Eight Ways to Boost Online Survey Response Rates

So you've decided that the key to your Web business' success is to keep your site visitors satisfied. Not a bad idea considering that attracting new customers costs around five times as much as retaining the ones you already have.

Today, customer service is a top priority for everyone in your company. Customer focus has, among other innovations, even led to the deployment of online surveys designed to take the guesswork out of staying in touch with customer wants and needs. The good news is — you're on the right track. The bad news is — you're not finished yet.

Just like any direct marketing campaign, response rates are a key performance variable in online survey efforts. Why worry about survey response rates you ask? These responders aren't buying anything from your company, they're just giving you feedback. Don't fall prey to thinking that if you leave the survey out there long enough, sooner of later you'll get enough response.

Three reasons survey response rates are critical to your data collection efforts are less intrusion, speed and accuracy. Higher survey response rates provide the following important benefits:

* Less intrusion. Surveying response strategy runs opposite to marketing response strategy. The fewer total customer contacts, the better. Most people don't relish the wonderful opportunity to provide feedback to a survey. Try to expose the smallest number of site visitors to your interview process as you can statistically feel comfortable with.

* Speed. Higher response rates mean more data in less time. Fast and fresh customer data is a powerful and sustainable competitive advantage.

* Accuracy. Nonrespondents tend to differ from respondents in many demographic and behavioral ways. Data collected from less-than-perfect samples are likely to contain some level of bias. This is what research buffs call nonresponse error. While a perfect sample is unrealistic, being close means better data.

Everything within cost equity of the data's value must be done to achieve the highest response rates possible. The following list of Internet surveying tactics is guaranteed to help lift your survey response rates.

* Focus on site visitors that have a naturally high interest in communicating with you. This can be accomplished by intercepting visitors after they've made some minimum commitment to do business with your company — requested information, made a purchase or made multiple visits. These are the customers or prospects that are interested in telling you how to improve their future experiences.

* Motivate your visitors to communicate with you. It's been proven in both the offline world and the online world that people don't like to give unless they receive. If your research is well thought out, the value of this information should greatly outweigh the cost of collecting it. That cost includes any premiums that you offered.

* Be sensitive to your visitor's needs. Anticipate and address obvious issues like time constraints and privacy concerns before you even begin creating the survey. Tactful deployment is a whole other story. Never disrupt the purchase sequence of the purchase and consumption cycle.

* Humanize your interactions. Most people would choose to communicate with other people before they'd volunteer to interact with computers or faceless companies. Show site visitors the actual people behind your data collection efforts. Try using photos or a short personal message with signature in the survey invitation.

* Inform your visitors what they're getting into before they even begin the survey. Creating realistic expectations will prevent a tremendous amount of respondent frustration. Make sure you describe the purpose of the research (a general reason is better than no reason), the time required to complete the survey and any incentives that are being offered.

* Brand your interview tools. Hopefully your customers like dealing with your company. Don't let them feel like they're interacting with anyone but your company even if you're using an outside vendor to conduct the research. A few company graphics plus fonts that match your site's font will go a long way.

* Be proactive. Your visitors should never have to work to provide feedback that's going to make your Web business successful. Bring your data collection efforts right to the individuals of interest. Pop-up survey invitations or e-mail invitations to customers who've opted in for e-mail communications make it easy to interact.

* Build an ongoing dialogue with your customers. The best way to improve survey response rates is to make communication between your business and your customers, a common and mutually rewarding activity. Once customers have seen that you genuinely care about their wants and needs, they'll gladly participate in your research projects.

Any combination of these tactics can lead to double and even triple digit increases in your online survey response.

Jody Dodson is director of research at cPulse LLC, New York. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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