Recently Filed in Respondents

Respondents have to say “Yes” again and again before they finish, while a single “No” can send them out the door. And this doesn’t even take into account outside factors, like technical problems or interruptions.

Survey Respondent Flowchart

As much as I'm a general advocate for respondents, I know it can be a challenge when they're an amorphous group and your manager or client is an immediate voice. But, there are two very pragmatic reasons for putting yourself in the respondent's shoes long enough to make sure your survey will be a good fit.

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do."

Apart from the common misquote which drops "foolish," most people are unaware of how Ralph Waldo Emerson closed that paragraph:

"To be great is to be misunderstood."

When you've exhausted intangible payoffs, it's time to reach for the payola. Sometimes you'll get lucky and you can find an incentive that's cheap for you to provide—such as a product upgrade or free month's service—and sometimes it will be a straight cash deal.

A common concern is how to deal with duplicated survey responses. In practice, this is an issue when the benefit to multiple submits outweighs the effort of making them. For most surveys, the challenge is getting people to complete once.

One of my most popular articles via Web searches is about typical response rates. What many researchers forget to look at is the abandonment or completion rate. If you extend an invitation to someone for the survey (mail, e-mail, banner ad, phone, dancing monkey, etc.) and they begin the questionnaire, do they finish it?

When you're conducting market research, one of the challenges is locating potential respondents. You have a few options for reaching beyond your customers:

  • Banner ads
  • Viral spreading of the link
  • Postal mail invitations
  • Survey panels

Note that some of these approaches don't generate a random sample, and you may need to provide an incentive for respondents.

If you pick up a classic market research text you'll come away with the impression that sampling is an integral part of every survey. It's not.

The reasons sampling has historically been such a big deal are:

  • High per-respondent cost
  • Mass market issues
  • The sampling error calculation

Like many researchers, you're probably wondering:

"What's a typical response rate for a customer survey?"
"What rate can I get if I use the Web?"
"Only 50 people answered my survey—is that normal?"

Just as spammers have made e-mail invitations a perilous exercise, pop-up ads have made Web-based survey invitations challenging. Internet Explorer and Firefox install with pop-up blocking on by default, and people aren't exactly rushing to turn it off. So when you have a Web survey linked from your site, what's the best way to draw in respondents?

As researchers, we're focused on how important our survey is. From that perspective, it's easy to lose sight of how little importance the survey has to our respondents, especially these days when they're deluged with questionnaires. To illustrate what respondents are facing, here are seven real survey experiences I had—within about two weeks:

Survey # 1

Received an e-mail survey invitation from a professional association to which I belong. I wonder how they manage to send these notices so diligently, but haven't informed me of a meeting time for 6 months. Set aside for later, and it scrolls below the fold in my inbox.

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Thanks so much for such a terrific training class. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot. Most importantly, I've got a lot more confidence now in using SurveyPro.

Thomas Hier
Biddison Hier