How to beat survey fatigue with shorter, smarter surveys

By Elisa Adams, CEO at Sprout Strategy. Surveys form the backbone of most market research and customer feedback programs. Survey fatigue, however, where customers and consumers become bored and annoyed at completing surveys, is a major issue that frustrates the work of both experienced and inexperienced researchers.

Many assume that it only happens when they develop surveys that are too long. This is part of the problem, but you also need to consider the amount of survey requests people receive from all the companies they deal with.

Even if you make your surveys short and to the point, the sheer number of surveys people receive these days, can lead to considerable levels of fatigue. It can limit your ability to obtain accurate and meaningful feedback from customers.

The damage it causes

Receiving and responding to surveys is part of the experience customers have with an organisation. As with any experience, it can be positive or it can be negative. A positive survey experience is one that leaves the customer feeling that their feedback and the time they take to complete it is valued by the organisation and will be acted on. A negative experience will promote a feeling that their time is being wasted and increase the level of fatigue.

Survey fatigue has a number of negative consequences for the organisation as well as the potential to waste a significant amount of marketing resources, including:

  • Low data quality leading to poor insights – Poor response rates to surveys can lead to the data and insights being inaccurate and misleading.
  • Survey bias – The analysis of the data obtained from surveys can be extremely skewed and biased. Experience tells us, it is either your angriest customers (who want to complain) or your already loyal customers who read and respond to everything you send them. So, the data set you are analysing is likely to be filled with extreme opinions while ignoring the opinion of most of your customers.
  • Negative perception of the brand – Survey fatigue and the frustration felt by customers as a result, can promote a negative perception of the brand.  Customers become annoyed and frustrated with constant requests to complete surveys. Particularly, if they see no or little action in response to feedback they have provided.

Combining survey data with other sources of data

One way of obtaining feedback data and to avoid survey fatigue, is to look at other methods of collecting customer data. To diagnose what these might be, follow the clues in the customer journey. Even at a basic level, know what your customer journeys are, identify the moments that matter and what data sources you already have.

Living in the technological age that we do, there are other means of collecting data from customers without filling out surveys. There are analytic tools that monitor a user as they interact with your website and other digital channels.

We also have a range of AI (Artificial Intelligence) systems available that will analyse what people say on various forums (social media, chatbots, etc) and data from transactional systems. Data from these other sources can be used in conjunction with survey data to build a more accurate picture of what your customers are thinking. 

Smarter shorter surveys

The key to developing a good survey is to keep it short while ensuring that you capture all of the information that you need. To keep surveys as short and simple as possible do not ask too many non-structured questions which encourage open ended answers. An example of an open ended question is:

“Please describe your ideal mobile phone………………………………….?”

One of the main disadvantages of asking open-ended questions is that it takes time for the customers to write feedback in their own words. So, you can expect a range of responses that vary greatly in length, where respondents are often unsure about how they should answer. The wide variety of responses can make it difficult to analyse and interpret the data.

The inclusion of non-structured questions maybe essential, particularly if you’re wishing to explore new ideas and concepts, but try to keep the wording of the question as short and concise as possible.

Structured questions which offer a closed set of responses make data collection and analysis much simpler and they take less time to answer.  Structured questions can be:

  • Dichotomous – where a yes or no response is required
  • Multiple choice – where there is a selection of three or more responses to choose from
  • Scaling – where people are asked to rate a product, the brand or level of satisfaction according to a scale
  • Choice model – Choice model survey questions include Conjoint Analysis and Maximum Difference Scaling. Conjoint Analysis is one of the most accepted quantitative methods in market research. Use it to determine client preferences. For example, discover which product features customers prefer or how price changes influence sales. Using choice model survey questions are very effective at attaining the most usable data yet limiting the amount and complexity of questions.

Survey design is an art and a science

A good survey design starts with having a very clear and attainable goal for your survey. It has to engage the interest and commitment of the people who are devoting their time to complete it. A good deal of science and mathematics goes into the design of a successful survey, but it also requires art and the fundamental understanding of how we function as human beings.

Survey design is an art form that has been perfected, through many years of experience, by the team at Sprout.  Surveys use written language to communicate. All written language carries nuances, unintended or otherwise, where almost all questions are imbued with bias. Great survey design ensures bias is eliminated as much as possible to produce accurate and useful insights.