S@*#!$%: The One Word to Scrub from Your Email Subject Lines for Surveys


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Stop using the s-word! As soon as we see it in email subject lines for surveys, most of us hit the delete button. Of course, I’m talking about the word “surveys”.

Surveys have become a ubiquitous aspect of customer interactions, and customers are exhausted.

Right now, there are 240 unread emails in my inbox — 9 of them with email subject lines for surveys – and that’s from this week alone!

Am I going to respond to any of them? Nope! Sorry, I don’t have the time.

Companies prod us to take a survey after every transaction, whether it’s buying a car, going to the doctor, staying in a hotel, flying on a plane, or ordering toys for my puppy online.

Five minutes after purchasing a lightbulb at the hardware store, I got an email asking, “How did we do? Please take our survey!”

And too often, companies don’t even wait until the transaction or interaction has concluded before they send a survey. I’ve received countless Net Promoter Surveys before the product I ordered even arrived in the mail.

The Survey Symptom

Resy co-founder Gary Vaynerchuk said, “The best marketing strategy ever: care.”

Unfortunately, survey strategies have gone in the opposite direction. They’ve become formulaic.

If companies send multiple surveys at every step of the customer interaction, it gives customers the impression that no one on the other end reads their replies. Since AI has automated so much of CX, that may be true. But the onslaught of surveys emphasizes how impersonal they’ve become.

For instance, read about my recent experience with Lowes. I took the time to describe how the soap I ordered leaked all over the box it was shipped in. Did I hear a peep? No. This is from a company that probably has a huge customer experience plan, team, and initiatives in place.

Is it any surprise surveys have a bad name?

Using the word “survey” in email subject lines is annoying. But it’s not the root of the problem. It’s just a symptom of a deeper disease: formulaic and shallow survey strategies.

The email subject line is the customer’s first impression of the survey experience. When customers see the word “survey” in their email inbox, it signals that the entire survey experience will be generic and inauthentic.

When you go to a restaurant, countless cues signal what kind of dining experience you’re going to have before you even take a bite of your appetizer.

For example, some restaurants hand you a disk that buzzes when your table is ready and provide a sticky laminated card with a QR code to read the menu. These cues tell you that your experience will be merely OK, at best.

Other restaurants give you crisp white tablecloths, soft jazz, and menus bound in leather – cueing for an entirely different and elevated experience.

If companies aren’t thinking carefully about cues when crafting an email subject line, they signal that the rest of the survey experience will be equally unconsidered.

So, what are some cues to show customers you genuinely care about their feedback? Keep in mind, customers respond to honesty, authenticity, and gratitude so here are some tips for how to achieve that:

  • Say “thank you” upfront, even in the email subject line.
  • Use listening-sounding words that ask for feedback, suggestions, and ideas – not the survey word and not phrases that every other company uses.
  • Carefully edit your subject lines along with the rest of your email invite for typos and punctuation.

Small phrases and gestures tell customers their feedback matters. If customers feel their feedback matters, they’re more apt to share it.

But bland email subject lines for surveys like the one below tell customers their feedback will most likely fall on deaf ears – whether it does or doesn’t!

email showing email subject lines for survey

Survey Proliferation

The survey disease wasn’t always this bad.

Customers have been sending companies their feedback since at least 1750 BC, when an ancient Babylonian customer sent a clay tablet to a copper supplier, complaining that a ship had arrived with the wrong kind of copper.

In the 1980s and 1990s, telephone customer surveys rose in popularity using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI).

But as internet and email usage grew, phone survey response rates plummeted in the late 1990s and early 2000s as other kinds of surveys took over.

Then, in 2003, Fred Reichheld of Bain & Company wrote an article in Harvard Business Review that changed the survey landscape profoundly.

Reichheld wrote, “It turned out that a single survey question can, in fact, serve as a useful predictor of growth. But that question isn’t about customer satisfaction…Rather, it’s about customers’ willingness to recommend a product or service to someone else.”

With one question, the Net Promoter Score made customer satisfaction surveying easier than ever.

Software platforms like Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, and Medallia also launched around the same time. Today, surveys are the default method for collecting customers’ feedback.

Although there is no way to measure the exact number of customer satisfaction surveys sent each year, The New York Times now estimates it is in the tens of millions. And the daily bombardment means customers are less likely than ever to reply to a survey. A typical survey response rate is five percent or much less.

What’s the consequence?

In addition to annoyed, fatigued customers, low survey response rates affect the quality of your data. A low response rate means you’ll get a small sample size. This increases the risk that your sample won’t represent your customer population. In other words, your sample will lack the diversity needed to represent  your overall population.

Catchy Email Subject Lines for Surveys

Survey email subject lines are critical for getting respondents to open emails and take surveys.

So, what’s the solution? Make your email subject lines, the text of your email invites, and your surveys themselves less annoying.

As a short-term band-aid fix, don’t use the “survey” word when you ask for customer feedback. Instead, tell customers:

  • You want their point of view,
  • Ask for their input, opinions, or perceptions,
  • Or invite them to share their feedback in a way that is unique to you.
Here are some ways to invite customers to give their thoughts without using the word “survey”:

interaction metrics list of email subject lines for surveys

Phrases like these help customers engage with your invite and boost response rates. Here are three rules of thumb for email subject lines for surveys. Keep them:

  • Engaging.
  • Just a little bit different in some small way.
  • And short.

Other pointers for the best email subject lines for surveys are:

  • Include “you” or the customer’s name.
  • Include a call to action or a question.
  • Invoke a positive emotion.
  • Express gratitude. “Thank you” is always a nice touch.

Surveys don’t just measure the customer experience. They are also part of the customer experience. And email subject lines for surveys are your customers’ first impression of the survey experience. Why make the effort to design and develop a survey only to botch the email subject line?

Tips for the Body of Your Email Invite

As with your email subject lines, keep the body of your email invites inviting and engaging. Here are a few tips:

  • Tell your recipients how long the survey will take (and make sure it’s not any longer than you promised.)
  • Include subtle visual cues to direct attention to the most important part of the email: the survey link.
  • Include multiple links to the survey.
  • Vary your writing with each reminder you send so the invite feels fresh.
  • Always add a P.S. at the end of your email. This is a proven direct marketing technique that boosts response rates.
  • Remind recipients that their feedback can be anonymous if they choose.
  • Employ persuasion principles. Let recipients know that others have already taken the survey, and their feedback will help provide a balanced view.
  • Let them know you welcome their feedback — both the good and the bad.
  • And of course, don’t use the survey word.

Email Subject Lines for Surveys: A Thing of the Past…Someday?

In the long run, I suspect companies will begin to abandon surveys. Customer satisfaction surveys don’t give the whole picture, and there are other ways to get feedback from customers. Companies can collect customers’ opinions by:

  • Examining conversations between employees and customers.
  • Text mining online reviews.
  • Conducting interviews with customers.
  • Inviting customers to share their thoughts in open-ended emails – and text mining there too.

The transition away from surveys will be a slow process.

Several factors make executives reluctant to give them up. First, surveys are cheap to send, and alternatives like interviews and conversation listening are more expensive. And many companies — for instance, United Airlines and many car dealerships — tie their staff and executive compensation to customer satisfaction survey scores.

Will we ever reach a point where our inboxes are free of multiple survey reminders? Maybe not. But in the meantime, be considerate of your customers.

Look for creative, disarming ways to invite them to share their thoughts. Create small cues that signal you genuinely want to hear their feedback.

Are you vexed by low survey response rates or looking for alternatives to customer surveys? Get in touch! We are always happy to help.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Martha Brooke
Martha Brooke, CCXP + Six Sigma Black Belt is Interaction Metrics’ Chief Customer Experience Analyst. Interaction Metrics offers workshops, customer service evaluations, and the widest range of surveys. Want some ideas for how to take your surveys to the next level? Contact us here.


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