In market research, nothing can be more difficult than estimating a response rate. At the same time, nothing can be more important. A poorly estimated response rate can throw off a number of project components from analysis, reporting, to timeline. If your response rate to your survey is only 2% instead of 20% it may require more reminder emails, a larger sample pool to send invites to, or possibly reminder phone calls. All of which will drag out your budget and timeline for your market research project.
Trying to get all of these people to respond to your survey? Here is everything you need to know about response rates.
What is a good response rate?
Well, we are not off to a good start to answering your questions here because in reality, there is no certified and approved good response rate. It varies by type of relationship (B2B vs. B2C), type of client, type of industry, length of survey, type of survey, and so on. Assessing a response rate for a survey is tricky because it can be all over the board.
The best way to assess a response rate is to base it off a prior and similar study. This would have similar questions, similar audience, etc. This is often the best predictor of potential response rate. Unfortunately if you are running the study for the first time, there is no way to assess this.
Typically response rates will range in the 2% to 30% region. Some transactional surveys or surveys sent to an audience who has no relationship with your firm can yield poor results. Then again, if you have a small list of targets where you can send multiple emails and follow-up by phone, your response rate could be upwards of 50% or more.
What type of survey often yields the best response rate? Employee surveys. This is because you will not find an audience more connected to a brand than employees of a company who spend 8 hours every day living it. People care about work and their careers and this often translates to strong response rates.
Do response rates vary by methodology?
Yes, each type of methodology incurs it's own pros and cons. Mail survey response rates are different from postcard survey response rates. Telephone survey calls placed to customers differ from telephone survey calls placed to the general public. A survey sent to a customer immediately after a purchase is made is different than a survey sent 90 days after the experience. These are all nuances in project design which impact response rate.
Keep in mind the U.S. Census where a response is required by law only receives about a 40% response rate every 10 years. A mail survey to customers usually sees a response rate between 5% and 15%. An email survey to customers may incur a response rate from 2% to 30%. Again, take this with a grain of salt, additional work can be done or if you have a really strong response rate it could be much higher than 2%. Telephone surveys often use ratios like 1:10 or 1:20 for calls. Meaning you need 20 records to obtain 1 complete after 3 attempts on each record.
Why is my response rate low?
This could be driven by a number of factors. It is likely a combination of several variables and not just one that is driving down response rates. Some factor(s) which result in poor response rates include the following:
Lack of Benefits
The value or reward for taking the survey does not outweigh the time or effort. This does not always have to be monetary. If the survey promises the results will change a frustration point with an app or a poorly designed website, the user may deem the 5 minutes of feedback is worth their time. Consciously or unconsciously, respondents are making this decision in their head when they receive an invite to a survey.
Response rates for a 1 minute survey will be much higher than response rates to a 40 minute survey. Respondents are willing to offer feedback if the experience is quick, engaging, and rewarding. This is something that even the best market research firms often forget. Firms get so caught up in tackling all of the objectives and extending the length of a survey, they forget about the perspective of the respondent.
Relationship with Audience
If the audience you are reaching out to has no relationship with your company, you are unlikely to acquire a large response rate. An example I give is an IT decision-makers survey I conducted at another firm almost 10 years ago. The client asked us to use an email list of IT decision-makers they had purchased for marketing outreach. They passed us approximately 40,000 emails of targets across the U.S. These contacts had no prior relationship with the company sponsoring the survey or our market research firm.
Any guesses on the number of responses?
Doing the math for you that is a 0.01% response rate. Not 1%. 0.01%.
How can I improve response rates?
Sometimes improving response rates is within your control and other times it is not. Here are some simple and tactical ways to gather immediate return on your surveys.
① Offer a reward: either rewards or points for a response, or a gift card raffle.
② Shorten your survey: cut out the non-core questions in your script.
③ Speed up the time between experience and survey: the fresher, the better.
④ Send a pre-awareness email: have the survey sponsor notify the audience prior.
⑤ Keep the email invitation language quick: get them to the link as soon as possible.
⑥ Explain the importance: what is being done with the feedback.
⑦ Be clear on confidentiality: is it anonymous?
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