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How to Increase Your Survey Response Rates

How do you create successful surveys that engage respondents, improve your employee and customer data quality, and provide actionable insights for your organization?

If you have started reading this article, you are most likely facing the most common survey killer: low response rates. To help you, we have assembled a guide that covers typical survey challenges and offers expert tips for managing surveys to learn best practices for how to boost your survey response rates.

Expert Tips: Mastering Your Survey Response Rates

What Are Survey Response Rates?

Your survey response rate is the percentage of completed responses in your survey, and it directly reflects your data quality. You calculate the survey response rate by dividing the number of people who completed the survey by the total number of sent surveys and multiplying the product by 100.

Calculation of survey response rate

When it comes to survey response rates, more is more, and a high response rate is essential for ensuring good data quality. If you don’t receive enough survey responses, you will lose statistical validity, and thereby the ability to fully trust in your results. Most importantly, the first thing you must determine is the correct sample size of people for your survey (also known as a survey sample). While survey samples may be unnecessary for engagement surveys (which typically involve all employees), they become crucial when targeting specific employee group segments or if you are working with Customer Experience (CX). Knowing the optimal survey sample is essential to ensure you can trust your data. If you are not familiar with how to calculate sample sizes, this site can help you.

Why Does Sample Size Matter?

When you have determined your sample size, you need to get as many people as possible to answer your survey. With a high response rate, your survey sample accurately represents your target population. It also shows that people are willing to complete your survey, which reduces non-response bias. Lastly, as mentioned before, a good response rate will help ensure statistical validity by reducing the margin of error in and increasing the statistical power of your dataset.

Acceptable Response Rates

Different types of Experience Management (XM) surveys have different acceptable response rates. We will explore them below:

  • Response Rates: Customer Experience Surveys

For customer experience surveys, response rates typically fall between 5–30%. Based on our experience and research, a 10% response rate is good, above 20% is great, and over 30% is exceptional. You want to aim as close to 30% or above as possible. As an example, we experience that a 20% response rate is normal for Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys.

  • Response Rates: Employee Experience Surveys

Employee experience surveys tend to have higher response rates, typically ranging from 60–80%. Based on our experience and research, a response rate above 70% is good, over 80% is great, and exceeding 90% is exceptional. As a benchmark, we have experienced that an 80% response rate is normal for engagement surveys. Organizations with response rates below 60% should consider the validity of their data.

3 Key Factors Affecting Your Response Rates

If you experience low response rates to your surveys and you would like to increase them to strengthen the statistical validity of your results, there are three main factors that affect your response rates: the survey experience itself, the survey’s management, and the participants. In the following, we will take a closer look at each factor:

1. The Survey Experience

One of the factors you can optimize to increase your response rate is the survey experience itself. This relates to the basics of your survey, including:

  • Survey type (online, paper, or phone)

  • Survey accessibility (ensuring functioning survey links for online platforms)

  • The ease of taking the survey

  • Clarity of instructions

  • Question wording and type (ensuring questions are not overly complex)

  • The topic of your survey or specific questions (they could be sensitive to answer)

  • Survey length

If you are keeping your survey simple, you are doing a great job! But low response rates could also relate to other variables. For instance, these could be whether you personalize the survey to your audience/the participant, the visibility of your brand in the design to include your company or product brand logo, clarity on anonymity/confidentiality of the results, or security/perceived legitimacy of the survey.

To know exactly what variables in the survey itself are impacting your response rate, you should test your survey on a preferably independent group of testers or a survey panel and identify the barriers/pain points hindering people from taking your survey.

2. Survey's Management

How you manage your surveys also impacts your survey response rates. There are several considerations and checks you can do if you experience low response rates. We will go through them below:

  1. Avoid survey fatigue. Limit the number of surveys you expose your participants to. As a rule of thumb, you can send an email survey once every three months and display an ad hoc survey based on a transaction/life cycle touchpoint to the same person only every one to three months. For example, during a three-month period, you can send an engagement survey requesting feedback and also ask for feedback on the participant’s onboarding process. For Customer Experience surveys, you could request feedback on a purchase and also request feedback on your website with a pop-up within the same three-month period.

  2. Check for inactive participants. To avoid non-responses, only send surveys to active users. If you are using an online platform to distribute your survey, ensure that you only request feedback from active users, as sending surveys to people who don’t exist will get you no answers.

  3. Adjust your survey sample size. Based on the information above, is your survey size correct, or does it need to be adjusted?

  4. Use the right distribution channel for your survey. Your choices of format and channel for sending out surveys have a large impact on your response rates. For example, email open rates are less than 25% compared to SMS open rates, which are about 98%. If only considering this variable, this difference makes SMS an obvious preferred choice.

  5. Consider the context and timing for your survey invitation. Put yourself in your participants’ shoes. When is the best time to receive an invitation? Are there context considerations to adjust for? For instance, the willingness to respond to a survey might be greater just after you have helped a customer.

  6. Optimize your invitation’s design to improve trust. When you set up your invitation with recognizable features such as your company email address and company logo, respondents are more likely to recognize and trust it.

  7. Improve your invitation’s wording. Ensure that your invitation appeals to the participants.

  8. Prioritize data privacy. Ensuring confidentiality or anonymity is a priority to your participants, as it should be to you. Only ask for necessary personal information, and make sure you add a privacy disclaimer either in the introduction or at the bottom of your survey.

  9. Send reminders or follow up on your survey. Your participants might forget that they were invited to take a survey. Therefore, you can kindly remind them to participate by sending them a reminder. Sending a reminder can increase your response rate by up to 50%. To balance between a gentle nudge and annoying spam, follow the rule of thumb that says you can only send between one reminder to three. Use refreshed communication for each reminder to frame it differently, avoid repeating the original invitation, and consider changing the distribution channel for each reminder.

Real-Life Example: How Reminders Can Impact Your Survey Response Rate

1

A company invites all employees to complete an engagement survey via email on Day 1. On the same day, four hours later, the company sends a reminder by SMS to those employees who have not yet responded to the survey. This increases the response rate by 50%.

2

Seven days later, the company sends a second reminder by email. This reminder increases the response rate by another 10%. Four hours later the same day, a third and last reminder is sent by SMS, increasing the response rate by another 5%.

3. Influence Your Survey Participants with Psychology and Behavioral Hacks

Have you already optimized your surveys with the tips above and are still feeling frustrated by your survey response rate? Consider looking into playing with psychological theories and behavioral insights to increase your response rate.

The human-centered field of science offers us ways to strategize our surveys by accepting the fact that people are irrational and won’t always act as you expect them to (in a rational manner). Below are some of the psychological theories and insights to help you subtly push your participants toward action.

Motivation

If we feel motivated, we will more likely seek action. Multiple motivational theories can help you to understand how to get people to do something willingly, but the most proven ones concerning surveys are rewards and incentives. Money, rewards, or recognition are some of the positive incentives that motivate your participants to take action. For instance, you can offer discounts and provide relevant additional content (like an eBook) or material goods such as themed merchandise.

Prospect Theory

We dislike losses more than we like equivalent gains. With losses causing a greater emotional impact than gains, you can leverage loss aversion by combining it with your motivational incentives. For example, you can offer a significant and immediate gain and highlight the low effort of participating. Even telling participants how previous feedback has been used will help to reduce the feeling of loss in your participants.

Reciprocity

If someone does something for you, you want to return the favor. By creating an exchange with your participants, you can use the empathy that kicks in when they receive something and feel the urge to give something back. For example, you could apply the norm of reciprocity to the timing of your surveys. By triggering a survey as soon as you have completed a task for your customer or employee, they might feel more likely to return the favor by answering your survey.

Cognitive Dissonance

We feel discomfort when our behavior does not align with our values or beliefs. By reducing cognitive dissonance with your participants, you will appeal to their values in a way that makes them more likely to respond. For example, you could frame your invitation, survey, and questions in this way. If a person believes themselves to be one who helps others, appeal to this belief and ask them to please help you out by answering the survey.

Self-Perception

Our attitude or behavior is influenced by the behaviors of others. By letting people know that they are helpful, kind, or generous when answering your survey, you will confirm their beliefs and help them to classify themselves as such based on their behavior. This will add to their perception of themselves, and when they present these aspects of themselves to others, they become more prominent and are more likely to repeat that behavior in the future. For example, consider using labels in your communication to let people know that they are helpful or kind for participating.

Leverage-Salience Theory

If we find interest in the survey topic, we are more willing to participate. By making the survey directly relevant to your participants, you can pique their interest. The purpose of your survey must be abundantly clear and well-described in your invite and survey introduction. Additionally, you can ensure relevance by sending the right surveys to the right people—and thus avoid being irrelevant.

Personalization

If things feel like they are directed toward us, we feel a greater obligation to respond. We cannot emphasize enough that tailoring the survey experience or communication based on the information you’ve learned about your participants is crucial to increasing your response rates. In some cases, customizing your survey can increase your responses by 52% or more. For instance, personalize the survey by including in invitations participants' first or last names, the name of the department they work in, or the product they bought.

Gamification

We are naturally more engaged in games, and an effective way to increase survey response rates is by using gamification features. By using a set of activities and processes to solve problems and applying classic game-like elements like points, badges, or leaderboards to your surveys, you can drive participant competitiveness. For example, you can add a progress bar to help participants keep track of their progress. Another example is offering participants a badge, like a gold star, for completing a survey.

Urgency

If we feel something is urgent, we are more likely to do it right away. Think about how you present a feeling of urgency in your communication and survey design. If participants feel like they have a lot of time to answer a survey, they are more likely to postpone or simply forget. To avoid this issue, consider presenting a feeling of urgency. For example, you can combine gamification and urgency with instructions like: “In ten seconds, choose your favorite products below,” or simply provide a short response deadline in your survey invitation.

Qualtrics Expertise: Achieve Survey Success with Effective People

To conclude, there are many ways to increase response rates across your experience management surveys. By uncovering key factors that influence survey response rates, you can optimize the survey experience to encourage participation and improve employee and customer data quality.

With our proven expertise in Qualtrics implementations and a wide range of successful engagement, pulse, and life cycle survey implementations across industries, Effective People is ready to help you master your survey management. Get access to game-changing knowledge for engaging and empowering HR leaders and managers to act on insights quickly—all aimed at improving your experience management solution.

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About the author

Emilie Bodin is a certified Qualtrics Consultant at Effective People.

Emilie is an IT professional with experience in implementation, digital transformation, process improvement, project management, employee and customer experience, and HR. Emilie blogs about people and organizations; human-centered design, business experience, customer experience, employee experience, behavioral design, design thinking, and ideation.

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Navigate low response rates with great survey management. Get in touch to learn how we can help you improve your data quality and ensure statistical validity in survey results.

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