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Better Customer Surveys: 6 Ways to Improve Your Results

Written by Katie Oakes on October 15, 2015 at 8:20 AM

What would it mean to your organization to have consistent insight into your customers' problems and ongoing feedback about your solutions? If you're like most businesses, this information would help your company make smarter decisions in a host of areas.

Helping businesses acquire this valuable data is why the $11+ billion U.S. market research industry is continues to grow. While some companies outsource their customer research, others handle it in-house.

For those companies that manage their customer research themselves, creating and sending a survey to customers is the easy part. It is getting customers to respond where businesses struggle. 

Surveys or polls are one of the easiest and most efficient ways to capture actionable data from your customers or members. With a few simple steps and no additional resources, you can maximize both the quality and quantity of your feedback while enhancing the customer experience.

The Problem with Your Surveys Today

For most organizations, 25% is a good response rate for email surveys. However, if you're polling your customers on something important, responses from a quarter of your customers are hardly indicative of the opinions of the greater organization. You need to get a larger, statistically viable sampling of your customer community.

Before we tackle increasing your response rates, it's important to assess why people aren't responding. It may be them and not you. If the reason for your low numbers has to do with your target audience, you're limited in what you can change, so exploring these possibilities and ruling them out is a good first step.

Let's take a look at three common reasons why your customers or members may not respond to your surveys and polls, then we will get into solving them.

Your Customers Aren't Engaged

If your customers are not engaged, not only will you see low response rates to surveys, but you'll also feel the impact in your retention, revenue, and product adoption numbers. If this is the case, there's a lot of work to be done.

The first things to keep in mind is that relevance plays a big role in all of your communication - from surveys to content to marketing messages. You may be sending your members content that doesn't apply to them. Sometimes it is even mislabeled as relevant content.

For example, let's say you introduce a survey titled What Topics Do You Want to See?†but all of the questions ask about topic suggestions for an upcoming customer conference. The people that read your blog may not be the same people that attend your customer event.

This disconnect could cause customers to lose interest in what your organization has to say and ignore future messages. While you should certainly make efforts to re-engage them, there is a point where you may need to call it quits. Know when to send the "It's you not me" break-up text.

Your Customers Are Busy

Your customers are busy and who isn't? sending out a survey once and passively waiting for responses to come back to you won't work. Emails often get lost in inboxes, deadlines get forgotten about, and surveys often get pushed to I'll get to that next.â€

You may need to get creative in how you get your customers' attention without being a pest. Test different tones, channels, visuals, and send frequencies. Then, measure what works.

Your Customers Weren't Happy with Your Follow-Through

If you've sent out surveys in the past that your customers answered, but no follow up action was taken, they may feel their input was ignored. This leaves very little motivation to take the time to answer another survey. This also ties closely to the issue of disengaged customers.

How to Improve the Response Rate of Your Customer Surveys

Improving your response rate is very similar to improving your email open and click through rates. Personalization helps, as does using a clear subject line. But there are a few additional best practices that can maximize participation.

Tip #1) Plan Your Survey Marketing

The survey should never come to your customers out of the blue. They should be expecting it and understand the purpose behind the information you are requesting. 

You cannot tell your customers once in a newsletter to expect a survey sometime during the month. Be specific and use every method of communication you have to reach your customer base. Then remind them. As we mentioned earlier, they are busy, so one line in a monthly newsletter isn't enough to guarantee action.

Reminding them is different than bombarding them. Consider this cadence as your customer survey window comes to a close:

3 Days Before the Survey Closes:  Send a reminder to the people who have not yet submitted it. Most survey toolss should allow you to easily pull this report.

1-2 Days Before the Survey Closes:  This should be just a brief reminder. Do not send a blanket email to your entire customer community. This will make people who already filled it out wonder if you received their response. Your efforts will look disorganized.

Survey Close Day: Again, keep this final brief and targeted. Filter for those people who haven't responded and send only to those customers. Responsive customers may see your survey as just another email to them and tune out future communication.

Tip #2) Make the Process Easy

Don't complicate your survey with long questions and complicated directions. Keep questions to the point. Offer choices where possible, but not too many choices.

Check out our previous post that contains more in-depth information on building effective customer survey questions.

Tip #3) Keep the Email Short

Include the following things in the introduction email for your survey:

  • What you're trying to accomplish?
  • When it's due?
  • How long it will take? Giving people an idea of how long the survey is helps them fit it into their schedule.

Tip #4) Consider Privacy

If you are asking customers or members to answer questions that could be uncomfortable for them professionally, or otherwise hurt their standing in their organization, should someone see the results, consider making your survey anonymous. If it's not an anonymous survey, be clear about who will see the results.

There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to offering an anonymous survey. While it often encourages much more candid and honest answers, it can also be hard to track that data. For example, if you got a very negative review, you would probably want to follow up to see how you address that customer's issues.

Consider the goals of your survey and which type would yield, not only the best results, but the most actionable data.

Tip #5) Use a Survey Button

Email is not the only distribution method for surveys. If you have an active online community or customer portal, link to the survey there and on your website.

Create a "ake Survey Now" button. When people log on your website or customer community platform, they will see your call-to-action and be reminded to take the survey. This also ties back to making it easy. Now, customers no longer have to scan back through their emails for the survey link.

You can also enlist a developer or designer to add a overlay pop-up to your website reminding people to take the survey. This is best used when the survey is not customers-only.

Tip #6) Special Instructions for Long Surveys

If you're conducting an extensive benchmarking or satisfaction survey that will take a good deal of time and consideration, give your members something for their time.

This could be a special download or a complimentary copy of the benchmarking report once it's complete. It could be a discount for an event or fun branded item. It also could even be early access to something of importance to your company, like a new product feature.

If you're asking them to do something for you, make them feel as important as their information is.

Customer Survey Results Takeaway

Improving your response rates on customer surveys involves increasing customer engagement. Then, it demands good marketing and well thought out reminders.

Making it easy for customers to completely surveys and polls by removing the friction in your dissemination plan is also an important factor in achieving a good response rate.

Finally, if you want to improve the response rate you get on future surveys, make sure you use the data you are collecting in a meaningful way. Thank people for their participation and share the results whenever possible.

Get the metrics you need to track ROI in your online customer community.

Topics: Communications, Customer Engagement, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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