“How can I get a greater response rate from my customer survey?” is a common question asked by customer experience and marketing professionals.

But while there are a number of tactical ways you can increase response rates to Net Promoter or customer satisfaction surveys, in some ways, it’s the wrong question to ask.

For a moment, step into the customer’s shoes. Almost every survey response will elicit no response from a company. Very occasionally, a “Thank you”. Rarer still, a follow up, with “Here’s what we learned…”. Most elusive, a clear indication that actions were taken on feedback. With that level of interest, it’s amazing that any customers at all bother.

So instead of asking how you can get a greater survey response, consider reframing the question as: “How can I make my customers feel invested in giving feedback?”

By recasting the question, you are already starting to think of customers less of a passive entity that needs to be pushed into doing something they don’t want to do, and more as partners or collaborators.

Here are three strategic ways to build a long term collaborative relationship with customers through the feedback collection and action process.

Build gratitude into your feedback collection process

Don't forget to thank customers for feedback!
Don’t forget to thank customers for feedback!

Retention marketing is all about building on relationships with existing customers, and the survey is a golden opportunity to demonstrate how much you value the customer’s role as a collaborator and stakeholder in your organization.

Without saying thank you or giving some other signal of your gratitude, you are sending a non-verbal communication that you don’t truly value your customer feedback. And if you don’t value your customer feedback, why would your customer bother to respond to a survey?This is a simple enough equation. But it’s astonishing how few organizations make the effort for this simple courtesy.

So before you send your survey, make sure it is part of a communications plan that includes (at least) a somewhat personalized “Thank You” email. Better still, if you are in a B2B or small B2C organization, you may even get on the phone and thank each respondent for taking the time to let you know how you are doing.

Embed feedback at every level of the organization

If an organization is to be truly customer-focused, feedback, or the voice of customer, is the key internal agent of change. Keeping feedback in the hands of management is not enough.

Customer-focused businesses share feedback across all levels of the organizational hierarchy in a number of creative ways, including digital screens in office spaces, on intranets, with printed posters, and by (confidentially) sharing individual feedback with employees.

Having the customer voice omnipresent in the organization sparks internal innovation, boosts morale, and drives internal excitement. And above all that, it is a constant reminder of Sam Walton’s (founder of Walmart) famous observation that there is only one boss – the customer. And she can fire everyone in the organization tomorrow.

Educate staff on how feedback is inspiring change

Picture this: A customer is on the phone to a rep and makes a comment about a difficulty he is experiencing with the product. Without missing a beat, the rep explains how the organization is already moving to improve the customer experience with that particular issue. Sounds good, right?

Everyone in your organization is a storyteller. Giving your frontline staff, account managers, sales teams, and senior management a cohesive picture of how feedback is shaping internal processes and benefits for the customer empowers them to share the story across potentially thousands of small interactions on a day-to-day basis.

The result: Customers will respond, because they are already invested

By taking a long term approach to making your customers feel invested in feedback, ultimately you won’t have to answer the question of how you can entice higher response rates, because you will already have them.

Customers will know that when they spend their own time on a survey, your organization will read their response. They will know that if they raise an issue, they will receive follow up within 1-2 days maximum. And they know that when they talk to a staff member, he or she will be fully informed on all aspects of the business.

Companies that are fanatical about improving the customer experience through feedback – giants such as Zappos or Amazon, and less well-known businesses such as Zane’s Cycles – have already built organizations with raving fans who know that when they give feedback it will be listened to or acted on. Is your business committed enough to join them?