13 ways to increase your survey response rate

Two of the most common questions I’m asked when I talk to people about how IT teams can use Net Promoter, are:

  1. “What’s a good response rate for a survey?”
  2. “What can I do to increase our survey response rates?”

Let’s talk briefly about the first question and then I’ll give you 13 answers to the second.

What’s a good response rate?

Response rates are important. The higher the better, obviously. Not only does a higher response rate make your findings more robust (you can’t infer much about how all your customers perceive you, if only one customer answers your survey), but your response rates can also be an indicator of how engaged your customers are.

If your internal customers like you, respect you, trust you, and believe that your surveys will genuinely be used to do good things, then you can expect a high response rate. If your customers can see no connection between completing your survey and a rosier future (better service) then why should they bother to complete one?

What’s your response rate like? In my experience, single digits are a sign of a problem. And a downward trend in response rate is also a sign of a problem. World-class survey response rates for brands with highly engaged customers can be as high as 60%. But I’ve never seen it that high for the ticket survey of IT support teams.  In my experience, 15-20% means you’re doing pretty well. For relationship surveys (e.g. the annual IT survey), you should be aiming for a response rate above 50%.

How can I increase my response rate?

Here are thirteen ways you can increase your response rate.

Think of the first eleven as tactical – they’re relatively easy to do and could easily lift your response rates by 5 or more percent. The last two are more strategic – they require effort but are absolutely essential if you’re serious, not just about your response rates, but actually improving the service you provide to your customers. If you don’t do the last two well, even if you do everything else brilliantly, you might as well stop the surveys and stop wasting your customers’ time.

  1. Announce your survey program. Before starting to ask feedback from your internal customers, give them a heads-up that this is what you’re going to be doing. Explain the purpose of the survey, that its going to be quick and easy to complete, and what’s in it for them (so you can improve the service they receive from you).
  2. Experiment with the email Subject of your survey invitation emails and see which variation has the best open rate. Everyone’s inbox is inundated with email and we’ve become quick and brutal at making decisions on whether to read or delete. Keep it short and clear. For example, “Share your feedback on our service – 2 minute survey”. There’s some good advice on survey subjects here.
  3. Experiment with the content of your survey invitation email and see which ones have the best click-through rate to the survey. Make sure your customer knows why they’re getting the invitation, what support interaction you’re asking about, how long (short) the survey is and what you’re going to do with their feedback. Keep it snappy.
  4. If your survey gets sent to customers outside of your organisation, make sure your surveys aren’t getting caught by their spam filters. The only sure fire way to keep your survey invitation emails out of quarantine is to ensure your domain is whitelisted by the organisation you are sending surveys to.
  5. Send the email quickly after you’ve resolved the ticket. Get feedback from your customers while the interaction is still fresh in their minds. Not only does this enable you to respond quickly if they’ve had a bad experience (see point 10), but if you wait you increase the chance that they’ve forgotten all about their experience and so won’t complete your survey. If you’re customer was speaking to someone on the phone (or a walk-up counter), it will also increase your response rate if the agent lets the customer know to expect a survey and that it’d be appreciated if they completed it, regardless of their rating.
  6. Don’t spam people. If you include your survey invitation in your ticket closure email it will get deleted. No-one reads those. And if you send a separate survey invitation every time you close a ticket, customers who frequently interact with your support team will get in the habit of deleting them. No one is going to put effort into completing your surveys every day. In my experience, the best way to survey is to issue a survey invitation every time you close a ticket but with the overriding rule that you won’t survey any one person more than once every x days or weeks. This means that you’ll always seek the opinion of customers who interact with your teams infrequently and you won’t spam your ‘frequent flyers’.
  7. Keep the survey short and easy to complete. It’s a fact, the more questions you have the lower your response rate. The worst surveys are usually those designed by committee – everyone wants their pet question included and before you know it you’ve got a 20 question monster that no-one in their right mind is going to complete. Don’t ask any more questions than you need to.
  8. Send one reminder to those who haven’t completed the survey after a few days. When done well, this can increase your response rate by 30-50% (e.g. if you’re getting a 10% response rate now, reminders could increase that to 13-15%). Don’t use the word “reminder” because that’ll go straight into the bin, better to say something like, “Another chance to provide your feedback”.
  9. Make sure the survey looks good and works well on mobile devices. In 2014, internet usage via mobile devices surpassed that of desktop devices and the trend continues. Increasingly, your customers will be reading their email on the bus/train/tram, on the toilet and while walking their dog. Make sure your survey works on mobile devices. If it doesn’t, its time to get a new survey tool.
  10. Respond to negative feedback from ticket surveys within 24 hours. Not only can you learn a great deal from your unhappy customers (as Bill Gates once said “unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”), you also have a chance to leverage the Service Recovery Paradox and turn a potential complaint into a compliment. And by contacting customers who have given negative feedback, you’re showing that you’re reading their feedback and acting on it.
  11. Incentives are contentious but, given we’re not doing medical research here, I think they’re an acceptable way to give your response rate a boost of a few percent. Gold class cinema tickets (by random prize draw) and donations to charity (for every survey completed) are always good options if you’re stuck for a more creative reward. I’m especially supportive of launching your survey with an incentive so that you can encourage a higher level of participation from the start. But if you do everything else on this list, you will not need an incentive.
  12. Act on the feedback! You’re running customer surveys to get valuable insights into where you’re performing well and where to improve, right? Your Net Promoter Score will tell you if you’re improving, but verbatim customer feedback (especially from Net Promoter’s powerful question – “What’s the number one thing we could do to improve?) will tell you how to improve that score. Your customers are giving up their time (hopefully not much if you’ve followed the advice of 6 & 7!) to give you free consulting. If you’re not acting on their feedback, you’re wasting their time and you might as well stop asking them to complete your surveys.
  13. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure your customers know that their feedback is being put to good use.  The stronger the link in your customers’ minds between the survey and a tangible improvement in service quality, the better their engagement will be. There should be a circle of communication that you can keep repeating at whatever interval works for your organisation – thanks for completing our surveys over the last x months, this is what we’ve learned from them,  these are the improvements we’ve got planned, these are the improvements we’ve made.

Thank customers for completing your surveys. Tell them what you've learned. Tell them what you're going to do about it. Tell them what you've done. Rinse and repeat!

What’s your response rate? What tips would you share to this list?

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