Overcoming Survey Fatigue: Five Ways to Get Customers to Respond

Voice of the Customer

Overcoming Survey Fatigue: Five Ways to Get Customers to Respond

By TMCnet Special Guest
Lisa Stockberger
  |  August 05, 2013

Customers love to be listened to, but they hate surveys. This is a common problem that both B2B and B2C businesses face. To grow our businesses we need to satisfy customers. To gauge satisfaction and improve processes and policies, we need to understand what customers want. And we need to know how well we are meeting their expectations.

The Pew (News - Alert) Research Center released a study in late 2012 showing that their response rates dropped from 36 percent in 1997 to 9 percent in 2012. Whether you do phone surveys like Pew, or rely on e-mail, online and IVR surveys, the situation is the same. Customers are bombarded with surveys. They respond to very few. 

How do you increase the likelihood that you’ll get customers to respond? Here are five tips.

Design with your audience in mind.

Very few people have the time or inclination to wade through a long involved survey, particularly if no incentive is involved. Drop the nice to know questions and focus on what is truly important. 

Design your survey to be completed in three to five minutes. If you are using IVR surveys, make it easy for participants to remember their options. Consider using a Likert-oriented scale (i.e., 5 is strongly agree and 1 is strongly disagree). For e-mail or online surveys, you’ll be showing your customers options so using a descriptive set makes sense (i.e., strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, strongly disagree). Give customers the ability to skip questions or mark a question, “not applicable,” to reduce frustration and provide more accurate results.

Coordinate your surveys efforts internally.

Customers get annoyed if they receive multiple surveys from one company in a short span of time. Work across departments to make sure you have a coordinated approach.

Engage your customer before surveying

People like to be asked. Invite your customers by name to participate. Tell them why their input is important. Tell them what you are going to do with the survey information. For e-mail surveys, consider sending the survey from a specific individual (e.g., CEO, CMO).

Make it easy and painless.

Tell them, honestly, how long the survey will take. If you ask your customer to look at their most recent cable bill, the time it takes to find that bill counts as part of the survey time in the customer’s mind. Asking them to move from the survey instrument to do anything will decrease the response rate. 

Give customers an opportunity to provide free form comments. You’ve asked them things that you care about. Now give them an opportunity to tell you what they care about. Optimally, you’ll use text analytics to analyze e-mail and online survey comments. If you are using IVR surveys, you’ll need speech analytics to cost effectively analyze free form input.

People are busy, they may not respond to an e-mail survey immediately. Send a reminder from the person who sent the survey asking for help and again explaining the importance of the survey. Want to go the extra mile? Consider providing contact information and let the customer call or send a personal e-mail. You’ll need a process in place to handle this type of input. And, you may exclude these one offs from your formal survey results, but they can add richness to the voice of the customer. Even for customers who don’t take advantage of personal responses, offering it shows that you care.


My pet peeve is lack of follow-up. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve received a follow-up from a survey I’ve taken. Be specific about how their contribution is making a difference whenever you can: “Thank you for your input, and here are the initiatives we are undertaking because of customer responses to our survey on xxx.” At a much more sophisticated level, it is possible to put systems and processes in place to respond to customers individually based on their feedback. Publicize what you learn and what you’re doing to incorporate the voice of the customer in your organization.

Of course, with any survey program, you need to test and tweak your approach. With sufficient thought and follow through you can create “feedback families” who will respond to you on an ongoing basis not only increasing survey responses, but growing their engagement and loyalty.

Lisa Stockberger is a vice president at Vanguard Communications Corp. (www.vanguard.net), a consulting firm specializing in customer contact, including contact center processes, operations and technology. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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