate insights from your customers, it’s not just about what you ask, and how you ask, it’s also about when you ask. The timing of the questionnaire can have an enormous impact on both response rates and the feedback itself.
The longer you wait to conduct a survey, the less likely customers are to participate, while the feedback may also be less accurate and detailed. But the results can also be misleading if the survey is conducted too soon!
Pearce explains: “The timing of asking the questions is critical - for example, if an AA customer broke down, and was asked for feedback soon after the incident, AA would be much more likely to receive a negative response simply because the overall situation is frustrating. However, if the customer was asked about the experience five days afterwards and were reporting on the whole experience from a holistic view point, AA would receive much more accurate feedback.”
Therefore, you must think carefully about when you are collecting feedback from customers.
About Neil Davey
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 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.