A Few Pointers For Improving Survey Response

It seems that the customer insights planets have aligned for me over the past fortnight, as I have received five different survey invitations in my inbox from various marketers. After looking at each, it quickly became apparent that marketers have a ways to go to create great surveys and drive responses to them via email. Here are three particular areas that should be addressed:

The invitation matters. A well-crafted email invitation is critical to driving survey response. At the end of the day, the world's greatest survey can suffer from low response if the email sent with it isn't effective in generating interest. Branding within the email and a consistent look with other marketing emails is important to convey a cohesive experience. The invitation I received from American Airlines looked and felt like it belonged within the company's overall messaging program, while the Westin survey was sent by Westin's survey partner and was basically a Westin logo and some very long copy blocks. Key points to consider when crafting these emails are to:



·      Keep it short and direct. Quickly explain what the survey is about (be specific) and what you want readers to do.

·      Let them know how long the survey will take to complete.

·      Use imagery to support the brand and guide the reader, rather than making it a boring, text-heavy email (which seems to be the standard practice among most marketers).

·      Have a prominent and clear call to action (e.g. "Take the Survey Now").


Keep the survey short. Numerous studies have shown that shorter surveys lead to higher completion rates. Fortunately, each of the surveys I received recently was in the range of 20 to 30 questions, and took less than 10 minutes to complete. Marketers can keep their surveys short by keeping the following in mind:

·      Remove questions that don't directly address the survey's goal.

·      Only ask each question once (some surveyors like to validate responses by asking essentially the same question two or three ways).

·      Limit the number of open-ended questions, as these drive up completion time for respondents.

·      Use skip functionality to move respondents past sections that don't apply.

·      Integrate and use CRM data to inform the survey.

·      Break long surveys (especially very detailed ones) into multiple sessions or among different target groups.

·      If there are multiple sections of lower importance, randomly display only one of these sections to each participant.

Have a strong closing and actively leverage the user's participation. Most of the surveys I have taken seem to end in a rather underwhelming page that basically says "Thanks for taking the survey. Click to close this window." But this acknowledgment page presents marketers a great opportunity to further engage survey takers by encouraging interest in future participation and feedback. How about giving a small (and previously unannounced) token of appreciation, such as a discount or freebie, to further thank the respondent? Why not invite the user to join an ongoing feedback panel or survey group? Sending participants an email thanking them for their time further reinforces the value and importance of their feedback (and provides another chance to extend an invitation to join a feedback panel). Some of the better survey platforms these days can also automatically identify issues which may need immediate remediation (based on responses), and these issues should be quickly addressed. Marketers can also leverage Net Promoter Scores to identify those customers who may serve as brand advocates (or brand detractors) and target them accordingly in the future.

As important as the survey itself is marketers' need to drive people to it, and what to do with respondents after they complete it. The tips above are meant to be a starting point for marketers as they consider the three phases of a survey program: driving to the survey, the survey itself, and post-completion.

2 comments about "A Few Pointers For Improving Survey Response ".
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  1. Jerilyn MacLaren-Hall, September 2, 2009 at 3:20 p.m.

    I cannot agree with these guidelines enough - they are right on the money.

    With regards to the invite - I have have also seen valkue in providing information on the incentive in the subject line and in the email itself.

    For the survey design - Also important is keeping the participant engaged all of the way through. What is not good - is having someone complete half of the survey engaged, and the second half out of boredom - because you cannot rely on those results. A way to mitigate that is to keep them appraised of where they are in the survey - and what is left to do. Also - provide encouragement to keep with it if the survey is lengthy. Lastly - when possible, try to avoid the multi-layer questions... I often see marketers pat themselves on the back for a 20 question survey, but fail to acknowledge that half of those questions have multiple parts. If you are doing a multi-tier question - count each tier as a separate question.

  2. Mike May from Huge, September 3, 2009 at 1:49 p.m.

    Nicely written, Richard. I agree with all your points, particularly the ones about what to do after the survey. After the current survey is the first point of contact before the next survey, and I think the single greatest determinant of survey response has less to do with the way the survey looks or what it asks, and more to do with the connection between the company and would-be respondent. More engaged customers and tighter communities prompt greater feedback in all channels - surveys included.

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