Commentary

Survey Fatigue: Are You Reaching Your Customers Effectively?

It has become a ritual of modern life: Buy something online, stay in a hotel, or call a customer service center, and you’ll be asked to complete a survey about your experience.

Digitization has made it easy to push surveys to customers, and it’s a way for businesses to show they care, at a time when that has never mattered more. Consumers today have unprecedented choices, and the survey blizzard is, in many ways, a recognition of their power to influence brands.

But if you routinely blow off these surveys, you’re far from alone. Numerous studies have shown a high level of survey fatigue among consumers and the seemingly never-ending ways they’re asked to fill them out – an email after a chat with a call center, pop-ups on websites or within apps, at the bottom of store receipts, you name it.

Several reasons lie behind  low response rates, beyond the fact that many survey recipients are simply burnt out from the quantity. People tend to ask: Why is this worth my time? What exactly does the company do with the responses, and do they make a difference? Does this survey reflect genuine attention to me, or is it merely a tactic to seem attentive?

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The low participation creates another problem: Because people are more likely to fill out a survey if they’re extraordinarily happy or extremely angry, minuscule response rates lead to sampling bias and less than trustworthy results.

If it sounds like I’ve come to bury surveys, not to praise them, that’s not quite true. Used properly, surveys can be an efficient method to connect with customers and gain a snapshot of their successes or struggles with a product or service.

A common execution failure is the overly long survey. According to research by survey company Customer Thermometer, only 9% of people take time to answer long surveys thoughtfully, and 70% abandon them before completion.

Another all-too-frequent misstep is surveys that come across as a rote exercise, with irrelevant or overly general questions that don’t speak to the customer’s personal experience.

To create surveys that consumers deem valuable and that are helpful their business, more companies should try ditching mechanical questions like “How would you rate your experience with our customer care center?”

Instead, questions that hone in on the customer’s emotional interaction with the brand are more likely to result in completed surveys and meaningful feedback.

Such as: “Why did you start using our product? What did you hope to get from it? What, if anything, causes you to struggle with the product? If there’s one thing you would change about the product, what would it be?”

Some companies compound their survey foibles by failing to do much with the responses. Perhaps the data goes into a database and later appears on a marketing PowerPoint slide -- but, overall, little is done to make the results a substantive part of the conversation and strategy about the customer experience.

Companies should be asking themselves: While we are collecting all this data, are we really listening?

They should use surveys, formulated and executed effectively, as little more than a starting point for research delving deeper into how their brand is perceived.

This coordinated human-insights strategy must also include other forms of research such as in-person interviews and other qualitative methods. Without adding qualitative insight to metrics-based surveys, companies are missing the full picture.

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