8 Tips for Rocketing Customer Satisfaction Survey Response Rates

Guy Letts

We often hear from customers who’ve been surprised by the high response rates from our online customer satisfaction surveys, and it always makes our day.

Last week someone told me they got a 50% response rate after an event, and they converted one reply into a big, juicy sale.

It’s no accident.

You already know that we take a hard line on making surveys ‘customer-friendly’ with the obvious steps like keeping surveys short and simple.

But through our experience of supporting companies in so many different industries, and our system that processes hundreds of thousands of customer responses, we know there are many more things you can do to increase response rates.

And there are some response rate killers to avoid.

How to Fix the Top 5 Response Rate Killers

These are the most important. By a mile. If the top 5 aren’t right, don’t bother reading the others – sort them out then come back later.

1. Is it Timely?

Whether you sell products, services, training, support, events or whatever – check for satisfaction right away. The goal is to make it easy for a customer to tell you whether or not they’re completely satisfied – so that you have the chance to fix any problems and make sure all of them are completely satisfied.

So you have to check for satisfaction at a time that’s right for them – not for you.

Leave it more than 24 hours and response rates plummet.

Many companies send out ‘relational’ surveys, which are not tied to any event. They’re often a general ‘state of the nation’ satisfaction measurement sent out once a year.

They have three big drawbacks:

  • they’re too long (always);
  • the feedback goes to the wrong person – usually a researcher rather than an operational team;
  • all the feedback comes at once, so you can’t possibly give a prompt response to the problems that your customers report. (And by prompt, I mean within an hour of them responding).

There can be a place for relationship surveys, but in my experience it’s the exception rather than the rule. If you get transactional surveys right, you often don’t need them.

We see our customers getting the best results when they send a short satisfaction check, straight after delivering a product or service, and making it extremely easy for a customer to report a problem, or simply to confirm all was well.

And actually, if they don’t want to respond – that’s fine too. At least you’ve shown that you care and made it easy for them.

If you make it a normal part of ‘business as usual’ customers know the channel is there when they need it and they can feed through praise, problems and insights in a low-key and convenient way. It will often be things that they wouldn’t say to your face but would like you to know. And it means you’ll avoid any nasty surprises like losing a customer without warning. Sometimes, like for our events company, there will be sales leads in there too.

2. Is it Quick?

The ideal length of a satisfaction survey is 2-5 questions, governed (only) by what things are important to your customers.

Keep it short & sweet and respect the fact that your customers are busy.

Unlike this howler I encountered that says ‘4% complete’ on the first page, your customer satisfaction survey should be on one page, with all the questions visible.

Promise that it will take seconds not minutes (and keep that promise).

In our software we exercise ‘tough love’ and we only let you have petite surveys.

Jon Whiten from the wonderful beaconlamps.com (one of our very first customers in 2011) told me that he doubled his response rates by changing the text within his covering email from “2 minutes to complete” to “30 seconds to complete.” The feedback form was actually the same length (it had always been one of our lightning-fast 30-second forms), but it illustrates the point that people are busy and they find long surveys tedious.

3. Will Anything Happen?

No matter what you say in the covering email about how ‘committed you are to listening to your customers’ and how my feedback ‘will make a difference’ I will only give you the benefit of the doubt once and I will not invest time in responding again. Why would I?

Actions speak louder than words.

So here’s the key. If you make sure someone reads feedback immediately, and responds to it when necessary, your customers will find it remarkable.

Because nearly everybody else fails to do that.

And as we’re all doing this whole process to make sure our businesses prosper, there are two reasons why this follow-up strategy is vital:

  • if you just treat a customer satisfaction survey as an opportunity to measure satisfaction then you are missing an opportunity to improve satisfaction; you may also be missing a cry for help, the chance to save a customer at risk, or even missing a sales lead;
  • unless customers have a high level of confidence that something will happen, there is no incentive for them to invest time in responding. That confidence has to be earned.

So when you send a customer satisfaction survey (especially if you send many at one time) you will need to have people available to respond within a timescale that will impress customers.

Ideally, within an hour.

If resource is limited, then send surveys out in stages. But whatever you do, do not ask for feedback  then leave your customer feeling that they have been ignored. Because if you do that it’s not only your response rates that will suffer.

4. What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)?

Give a benefit. Use a newsletter to explain why you check for satisfaction, how easy it is for customers to have their say and how seriously you’ll take it when they do.

The most important point to remember is that satisfaction surveys shouldn’t be treated as academic research.

This is your chance to show that you care, to make it easy for a customer to report any problems (or shower you with praise), and for you to find and respond to any issues in real time.

The benefit of making it so easy for any problems to be resolved is worth far more to a customer than offering prizes or gimmicks.

And it’s worth more to you too:

  • no customers will be lost unexpectedly;
  • you’ll be able to find out and deal with anything that’s hindering a repeat purchase or a personal recommendation.

5. Follow Email Marketing Best Practice

To get a high response rate, you first need a high delivery rate and a high open rate.If the email goes into a spam filter, or if it’s not opened, then everything else is irrelevant.

Zero opens =  Zero responses.

Volumes have been written on this under the banner of email marketing, so I won’t repeat it here, save in summary:

  • Send it from a person who the receiver will take notice of – a request from a ‘team’ or a ‘company’ is not nearly as engaging as a request from a person you trust;
  • Make the subject line short and appealing (remember WIIFM);
  • Make sure it’s sent from a trustworthy IP address;
  • Include a simple, clear call to action (CTA).

As with email marketing there’s no silver bullet. So you’ll need to experiment with these to get the best results for your business.

Three More Ways to Fine-Tune the Feedback Process

Once you’ve dealt with the main factors that influence response rates, there’s still more you can do to fine-tune your messaging and improve the quality and quantity of feedback you receive.

6. Take It On the Chin.

In a covering email make it clear that you welcome the unvarnished truth.

Nobody likes giving criticism, especially if they have a good relationship with you, so give them permission to unload.

You’ll never be taken by surprise by a lost customer.

And you’ll get more click-throughs and more actionable feedback.

7. Only Ask Relevant Questions in Customer Satisfaction Surveys

There are lots of things we would all like to know from our customers.

How did they hear about us? What made them choose us? What would make them buy more?

But answering these questions delivers no value to our customers and whilst they might be fine in another context, they have no place in a satisfaction survey.

For example, a bricks & mortar retailer might ask:

  • Were you served quickly enough?
  • How friendly and knowledgeable were our staff?
  • Did we have what you needed in stock?
  • What could we do to make things better for you?

That’s really all we need a retailer to be good at, so that’s all you should ask about.

If you are a service business, you might ask:

  • How would you rate the quality of our work and advice?
  • How well do we do on customer service and keeping you informed?
  • Please give a short comment to describe anything we do that you like and anything we could do better.

If a customer thinks you are trying to excel at the things that are important to them they are more likely to want to help you.

I learnt a great lesson from another one of our lovely customers, a dental practice. They vary the questions from time to time to focus on different aspects of a customer’s experience. First they focused on the clinical and treatment side. Then, when their scores became consistently high, they moved to the booking and waiting room experience, and so on around the practice. After that it’s time to shine the spotlight back on treatment to make sure standards are still high.

8. Stick to the point.

If you’re checking for satisfaction or asking for feedback, don’t bury the request in an email with a load of other things. Follow the tips above then include one simple, clear call to action.

So your covering email might look like this:

“Dear [client]

We’re keen to make sure we do a great job for you and we’d like you to answer two very quick questions to keep us on track.

We’ve been careful to make sure it can be done in less than 30 seconds so we’d be really grateful if you could click on the link below to send us your reply. And please be honest – whether it’s good news or something we can do better, we’d like to know!”

What Response Rates Should I Expect?

Our software processes the satisfaction data for many companies and 15% is a respectable response rate for a customer-friendly satisfaction survey process.

Some people are happy with 5%, some achieve 60%.

But remember that a high response rate is not a useful business goal.

Instead focus on the more valuable goal – satisfied customers who are happy to stay, and who have no obstacles to recommending.

Once this is understood clearly, the most important factor is not the response rate, but the fact that you are:

  • showing you genuinely care;
  • making it very easy for a customer to tell you what’s on their mind (things which they might not say to your face, or things which you wouldn’t find out unless you asked).

Not every one of your customers is at risk or has a problem all the time – far from it, I’m sure. So often they won’t feel the need to give you feedback or they’ll just be too busy.

But if you systematically (and sensitively) check for satisfaction then you will catch it immediately when there is a problem.

The rest of the time you may get great reviews which help you communicate to prospects what a good job you’re doing, and positive feedback is always a great morale booster for your team.

So providing you’ve implemented the recommendations and made it easy for them to tell you how they feel, your work is done. If a customer prefers not to respond it is firstly their prerogative, and secondly an indication that there are no pressing issues.

My advice – once you’ve checked off the list of recommendations, don’t sweat too much about the actual response level.

In Conclusion – Remember the Business Goal

This is all much easier to do when you remember the goals of satisfaction surveys.

It’s not about a fluffy measure of satisfaction. This is your chance to make sure customers are 100% happy, 100% secure and 100% confident to gush about you to their friends.

And finally… (You knew this was coming, right?) Make sure you act immediately on any replies that require a response. If someone invests their time in your survey, make sure they never, ever feel ignored. Otherwise they might not reply when there’s something seriously wrong…they’ll just vote with their feet.

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