How to Get Higher Response Rates in the Age of Survey Fatigue

Fred Reichheld invented the Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey 14 years ago to better gauge customer desires and loyalty, and the practice quickly caught on. But when Fred himself announces that he’s sick of customer feedback surveys, you know we have a problem.

There’s no question there is a tsunami of surveys that’s just overwhelming. I think of it as a little bit of a pollution effect that we have to find a way to overcome. – Fred Reichheld

Customer surveys are everywhere. After you hang up from a customer support call, you are almost guaranteed to receive a request to complete one. There are probably at least a handful in your inbox right now.

Surveys are critical to any voice of customer (VOC) program, but they require thoughtfulness, and intentionality.  Don’t just send another email with the subject line, Your feedback is important to us, with content like this:

Please take 3-4 minutes to complete a short survey about your phone call to us on Jun 15 2016 10:23AM. Your feedback will be used to make future improvements to the customer experience. To take the survey, please click on the link below.

Or even worse, a survey email we received that actually ended with this:

Unfortunate Survey language

Nothing makes a customer feel more valuable than a request to write a letter (what is this the 80s?), or a caveat that their feedback will not receive a response. There are much better ways to solicit customer feedback  — ways that avoid the “pollution effect” and get more customers engaged. Below are tips for getting a higher level of response when reaching out to your valued customers. 

The Key is to Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes

A solid place to start is to ask if your survey process is adding or detracting from your customer’s experience of your brand. You may be surveying customers in order to gather feedback that you can use to make them happier, but is your survey strategy part of the problem? To answer that, think through these five aspects:

1) Resist the dreaded “3-4 minute survey”
Unless absolutely necessary, only ask one question. The
NPS question:

How likely are you to recommend this product (or service) to a friend or colleague?

Why? NPS let’s you metricize customer loyalty, and the open-ended feedback question allows customers to get specific about what’s important to them. Instead of surprising your customers with more than they bargained for, consider NPS as a method for receiving actionable feedback in a way that is low impact on customers.

In stark contrast, the “3-4 minute survey” referenced above was actually comprised of 30(!) questions mainly in the following format: “How satisfied are you with _______________ on a scale from 1 to 10?”

 How tedious is that? And by extension, how accurate? Nobody is going to fill this out unless maybe they want to share about a negative experience or have plenty of time on their hands. That means that the “randomly selected” cohort is not going to be that random.

Excessive questions contribute heavily to survey fatigue. According to SurveyMonkey, data suggests that if a respondent begins answering a survey, there is a sharp increase in drop-off rate that occurs with each additional question up to 15 questions.

2) Reduce friction

Our inboxes are ground-zero for survey fatigue. For example, the last time you returned from vacation, how long did it take to return to inbox zero? Did you even bother to read half of the mountain of emails you faced?

The trend is for communication apps to replace email whenever possible, and NPS is no exception. Consider an in-app solution for an experience that doesn’t require the user to remember every specific detail of their encounter, and can give you real-time contextual feedback from customers.  It isn’t unusual for in-app response rates to exceed 40%. At the same time, in-app is less intrusive because customers can easily dismiss or ignore the survey if they are busy.


And for businesses who still choose to interact via email, embed survey questions for higher response rates and less friction. A great example of this (and one you have likely seen) is gathering feedback on your support. Here is a way to integrate feedback without asking the customer to open yet another email.

Feedback survey embedded in email

3) Don’t pester

How often should you survey? Well, how often is your product changing? Are you introducing a new feature set all at once? Making significant UI tweaks every week? If you aren’t changing that rapidly, then maybe asking for feedback quarterly is ok. If not much has changed, then check-in less frequently.

If you want to gain insight into your customer journey, ask for feedback from customers at each milestone along the way. Just don’t ask the same customer at every point in her journey.

If you are asking customers to fill out a survey after every transaction, know that can be a major contributor to fatigue. An example of this is when dining at a restaurant, and the waiter appears constantly to check if “everything is ok.” It won’t be long before what is intended to be great service has the outcome of you being pestered. (Not to mention that the word “ok” is off-putting, because it suggests a mediocre experience.) 

A skilled waiter, like anyone who services customers, will be invisible and will only interrupt the experience to guide it along. They may offer only one specific question at a natural time in order to rate your main experience – “How are you enjoying your salmon (or other main course)?”

No matter what service you provide, you never want to overwhelm your customers. Instead you want to be sparingly curious. If your intention is to provide a vehicle for feedback after each transaction, consider framing it as “is there something we should know?” Sending a “Please complete this survey” is akin to over-serving a table.

By simply shifting the language, people no longer feel pestered. They know that they have a conduit for feedback, framed as a subtle request in case they ever feel inspired to share. They know that representatives of your company are always standing by to listen.

4) Don’t over sample

Many app users switch between desktop and mobile, so you don’t want to double-dip with your requests. Make sure your survey mechanism can see your user’s activity across platforms and take this into account.  

Over-sampling can also happen when multiple departments are surveying customers. Product or Marketing may ask a customer for feedback on your SaaS product or service, and then the customer initiates an unrelated interaction with support, only to get asked again by Customer Support.

The net impact for the customer is, “Hey the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing at this company. I just answered a survey!”  Being clear about the purpose of each survey can help. The best way to handle this is to have one Voice of the Customer (VOC) champion that has the big picture of what customers are being asked and can coordinate NPS (and all survey) efforts, and avoid the faux pas.

5) Be sure to close the loop

If a customer takes precious time to fill out your survey, be sure to thank them.  Better yet, get back to them about the results of the survey and what you are planning to do as a result.  

That kind of transparency is refreshing and demonstrates that you take feedback seriously.   And guess what? That customer will be more likely to open and respond to a future survey.

Always Consider the Customer Experience

The basic principles of customer experience are the same whether you are offering SaaS or grass-fed steak. When it comes to gathering feedback, empathize with your customer’s survey fatigue and err on the side of less is more.  Your customers will be more likely to respond to your surveys.

Get higher response rates today. Signup for free in-app NPS with InMoment.

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