A Day in Survey Land

  • I like to start off my day “reading the paper” and on this particular day, headed over to the website of a major news organization. Before I can even access the site a popup appears asking if I would like to take a survey.
  • After work I stop by the grocery store and there is a survey on my receipt requesting my thoughts about the cleanliness of the store and the helpfulness of its employees.
  • I get home from my long day only to find my cable is out, so I call the cable company. While I’m on hold I’m asked to press “2” if I would like to complete a five-minute survey on my experience.
  • Upon the horrific realization that I may spend the evening without TV, I need a pizza. When the deliveryman hands me the box, what is stapled right next to my receipt? You got it: A survey of how hot the pizza was when delivered.
  • I tend to not notice how many times a day it happens but I’ve definitely got “feedback fatigue.”

A Penny For Your Thoughts

At Brandtrust, we obviously understand organizations’ desires for customer feedback. It’s that whole “market research” thing we do. And we practice what we preach: At the end of our engagements, we ask our clients about their experience with us, and we’ve conducted several studies to understand the customers we serve.

While traditional surveys are not our preferred mode of information gathering, we understand that surveys do serve a purpose. We need surveys. And we need respondents to complete surveys.

And so, as an organization that strives to uncover the ‘whys’ behind human behavior, we must ask: What are the underlying psychological reasons why people volunteer their time and energy to give feedback about something they may or may not care much about. If we understand the ‘why’ that motivates someone to take a survey, we may be better equipped to design surveys or invitations to surveys that are more meaningful to the respondents. Which, of course, should elicit more valuable and honest feedback.

Money or Motivation

VisionCritical and Dynata have both noted that intrinsic motivation (something interesting or enjoyable) trumped extrinsic motivation (an external reward such as money or a prize). Apparently, money and gifts aren’t the best ways to get people to participate in surveys. In fact, adding an external reward to a survey does two detrimental things:

According to Pete Cape of SSI, you undermine the respondent’s sense that they are entering into the survey freely and cause them to see the survey as more of a chore and a bother than something intrinsically valuable, like having a voice that counts.

Secondly, the reward for completing a survey is generally very small yet people believe their ideas and opinions are valuable. When an organization offers a penny for their thoughts, so to speak, it creates cognitive dissonance as people try to reconcile the perceived value of their opinion with the actual value the company places on it. Many people decide not to participate in low-pay surveys in an effort to keep the worth of their opinions intact.

Your Answer Matters

One of the keys to high survey response rates is to get respondents to feel interested and involved in the topic. This can be as simple as explaining the value of the research before the survey starts. Explain what the company would like to know, and. without priming respondents too terribly, what problems are hoped to be solved and what will be improved by this research. This helps people feel they are a part of something larger than choosing one of the above

Providing information to survey participants about the findings after research also reinforces the notion that the participant was involved in something important and offers them a sense of connection and partnership with the company.

While external rewards can be used to motivate in certain situations, humans are much more complex than a rational behaviorist experiment of review and respond. Treat them like a valuable resource that will make a difference and they will.

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