How to Increase Survey Responses: Understand Motivations

The critical ingredient for a successful survey project is a group of motivated respondents. There are some people who are naturally motivated to answer a survey, eager to share their opinions. Others couldn’t care less. So, how do you inspire every survey respondent to participate?

The study of human motivation has a long history in the fields of psychology and economics.  One prominent way for businesses to look at motivation is the Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA).

Companies measure costs such as money, time, and reputation before sending a survey.  The benefits are usually measured in anticipation of increased business and improvements to the bottom line. Successful surveys do not just improve the company, they improve your customer relationships and communication practices.

Whether we realize it or not, we as individuals use CBA to make daily decisions. For survey participants, the costs are the time and effort used to complete a survey. However, the benefits for survey participants are often unclear or meaningless. You’ll always have narcissists who get a thrill at the chance to share their opinions. But, if you want to increase your response rate, then you need to share the benefits, or survey recipients won’t bother.

You may know the survey benefits for your company, but what’s in it for your respondents? What are their benefits of taking your survey?

Want to learn more? Please read my report: Maximizing Survey Participation

Survey as Dialogue

Taking a survey often feels like taking a test.  They both follow the same format — a long list of questions requiring you to select the “right” or “best” answer from among several options.  In this way, the survey and the test both reveal what the participant knows; however, they do little to expand the relationship.  I think surveys need be more interesting and stimulating so the participant feels comfortable answering honestly and providing candid feedback.

Surveys need to be a part of the dialogue between the group doing the survey (e.g., corporate leadership) and the community being surveyed (e.g., employees and customers).

What is a dialogue? Simply put, it is a two-way exchange of ideas.  Unfortunately, traditional surveys are more of a one-way street, with information flowing directly from those who are surveyed to those who are surveying.   To truly make surveys feel like they are part of a dialogue,  essential information — background, issues and concerns about the topics — must be covered, plus surveyors must always ask for input.  Such a two-way exchange engages the participant, thereby removing the survey-as-a-test scenario.

Consider a company that is updating employee policies.  A common exercise is to survey employees concerning their views about policy changes.  A typical question might include:

  • Do you support the proposed policy concerning employee vacations?

To make the survey a dialogue, however, it should include information in the form of questions that provide the background and rational for the policy change.  For the current example, respondents might be informed through these types of survey questions:

  • Did you know that last year we lost X% of our clients due to slow responses at certain times during the year?
  • Did you know that during critical periods around the holidays the company was severely understaffed, which slowed our response times?
  • Did you know that the proposed policy would increase opportunities for staff vacations at other times during the year?

Using this method, information flows from the company leaders to the employees through question content. Employees are giving feedback about the current conditions, as well as voicing their opinions about the new policy.  It is also essential that at least one open (written) response question is included, so that employees have the opportunity to express their views independently of the rest of the survey content.  This will further increase the value of the survey and help build crucial relationships with employees and customers.

How to Maximize your Survey Benefits

In my final post on participation rates, I’d like to explore the role of benefits. Benefits are any advantage a person thinks will result from completing a survey.  Examples of benefits can include anything from feel-good emotions to material rewards.  Because we don’t always know what every participant perceives as a benefit, how can we maximize survey results and appeal to everyone?

It is important to understand that benefits are usually less obvious to a person than the cost of completing a survey.  Costs occur as soon as a survey arrives in your inbox, whereas benefits are enjoyed in the future.  We must help people see that the long-term benefits are worth the short-term costs.

There are a few steps we can take to highlight a participant’s benefits:

  • Begin pre-survey communications several weeks before the survey period.  Not only do these communications provide basic information about the survey, but they also give information about the kinds of decisions that will be made — thereby highlighting the potential benefit.
  • Provide examples of past surveys that led to a specific change. These changes are tangible benefits that participants can relate to.
  • Personalize the survey invitations, along with the survey itself.  Include a participant’s first and last name when possible.
  •  Include images and videos in your survey.  Color and sounds help to make the survey come alive and feel “more real.”
  • Report the findings of the survey and explain how those findings will be used. Take every chance you can to show how the voice of your constituents is having an impact on business decisions.

This last step is particularly important because it proves that you value your respondents. Participants want to know that they didn’t waste their time, and that their voices are being heard.  If you follow all these steps, you should soon see an increase in your survey participation rate!

Thanks for reading my posts about Maximizing Survey Participation!

What’s the Real Value of Your Time?

I have already talked about how to understand survey motivation by using a cost-benefit analysis.  In this post, I will focus on the individual costs and how they affect a person’s motivation.

Some of the normal costs an individual encounters when participating in a survey include time, effort, and convenience.  If survey administrators don’t take these costs into consideration, it is immediately obvious to a participant! Our job is to decrease the costs as much as possible and increase participation rates.

Sounds pretty easy, right?

Remember, surveys should require as little time and effort to complete as possible.  Access to the survey should be easy and submitting a completed survey should require just one click.

Here are some helpful hints to minimize costs and prove that you value constituent feedback:

  • Provide direct access to the survey.  This is becoming easier with the Internet.  Emails can be sent to prospective respondents, a post can be added to Facebook, and results can be tweeted.  The difficult part is deciding the best way to connect!
  • Provide alternative access to the survey.  Not everyone has access to a computer, iPad, or smartphone.  Try working with community organizations to provide convenient access at places like churches, schools, and grocery stores.
  • Keep surveys short. Participants should be able to complete the survey within 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Use simple language. Surveys must be written in a way that avoids complex terminology or jargon. This will prevent frustration and drop-outs.
  • Protect your respondents’ private information and ensure that it will not be shared. Use your pre-survey communication to let participants know what kind of privacy settings are in place — if they know their responses are anonymous, they’re much more likely to give candid feedback.
  • Provide any necessary information about specific topics or questions before the survey period begins.

Following these steps will go a long way toward reducing personal costs; however, decreased costs are just part of the equation.  Next time, I’ll talk about the benefits of participation.


Want to learn more? Please read my report: Maximizing Survey Participation