How to Distribute Surveys for Great Response Rates

We’ve previously looked at how to create customer satisfaction surveys that people will actually want to complete. Anyone with experience knows that this is not a trivial task.

Understanding your target audience, their points of view, their concerns and what’s most likely to elicit useful responses from them is challenging, as is clearly defining exactly what you want to learn from them and composing effective survey questions. But another highly influential factor is how you choose to distribute your surveys and the impact that your choice has on survey response rates.

An aspect of survey distribution which highlights how this needs special consideration is timing. If a customer survey is provided immediately after a customer interaction, perhaps the resolution of s service call or the completion of a sale, then the surveyed customer is more likely to recall the details of their interaction. They are also more likely to be inclined to provide their feedback as the event is still fresh in their memory.

Here’s a look at some of the primary survey distribution techniques which you should be considering.

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Offline Survey Distribution

A key advantage of offline surveys is that they do not require respondents to have internet access. This means they can be conducted at times and in places where people are not online, such as when they are visiting a store or perhaps attending an event. Deriving live customer feedback can elicit great response rates and deeper insight than cursory online surveys.

As for online-surveys, short and simple is what will drive the best response rates from offline surveys. Keep the number of questions to as few as possible, make certain that the time required to complete the survey is as short as possible and provide easy-to-answer question types, such as multiple choice, which don’t require too much thinking from the respondent.

To gain deeper insight use open-ended questions to probe more deeply when follow up investigation is needed but keep the number of these questions low to avoid making the survey take too long. Here are some typical techniques for offline survey distribution.

In Person Interviews

Interviewing people on a one-to-one basis can provide a lot more than simply their answers to your questions. By observing their body language, tone of voice and facial expressions you can potentially derive much more valuable feedback than their survey question responses. Face to face interviews also don’t require the respondents to fill in their answers, which tends to improve response rates.

While in-person interviews can provide in-depth responses they are time consuming to both plan and expedite. The number of survey responses will therefore be limited by resource availability. Other aspects that can be challenging include avoiding interviewer bias, the lack of anonymity and interviewing people who are located over wide geographic areas.

Telephone Surveys

Telephone was once a very effective survey communication channel, but since many people, these days, tend not to answer calls from unfamiliar telephone numbers this technique has very much been replaced by online techniques.

But if your business routinely uses telephone for customer communications then this channel may still have value. For best response rates it can be beneficial to ask customers in advance if they are happy for you to contact them via telephone to get their feedback. Lower cost than face to face interviews, telephone based questioning also provides some anonymity.

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Mail Surveys

In this ultra-electronic age we can often overlook the postal service as an effective customer communications channel. But surveys distributed by mail can provide some excellent response rates.

While it is easier and cheaper to email people your business may not have email addresses for all customers, but you may have their addresses. Also, many people these days don’t have landline telephone numbers and telephone interviews must be completed within the span of the call.

Mail surveys can be very effective. They are easy to setup and quite simple to administer although dealing with hand-written responses can be difficult and time-consuming. Survey documents can be visual designed to be engaging, professional and optimal for great response rates. Most people have mail addresses so this type of survey distribution can have a very wide reach.

Mail surveys are particularly useful when the target audience is perhaps difficult to reach via other channels. Also, if when there is no urgency over survey responses and you have time to wait for people to complete their questionnaires.

SMS Surveys

Text messaging takes very little time making SMS a very interesting channel for gaining near-immediate customer feedback responses. The ubiquity of smartphones means that almost everybody is familiar and comfortable with the platform. Gaining valuable feedback from customers regarding a recent product purchase, service interaction or other aspects of their experience can be simple, fast and immediately actionable.

Online Survey Distribution

Internet based online surveys offer a number of key advantages over some of their offline counterparts.

  • Low cost
    • Online surveys are easy and cheap to setup. There are no print or distribution costs and human resources are not needed to process the acquired data.
  • Fast responses
    • The time needed for a respondent to complete an online survey is much shorter than most offline techniques.
  • Easy to complete
    • Participants in online surveys find them convenient and easy to complete at times that suit them. Generally, people with internet access prefer to carry out surveys online rather than over the telephone.
  • Accurate responses
    • Since participants directly enter their responses the likelihood of errors is reduced.
  • Real time results analysis
    • Online surveys and data collection means that survey results can be continuously analysed and updated in real time. This can be enormously valuable by informing immediate actions that will retain customers.
  • Highly flexible
    • Online surveys are totally adaptable and can be readily honed and optimised to achieve great response rates. The survey questions can be assessed, the question sequence optimised and deeper, open questions triggered or skipped depending on previous answers.

Online survey distribution provides some very clear advantages, but offline techniques should never be overlooked. Here are some of the main online survey distribution tactics that are worth consideration.

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Social Media Surveys

If you are already routinely communicating with your target audience via social media then you will know how effective this channel can be. Of course it’s essential to understand your audience, who they are, where they are and importantly, which social media platforms do they use and how do they use them.

Social media is where many people share their honest opinions about brands, products, services, events and experiences. Your social media followers will most likely consist of both existing customers along with prospects and others. This is potentially a highly valuable resource which can be surveyed to determine what you need to do next in order to meet developing customer expectations.

Web Page based Surveys

Online web based surveys offer many advantages over other offline and online techniques. By implementing surveys on your business website they are readily available to site visitors who remain on your website while they complete the survey. Web based surveys are low cost and require minimal resources to both implement and administer. Importantly, web based surveys are highly convenient for respondents who can choose to complete the survey at a time that suits them.

Embedding a survey into a specific web page is a great way to contextualise the survey. For example, implementing a survey in a user-guide page to ask the respondent if the information provided enabled them to resolve their issue.

A pop-up which appears a few seconds after someone has landed on your site home page can be a highly effective technique. Or alternatively, present the pop-up upon departure from your website.

You might also consider prompting people to complete your survey after them have carried out a specific action such as making a purchase, viewing a specific resource or downloading a file.

Surveys can be embedded directly into relevant blog posts. People viewing the blog post will have been pre-qualified by their interest in the blog topic allowing you to design a relevant survey to elicit valuable, applicable feedback. For example, from a blog post on the topic of survey distribution you might survey readers to find out which channels they prefer to use and why.

Email Surveys

Like SMS text messaging, people are highly familiar and comfortable with email communications. Communications via email can be very engaging, have an extensive reach and are more likely to be seen than communications via social media.

Email surveys can form the body of an email message or alternatively can be effectively implemented as an email signature survey, attached to an email message.

For example, after a service call is closed you might send your customer an email message summarising the recommendations made to them during the interaction with their service representative. At the end of the email, alongside the service agent’s signature, they might be prompted to provide feedback on their experience. You might ask the question:

“Overall how satisfied were you with the service provided by xxx.”

Where ‘xxx’ is the name of the service agent or the service department or the company name. Respondents would be offered a 5 option scale from which to choose their response, perhaps using visually representative icons, from ‘Extremely dissatisfied’ to ‘Extremely satisfied’. Any respondents selecting either ‘Extremely dissatisfied’ or ‘Somewhat dissatisfied’ might then be prompted to provide deeper insight via an open ended question.

The amount of time, effort and thinking required from the customer to complete this survey is absolutely minimal, helping to drive a great response rate.

Tablet Surveys

Tablet surveys aim to collect valuable customer feedback precisely from the location where the customer has had that experience. For example, at a special event, in a restaurant, at a hotel reception desk or in a specific business location.

By prominently placing a tablet device (iOS or Android) where it can be seen and asking easy-to-answer questions valuable feedback can be gathered with minimal interruption. For instance restaurant customers might be assessed to determine Net Promoter Score by asking the classic NPS question:

“On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is ‘not likely at all’ and 10 is ‘extremely likely’:
How likely is it that you would recommend [restaurant name] to a friend or colleague?”

Tablet based surveys are also a very effective way to get feedback from staff as well as customers. Locating a tablet based survey right where your staff are thinking about what you want to survey is highly effective in delivering great response rates.

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Getting Great Response Rates

The chosen survey distribution mechanism is only one part of the equation that influences survey response rates. Here are some additional, basic tips that will help generate some great responses.

  1. Keep the survey as short as possible. Using just one, powerful question will often elicit the best response rates.
  2. Make your survey questions simple, easy-to-understand and non-ambiguous. If you confuse your target audience they may not respond or they may respond inaccurately.
  3. Tell survey respondents what the purpose of the survey is.
  4. Let them know how long it will take them to complete the survey.
  5. Make your email subject lines enticing to encourage recipients to open them.
  6. Use real names when communicating via email.
  7. Test and retest your surveys to ensure that they function on all platforms and that recipients will not run into problems when they try to complete the survey.
  8. Avoid using jargon and technical terminology that people might not understand.
  9. Where beneficial, use open ended questions to allow respondents to express themselves.
  10. Make certain that your surveys are clearly branded and associated with your business.
  11. Allow anonymous responses. People are often more likely to respond if their responses are anonymous.
  12. Incentivize participation. High response rates can be achieved in exchange for minimal incentives, such as entering an email address into a prize draw or offering a discount code.

Want to improve your customer survey response rates? Customer Thermometer’s 1-click survey will up your feedback game. Send yourself an example:

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