Valentine’s Day may be over, but there’s still one group of people who could really use some love: your survey participants!
Your research projects are thoughtful, strategic, and designed to deliver meaningful insights that inform decisions and power success… but if nobody responds to your questions, the whole thing just falls apart. The advice to “design with the end report in mind” is still absolutely critical, but if you don’t consider your audience, they’re unlikely to consider helping you out.
Remember: They don’t necessarily need you (as much as you think they do, anyway!), but you totally need them. So, show a little love already!
7 Ways to Show Your Survey Participants You Care
Before we dive in, an important note to keep in mind: Your survey participants are different from my survey participants, and the audience you’re targeting for a survey on Tuesday might be totally different than the audience for your Thursday survey. The advice here is a bit generalized to fit a wide range of audiences, but you know your group best.
1. Don’t be bossy: Enough with the mandatory!
We get it — you want people to answer your questions. Unfortunately, if you get carried away by setting too many of your questions as mandatory, your participants are more likely to drop out. This is definitely number one on the list for a reason: It’s extremely common for first-time survey administrators to (1) assume that participants won’t answer questions if they’re not required and (2) decide that the only way to get them to participate is to make every question mandatory. As you might expect, though, not everyone enjoys being bossed around. While we often like to talk about the flow of a survey as an engaging conversation, setting too many questions as mandatory creates the feeling of an interrogation.
Instead of simply enabling the Mandatory Response functionality, consider how likely participants are to answer your questions in the first place. If they’re interesting questions that relate to my experience, I’m more likely to keep answering your questions. If I have the feeling or belief that you’ll actually read my responses and maybe even use them to take action on something I care about, I’m more likely to keep answering. Plus, if you give me the option whether or not to answer questions that might be a bit personal or sensitive, I’m more likely to continue on.
2. Keep the end in sight: Are we there yet?
Okay, you’ve convinced your audience that it’s a good idea for them to participate in your survey. They’re dutifully clicking through, page by page, but soon they’re facing a sinking realization: This survey appears to go on forever. Yikes! Sure, we all want to collect lots of data, but we don’t need to do it all in one sitting.
When you build a survey that will probably take participants more than five minutes to complete, take the time to ensure that all of the questions included are actually required. Any nice-to-have questions require a closer look, and anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the overall goal of this project are subject to dismissal. If your final project does end up being a bit longer anyway, consider including Save & Continue Later so participants can take a break along the way as needed.
3. Include the right answers
You invite your participants, you’re excited to hear from them, and while they’re participating, it suddenly becomes clear that you didn’t anticipate all of their possible answers. Let’s say that you’ve sent out an employee survey and you’ve forgotten to add the Marketing department. Bad move! We all make mistakes, but it’s tough for participants to suddenly find that their department wasn’t important enough (!) for inclusion. Of course, that may just be an impression that’s not based on any kind of intended slight, but it’s hard to shake that kind of an impression.
Testing is definitely the best way to ensure you include all possible answer options in your lists of departments, locations, roles, etc. before having to worry about what you can edit in a live survey. While you’re no doubt an amazing tester yourself, share a test link with others who can take a look at it from a fresh perspective. You may find that adding an “other” option is a good way to cover all of your bases, too. Remember that it’s especially important to include sufficient answer options when the question is mandatory. If you’re forcing me to give an answer and yet none of the answers provided seem relevant, I’ll have no choice but to drop out of your survey.
4. And another thing: Stop the ramble
Again, I totally love the survey-as-conversation model, but we all know people whose conversational style is a bit more — shall we say abstract? Even in the question/answer question/answer structure, some seem born to ramble. Questions that don’t seem to flow with any sort of intentionality or interconnectedness can be slightly confusing at best and annoyingly off-putting at worst. Think of those greeting cards in which one white-haired friend shouts out “Happy Birthday!” and the other one replies “Thanks, I’d love a sandwich!” You’ll find this issue somewhere between nonsense and non sequitur.
What to do? Identify the goal of your project and ensure that all of the questions included match up with this goal. Then, ensure that these questions appear in an orderly fashion that progresses the conversation. If anything doesn’t fit, pick it up and rearrange it — or consider whether it needs to be there at all. Consider also adding titles or introductory text for specific sections to indicate clear transitions.
5. Let’s get visual
Visual appeal is a huge way to create an impression of your company (Look! It’s our brand!) and to impress your audience (Wow! That’s fancier than the old spreadsheet we used to use!), but it can also get in the way. When survey designers get carried away with fancy backgrounds, varied colors, unusual fonts, and additional images, it can be difficult to actually read what’s being asked, let alone answer the question.
Depending on your audience, you might want to drop directly to the ADA compliant style template — the most accessible Visual Settings display available. Otherwise, consider bringing in your internal brand ambassadors along with your testers to ensure the perfect balance of respecting the aesthetics of your style guide with the excitement of “Look what we can do!!”
6. Stop asking questions you can answer
My favorite example of this one is probably an emailed “Dear Melissa” type invitation that leads to a survey asking for my name and email address. Why? You clearly already have those details in your contact list. In which case, of course, you can use pre-population to pre-fill answers you already know about me. This is especially important for CX touchpoint projects that track specific interactions. Rather than asking you for every single detail about your most recent banking transaction (account number, teller, amount, location, etc.), I can fill them in from my database. Smart, and leads back to reducing the length of your survey, too.
7. Stop asking irrelevant questions
Have you ever designed a survey? If you answered yes to that question, you probably already know that it’s awkward to launch an online survey with questions that start with phrases like “If you answered yes…” While this might be useful in a paper survey, a good online survey lets you set up display and skip logic to ensure that only relevant questions are diplayed. Whether it’s Question Display Logic, Single-Question Branching, Multi-Question Branching, or the IntelliMatrix, customize the conversation to cut down on GIGO.
This list could go on and on… What’s your favorite way to keep your participants happy now — and coming back for more next time? Drop us a note!
Focused on boosting survey response rates? There’s a training for that!