Increase survey response rates

7 Secret Ways to Increase Your Survey Response Rate

Several years ago, before I was a part of Promoter.io and familiar with the Net Promoter System, I had put together a survey for a group of early users of my newly minted startup.

I had spent at least a few hours carefully wording each question to ensure that I received the precise data I was looking for.

It was pretty darn exciting. Armed with the vast amount of knowledge that my users were about to provide me, I was going to at least triple my growth (so I thought).

Once the survey was refined to my satisfaction, I quickly sent the email out and waited in anticipation, constantly refreshing the page as the excitement of what was to come is too much to bear.

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A few responses start to trickle in and then … things went dark.

The kernels stop popping. It was cooked.

I panicked.

Maybe it was because of the time zone differences? Maybe my emails went to SPAM (as I frantically sent a survey to a friend just to be sure). I know, maybe everyone is busy right now and they’ll get to it in a few minutes.

The justifications began to build up.

The reality was: I messed up.

Well, not really. I just wasn’t armed with the knowledge of what I’m about to bestow upon you.

The truth is, most companies get this totally wrong, including even the most successful company in the world.

But, listen up, I’m not going to let you make the same mistake that I made. I’m about to give you 7 secrets to massively increase your survey response rate that even Apple isn’t aware of:

Send your survey from a human, not a department or company

This may seem obvious, but all too often, companies want responses to go to an email address that everyone on a team has access to.

What you need to know is that nobody wants to respond to a bot (i.e. support@company.com), they want to know that their voice is being heard by an actual person.

You can even create a fictitious email address or alias, so long as it looks like a human.

BONUS: If you want more honest answers, send the survey from someone that the customer doesn’t deal with on a regular basis.

Set expectations in your subject line

If you’re sending a survey that’s going to take 20 minutes to complete, let them know that this is going to suck up front.

Ha, just kidding. Don’t ever send a 20-minute survey to begin with (more on this below).

What you should do however is make them aware of how easy this will be to complete.

Something like, “Two Quick Questions” or “Have 60 seconds? We’d love your feedback!”.

Minimize the burden they instantly feel when they see a request to complete a survey.

Make your call-to-action very clear

Don’t muddy your email with a bunch of links elsewhere.

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Most of us get link happy when sending our customers an email and start using it to drive traffic to whatever page we’re trying to promote.

Don’t do that here.

Surveys should have a single CTA. Link to the survey and that’s it. Period.

BONUS: If you can embed the first question/action in the email itself, you’ll dramatically improve your response rate.

Ask no more than 2 to 3 questions

I know this is hard.

Trust me, I know how tempting it is. If I have my customers attention I want to ask every question under the sun.

This is super important for you to know though. (Which is why it’s bold.)

Statistically, every question you ask after 2 or 3, you’ll see a 30-50% reduction in response rate.

Yes, that means that if 10% of your customers answer your first two to three questions, only 5% may answer the fourth (this is called survey abandonment).

I mean, let’s not be oblivious to our own behaviors. This is just human nature.

(This is part of why NPS surveys sent through Promoter see an average response rate between 30-40%.)

Caveat: There are obviously exceptions to this. Some surveys (outside of Net Promoter) require more questions (true research, etc). More often than not however, people ask unnecessary questions which burden the customer.

Don’t ask questions that you can find out on your own. It’s a waste of time for your customers and you’ll hurt your response rate and validity of your data in return.

More on this topic here.

Send Reminder Surveys

I’m going to assume that you’re familiar with the benefits of sending a reminder email in sales or just general customer outreach.

Sending a reminder email for a survey is no different.

In fact, what we’ve seen at Promoter.io is that by sending a reminder to complete your survey between 3 to 7 days will boost response rate by up to 15% with just a single reminder.

If you’re concerned with customers getting upset and unsubscribing for “bombarding” them a reminder survey, we’ve found that only a ½ of a percent will actually unsubscribe on average.

That’s all to say that the benefit (15% boost in response rate) far outweighs the cost (.5% unsubscribes).

Just do it, but only send one reminder.

Follow up personally with EVERYONE that responded

By following up, I don’t mean, send them a reminder (like I mentioned above). I’m talking about replying and “closing the loop” with each customer that completed your survey. Individually.

This probably sounds like a daunting task because, well … it is.

You’re also probably wondering how this could possibly increase your response rate considering they’ve already responded.

Fair question, more on this below.

I’m not going to sugar coat it, this isn’t going to be easy. And, quite frankly, it’s not supposed to be.

How does that saying go? “Nothing worthwhile is easy.” Or something along those lines.

And, before you get ahead of me with your thoughts of fancy automation triggers, this is one message you CAN NOT automate. I know, I know … blasphemy.

(I’m not going to get into why you can’t automate here, but we did write a post about it.)  

Why is this sooooo important?

Let me give you an example:

Imagine you’re at a restaurant. You just finished your meal and the manager comes to your table to ask how your experience has been.

After a minute of providing some praise and constructive feedback, the manager stares at you blankly and walks away.

Ridiculous. Right?

It seems absurd that this would ever happen in real life, but this is exactly what happens when you don’t respond to your customers feedback online.

It may not feel as personally insulting, but if that’s your justification, you’re missing the point.

The greatest value that will come from your survey, happens post survey.

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When you follow up with your customer after they complete your survey, three really important things happen:

  1. Your customer feels valued. This is all they ever want. I mean, why did they fill out your survey in the first place? It certainly wasn’t for you. It was for them. They wanted to be heard.Thank them. Acknowledge them. Tell them that you care. Do that and you’ll have a customer for life.
  2. Opportunities Emerge. You may think that all of the answers you need will come from the survey questions you ask.

    That indeed is partially accurate, but not fully.

    The real gems emerge in the discussions that follow. (One of our customers launched a new 7-figure revenue channel that all started as a result of a single discussion with a customer post-survey. No joke.)

    These discussions occur with your customer because you had the wherewithal to personally follow up, which … ta da … gets them to respond back.

    Every single response to your survey is an opportunity: to build a stronger relationship, to ask for referrals, to upsell/expand customer spend, to proactively recover a customer who is about to churn and looking at alternative solutions, to capture direct and meaningful product feedback and more. Treat these follow-ups as such.

    BONUS
    : In addition to acknowledging their feedback, be sure to slip a question or call request in your follow up.
  3. Action happens. Did you get positive answers back from your customer?

    Great! Ask them to leave you a review on G2 Crowd/Siftery/Yelp/etc. Or, join your referral program. Or, an endless number of ways they can help you drive growth.

    The fact is, the average company generates roughly 50% of their revenue from their existing customers (and in some cases even more).

    The other fact is, your survey likely won’t (on its own), inspire your customers to go out and sing your praises to others.

    But your follow up will.

    What if you got negative responses back from your customer?

    Great! Well, not so great, but not terrible either. Why? Because you can follow up with them and fix their issues before they head to your competition.

    In the world of Net Promoter Surveys, a customer that has identified themselves as a detractor (gives you a score between 0 – 6) will churn within 90 days (on average). You can drastically reduce your churn by simply … you guessed it … following up. :)

So, what does any of this have to do with increasing survey response rates?

Let’s go back to my example.

Imagine you’re back at the same restaurant (in spite of the socially awkward manager that never acknowledged your feedback at your last visit). This time, the manager approaches you again and asks if you’d be willing to provide some feedback yet again.

Are you going to do it?

The truth is, you may still do it because it’s a personal setting and you don’t want to be rude. But online … hell no.

If you want to increase your survey response rates over time, let your customer know that you’re listening. It’s as simple as that.

The greatest value that will come from your survey, happens post survey. Click To Tweet

Send more than one survey each year

Several years ago I worked for a national magazine as an Advertising Director.

Every few years we would do these readership studies to gather the demographics, sociographics, etc. from our readers. (For the record, the response rate to those studies was close to nil.)

These weren’t for our knowledge, they were done as a data-gathering practice to pad our media kit for advertisers.

Of course, only the most enticing of data would make it to our presentation.

We only did them every few years because we knew if we did them more frequently the data may no longer be in our favor.

The reality is, customer data and customer sentiment changes rapidly. This is especially true with online businesses or and product or service that is used frequently.

Unlike the advertising business, most companies don’t do surveys to pad their numbers, they do it to gain knowledge. Factual knowledge.

As a result, most companies will survey their customers multiple times per year. SaaS companies and other high-touch organizations do it quarterly (which we tend to recommend for most). Service businesses may do it bi-annually.

The point is, you may not get a customer to respond to your first or second or even third survey. But chances are you will on your fourth, or fifth. Especially if you are transparent as a company with what you are learning from your customer engagement efforts (share with all of your customers regularly).

In marketing, it’s common knowledge that it takes 7 or more touches before a prospect will take action. Sending a survey can be similar in that way.

If you want to increase your survey response rate over time, send more than one survey a year … and be consistent about it.

One Last Thing (Something that you shouldn’t do)

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You may believe that providing your customers with an incentive (compensation, gift card, discount, etc.) would be a good way to boost response rates.

Without a doubt, that is true. You will indeed get a higher response rate.

BUT … it comes at a cost.

And, I’m not talking about the cost of the incentive itself.

The bigger cost is the informational cost. Or rather, the cost of inaccurate or biased responses.

Simply put, when you incentivize your customer to complete your survey, you instantly change their motivation and behavior.

Two things happen:

  • They give less consideration to the questions as their motivation shifts from “being heard” to “getting paid” and “getting done with this survey as fast as possible”.
  • You introduce guilt bias. That is, the customer feels compelled to provide more favorable answers due to the perception of a quid pro quo.

The big question you need to ask yourself is: What’s more important? Quantity or quality?

Follow the other 7 Steps above and you can have both!

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Dana Severson

Dana Severson is the Director of Marketing at Promoter.io and cofounder of Startups Anonymous. Former founder & CEO of Chasm.io/Wahooly and AngelPad Alum. In addition to focusing on growth at Promoter, Dana is a weekly columnist for Inc.com

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