What is survey fatigue and how can we encourage survey responses?

Survey fatigue is real. And I can see why when I’m diving into surveys. The questions go on and on and on. Is this survey over yet? Nope! We are only at 3 percent complete, according to the little – literally – bar at the bottom. It’s not making things more accessible that the design is horrible, and the survey is hard to read.

While survey fatigue can affect our customers, it also affects us – the companies. After all, we need customer feedback – their opinions and thoughts on product updates and their general customer experience. But when consumers are weary and aren’t taking the time to give feedback, we are a long way from gathering insights.

In this article, I cover:

What is survey fatigue?

“Please fill out this survey to give us your feedback” has been a common strategy. But when that turns into a never-ending game of 20 questions, no wonder consumers get tired of it.

Survey fatigue happens when consumers are burned out taking surveys. They get email after email with requests for surveys; when they take one, it never seems to end.

Some surveys ask to provide more feedback through the written word. The idea is simple: It gives people the option to elaborate on their thoughts. But it also feels a bit like school. I’m a writer and don’t like to write those out. Text-based surveys are often cumbersome, restrictive, and tricky to fill in.

Read next: DIY market research: The how-to-guide

Cumbersome questions can lead to survey fatigue

Unfortunately, the reality is that text-based surveys can be cumbersome, restrictive, and tricky to fill in. That only adds to mounting fatigue.

Open text boxes usually deliver responses of just three or four words and are nearly always less than 50 characters. Or they are skipped entirely. As a result, questions go unanswered, participants become disengaged, and survey fatigue continues to grow. And no responses mean no insights.

How to overcome survey fatigue

There are several strategies to consider, and I discuss them in this section.

Consider the customer experience

Colin Shaw, a global customer experience thought leader, said we must remember to tie surveys and feedback requests into the overall customer experience. It’s no secret that response rates have decreased. He said that might have something to do with companies not understanding the customer.

“Responding to a survey is part of the customer experience,” he said on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “It shows the world and your customers what you think is important.”

“If that survey experience isn’t improving, you are creating more bad experiences and now in the insights portion of the job,” said Jenn Vogel, chief revenue officer at Voxpopme.

Ask different sets of consumers

John Geraci, author of “POLL-arized: Why Americans don’t trust the polls and how to fix them before it’s too late,” said that companies should consider asking different sets of consumers. Of course, survey fatigue sets in when we keep returning to the same group of consumers with all of our survey questions.

“I’ve had people come up to me after book talks and say, ‘I’m sick of how many surveys I get,'” he said. “I can’t go to the doctor, the car dealer, without getting peppered with surveys. People are sick of that.”

The more you know about the consumers, the easier it might be to send surveys to just the right audience.

Brian Monschein, vice president of research at Voxpopme, said on his “BRIght Ideas” market research podcast that asking the right screener questions can also be helpful here.

“Get those specific screener questions done first so you can get those qualified responses and let others go early in the survey before they get so invested in it,” he said.

Read next: Finding research participants without driving yourself crazy

Offer incentives

Brian mentioned that offering incentives could get more people to provide feedback.

“But it has to be tangible like a $5 gift card … and not to be entered into a sweepstake,” Brian said.

Ensure your survey works on all devices

Even though some researchers talk about mobile-specific or mobile qualitative surveys, Brian advises that surveys must work on all devices so respondents can quickly finish their answers for you.

Scrolling sideways or not being able to do a survey at all shouldn’t be an issue still.

Try different survey formats

Trying new or different survey formats might also help overcome survey fatigue. Think of the smiley and frowny faces at airport checkpoints. It’s a super fast way to give instant feedback and fun – especially the first time you see them and when traveling with kids.

Video surveys can also help with survey fatigue. For example, it’s way easier and much quicker to record an answer to an open-ended question than it is to write it out. In addition, video market research gives participants a new and easy way to share information. A typical self-recorded video response is six to eight times longer than a text-based response.

Asynchronous video surveys are a quick and easy way for people to express themselves and for you to get a fundamental understanding of what drives them. It goes beyond the confines of scores and rating scales by revealing the reasons behind the numbers.

Make your customers feel important

As Colin mentioned, it’s about the experience. And perhaps, consumers aren’t participating because they don’t feel like their feedback is valued. Make sure the experience feels like the company cares.

For example, video surveys make customers feel like their opinions are essential and that they are being listened to. That they are more than just data.

Make it easy for consumers to express themselves

I was once asked in a survey why I had canceled the service. There were four common answers and the fifth option was “other.” I clicked “other” and was hoping to explain what the reason was. But, nope, that was the end of the survey. How do they identify new reasons for customer churn if customers can’t share their reasons?

Finding a way to grab consumer emotions like through body language and expressions can also make the research more comprehensive.

Colin mentioned the importance of emotions. Loyalty is often tied to emotions, he said. But, how often do brands look at emotion or ask about emotion?

“And which emotions drive the most value for you?” he said. “And are you measuring those emotions?”

Make it quick

Those TSA buttons work because it’s quick to push them. Walking by and even while pulling my carry-on, I’m on my way in no time and gave my immediate feedback.

The same holds true for surveys elsewhere. From a technical perspective: They should work on all devices. And from a content perspective, questions shouldn’t go on and on and on.

Be on the consumer’s time

We are all busy, and many of us have different schedules. That’s why getting asynchronous feedback can make the entire process easy for the brand and the consumers. Researchers send questions on their time. Consumers answer on their time.

Understand audience preference

Younger audiences are keen to express their opinions across various media and make a quick video reviewing a product or recounting an experience. Some audiences prefer a text, like we discussed in this Gen Z podcast; others might prefer an email. Whatever the preference, keep that in mind and reach out that way.

Consider: Do we even need a survey?

Colin mentioned that not all customer insights need to come from surveys. We can look at the data on customer behavior that we already have. Consider the best way to get the insights you are looking for. Do we already have the data somewhere? Or is there another way to get it?

"There's never just one answer. You need to be doing a series of things. Look at what customers are doing, do some qualitative research, and look at various ways."

Customers talk to businesses all the time already. How can that be brought into the workflow? That can include positive and negative feedback.

“For me, the customer complaint is free market research,” Colin said. “Customers are giving you feedback on your product. But is that roped into the mix?”

Certainly, survey fatigue is happening, and there are varying reasons for it. But there are also ways for us to overcome survey fatigue by catering to customer preferences, using the best possible ways to reach them, and making it a win-win for everyone involved.

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What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?