I commented on the fact that I've heard from several companies that their survey response rates have been slowly declining over the years.
Over the past two months I've been keeping track of all the survey offers I've received. During that time, I recorded 59 survey offers: nearly one every day (I certainly missed some, too, but I made an effort to log them all). These 59 surveys comprised:
- 21 register tape survey offers, all of which required me to visit a web page to actually take the survey.
- 18 E-mail survey offers which linked to a web page with the survey itself. Two of these looked so much like spam that I almost didn't include them until I had verified they were really from the company claimed.
- 16 popup web page surveys which appeared while I was surfing the web (counting just the legitimate surveys, not the disguised advertisements)
- Only four paper surveys, all from small organizations I interact with heavily.
- 30 of the survey offers (over half) were duplicates, offers to take the same survey I had already been offered before
- 17 of the survey offers had an incentive of a drawing for cash or merchandise worth over $1,000 (excluding incentives of dubious value like "a free copy of the report")
- 17 of the survey offers had no incentive. These 17 surveys were also much more likely to be of a reasonable length and not duplicates of other survey offers.
- 29 of the surveys I estimated would take over ten minutes to complete. To put this in perspective, response rate tends to drop meaningfully if the survey takes over five minutes.
- 14 of the surveys made it difficult to tell--even while taking the survey--how long it actually would take. One survey turned out to be about three times the length promised in the original offer.
I'm not sure what all this means yet, but a few things are clear for me as a consumer: There's no way I'm going to take a customer survey every single day, especially since half the offers were duplicates. I'm also not terribly interested in spending over ten minutes taking a survey, and especially not 30-40 minutes (which is how long one survey claimed it would take). Big incentives ($5,000 drawing!) don't do much for me, since the size of the giveaway just tells me that the odds of winning are miniscule.
There are also a few things clear for me as a survey professional: Most of these surveys do not respect the person being asked to take the survey. Most surveys were much longer than they had to be, many suffered from redundant questions, a large fraction didn't make it clear how long the survey would take (or worse, grossly understated the actual length of the survey).
Most of my suggestions for improving survey response boil down to one thing: respect. Respect the consumer, respect the consumer's time, respect the consumer's intelligence, respect the consumer's privacy, and respect the fact that the consumer is doing you a favor by sharing her opinions. Most of the people responsible for these 59 surveys could do a lot better in this department.