How to Avoid Critical Survey Mistakes and Increase Response Rates in a Digital-First World


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Customer preferences change frequently—especially when interacting with brands—so surveys and methods of contact must follow suit. Here are tips on how to keep your feedback requests relevant and built for optimal response rates.

Source: ThinkStock
Source: ThinkStock

When reviewing one of my columns from last year on how to design and build a great survey, I was surprised to discover how different the piece would be if I were writing it today. As times change and customer preferences evolve, so do the dos and don’ts of constructing effective surveys.

The basics covered in that September 2016 column do still hold true. Surveys continue to play a vital role in customer experience (CX) and are often referred to as the “backbone” of a successful program. It’s always advisable to focus on a specific goal with your surveys, to use reminders and deadlines to ensure the highest response rates, and to follow up with the customers who do respond.

In today’s day and age, it’s important to make mention of the customer preference for mobile interactions with brands, and the unique set of guidelines for designing surveys that meet the requirements of mobile devices. Even more so, organizations must take advantage of the innovative tools that are helping CX professionals take a giant leap forward to prevent survey fatigue among their customers.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned on how to keep surveys relevant and well-constructed for real-time customers, and how to avoid the pitfalls that can prevent your surveys from getting the results you want in today’s “digital first” culture.

1. Involve the experts.

Many CX professionals successfully and willingly operate in their positions because they are good with customers. Rarely do they have a market research background. That’s why it’s important to have colleagues who do. When I develop a survey for Verint, I work with our internal market research experts. Their mantra? “The best intentions are not enough to create a good survey.”

They counsel that there should be at least four audiences for every survey project—not just the author and the recipient, but also subject matter experts to review your content before the survey goes out, along with experts in survey design and colleagues in survey authorship and market research to help fine-tune your survey and ensure it’s free of cloudy language and other “sand traps” that might bias respondents or unintentionally skew responses. They also advise that a “digital first” strategy is essential in state-of-the-art customer surveys today.

2. Use a “digital first” default strategy.

In market research terminology, it’s important to take into consideration the modality preferences of your audience. In short, understand that many of your customers prefer contact through their mobile devices. We saw the shift toward the mobile preference begin about seven years ago, and it has accelerated in the last three years—so much that our initial survey designs are in mobile format, and later tailored to fit laptops and desktops with standard-size computer screens.

How is the mobile format different, you might ask? A 10-point rating scale renders inelegantly on a mobile device, for example. Traditional radio buttons and stars are awkward to activate with a fingertip on a tablet or smartphone screen. Consider a design that allows the respondent to insert a numerical rating instead of selecting a small button. Customers appreciate this kind of convenience that is so clearly tailored to the way they like to communicate.

3. Structure your survey to prevent bias.

The trend toward using more photos, graphics and gamification techniques is a good one, but proceed carefully. Sometimes the ease with which technology enables us to create eye-catching surveys can be risky. I recently saw a survey that used photos as buttons. The customers were able to select their preference for the next user conference site via picture, and quickly realized that the image option automatically created a personal bias. Tampa was represented by a beautiful beach photo. Chicago had a vibrant skyline image. Dallas was a pasture full of horses. Need I say more? While playing on the visual eye is a great idea in theory, it’s also a quick and easy way to skew your results.

4. Use new tools to prevent survey fatigue.

Digital feedback management is a tremendous breakthrough for CX professionals, a tool that helps organizations avoid overloading their customers with survey requests. Rather than the brand-initiated feedback gathered through online surveys, digital feedback management opens the door for customer-initiated responses through the digital channel.

Access to a structured comment card on a website or mobile app is on screen for customers to click any time they need help, have a problem or want to comment. It’s an open invitation for customers to provide feedback through the channel they are currently using, at the point of experience, so the comments are fresh, in the moment, and sometimes quite passionate about both good and bad experiences. Whether or not you choose to use digital feedback management, CX professionals should make every effort to respect their customers’ time and gauge wisely how often you ask them to participate in your surveys.

5. Understand that the feedback loop is continuous for all types of customers.

In addition to developing action plans for dissatisfied customers, we make sure to communicate with happy respondents, too! And it’s not just a one-time thing. We share progress reports with the customers who point out problems, and we let them know we are improving because of them. We thank them, and also ensure that satisfied customers get special notice by inviting them to be part of our online community, or to participate in our advocacy program. We find this kind of feedback is more effective than any type of incentives offered for survey completion. If you do want to offer an incentive, consider an offer to share the survey results with those who actually complete it. Interesting, right? Sometimes, survey data is invaluable, and customers appreciate knowing how their peers are responding.

For great surveys, stay in tune with your customers before you hit “send.”

Verint recently conducted a global survey that took an intensive look at how consumers like to communicate with their preferred brands. The results offer valuable guidance for organizations struggling to balance today’s demand for digital and human customer service. The survey made it clear that–although consumers do appreciate the human touch, especially when it comes to solving complex issues with companies–the mobile preference is growing dramatically, especially among younger consumers.

As CX professionals work to develop surveys that will provide an accurate view of their companies’ standing with customers, many of the traditional essentials remain intact. Nevertheless, be aware that the traditional methods often need to be reshaped by the ever-changing preferences customers have for communicating with you.

Nancy Porte
Nancy Porte is the Vice-Chair for the Board of Directors of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). Previously, as Vice President of Global Customer Experience for Verint and with a background in operations management, her passion is developing differentiated customer experiences through cross-functional collaboration and employee engagement. She is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and frequent speaker at industry conferences.


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