Feedback is critical for growing a business, training employees and retaining customers. But survey response rates are at an all-time low, and this is something that none of us can afford to ignore.

If your customer surveys aren’t delivering enough results, it’s not just the low volume of feedback itself that’s an issue – your overall survey data is likely to be hugely skewed. The customers who do bother to respond are likely to be doing so due to a particularly good or (more often) bad experience. This means your customer survey findings don’t give you a true picture of how the majority of your customers are feeling. They are therefore much less useful. It’s the ‘non-response bias’ in action.

I’ve been looking at some of the reasons why response rates are so low, and what changes businesses can make to address the problem.

No one has time for a 20 question survey

We’re all increasingly short of time, so we make fast choices about what we’re prepared to devote our attention to. If you ask your customer to complete a lengthy survey that will eat into their time, they probably won’t do it. People know the value of their time, and they’re unwilling to give it up. This is one of the key reasons that only 2% of consumers will bother to complete a questionnaire[1].

Moreover, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to show that a long survey can itself prompt a decrease in customer satisfaction – meaning that the whole purpose of the feedback exercise is compromised. It’s alarming to think that a survey originally intended to help you promote customer happiness, could ultimately end up damaging your brand.

So it’s more important than ever to be appreciative of your customers’ time, and ask as little as possible. If you can be ruthless about cutting your survey down to the bare minimum, it’ll be a better experience for your customers, you’ll see an upsurge in responses and your overall survey data will be much more valuable as a result.

People are distracted more easily than ever

The average person gets distracted in eight seconds[2]. Short, sharp bursts of information are the best way to counteract this issue, and this principle should be applied when structuring your feedback survey. Get to the point quickly – focus your key message right at the start…before you lose them.

It’s also important to look at how you expect your customer to access your survey. If they must go through a series of clicks and pages to reach it, you run the risk of that eight-second attention span expiring before they even read the first question. Instead, try embedding your surveys right within screens, emails or pages that your customer is already visiting.

Use of mobile devices is soaring

By 2018, 80% of email users are expected to access their email accounts via a mobile device[3], and we’re already seeing 30-40% of all online surveys being completed in this way [4]. This trend will certainly continue, so it’s vital not to be left behind or you’ll lose even more responses.

If you issue a survey that isn’t optimised to display on mobile devices, then your audience will immediately face a decision – do they care enough about completing your survey to put up with pages which are difficult to read and fiddly to complete? For most people, the answer will be ‘no’.

Businesses must actively keep up with technological trends such as this. Ensure that your surveys are mobile optimised, and test them out yourself to make certain that they’re easy to complete.

Consumers are drawn to visual content

Online posts that include images produce 650% higher engagement than text-only posts[5]. This isn’t a surprise, given that we all expect increasingly low effort interactions, and images give us exactly that. What is surprising is that so many businesses still rely solely on text-based surveys.

By 2018, more than 84% of communication will be visual[6], so it’s really important to recognise this shift in behaviour and react to it – otherwise you will find it increasingly difficult to engage with your customers successfully.

Businesses need to shake off the temptation to simply keep going with the same old style of wordy, long-format survey. You can actively grab your customers’ attention and drive their interest by using images and emojis – it’s what people expect, and it’s what they react most readily to.

Everyone likes to feel valued

It can be difficult to keep your customer at the heart of your company, but having a well-structured customer retention strategy is vital if you want to be a successful customer-serving business. Ongoing customer feedback is the best way to ensure you don’t lose sight of what your customer really wants and needs – but if the feedback process is too long, slow or complicated, then your customer will quickly feel that you’re expecting too much of them. As a result, they won’t feel truly valued or appreciated.

Customer feedback must be sought genuinely, proactively and considerately in order to gain meaningful results – and this means moving with the times, recognising behavioural and cultural shifts, and adapting your processes accordingly.

Research sources

[1] Petchenik & Watermolen

[2]Erik Altmann, Michigan State University Research

[3]The Radicati Group

[4]ClearSeas Research


[6]Cisco Visual Networking Index