Make It Easy. And Let Them Know You Care.

A non-profit pro bono client recently handled sending out their own survey invitations. Out of about 1,700 emails they sent, they got a whopping five survey responses. FIVE.

Fortunately, the reasons for the dismal response rate were fairly easy to correct. They didn’t follow the¬†two overarching rules for creating successful email survey invitations: 1) Make it easy for them to know what you want and respond and 2) Let them know you care.

Here are six ways to make sure you’re doing both.

  1. Use Text. Yes, those email programs with their fancy HTML designs look very pretty and professional. They’re great for newsletters and some special offers. But to many of us with overly-full email boxes they reek of spam and commercialism. If your goal is to send a personal message, use plain text or select an HTML design that looks like plain text–no boxes, bars, shading or graphics.
  2. Personalize Your Message. It’s human nature. Even if you know that email programs can automatically insert your name into a message, you pay more attention to a message with your name in it than one that doesn’t. By starting your email with a “Dear Susan” or “Dear Dr. Williams” tells the reader that you care enough to personalize the message for them.
  3. Explain Why the Survey Is Important. Many researchers assume that potential participants will know that a survey is important—otherwise, why would you send it, right? But participants usually don’t have mind reading abilities to answer the all-important question, “Why should I care?” Take the time to tell the potential participant why the survey is important. Above all, tell them why they should care. For example, “Your feedback will help us make changes to improve future visits to our facility” or “Providing your input will help decide how we invest your future membership dollars.”
  4. Provide a Clear Call to Action. If your goal is to get people to respond to the survey, don’t bury this request in numerous other messages or make it difficult to find the link. Limit the message to only include the survey invitation and save all your other news for another time. Set the link apart from the rest of the copy rather than burying it in a paragraph of text. And include the link in more than one place. A link in the postscript is often a great place to repeat your request and the link.
  5. Tell How Long the Survey Will Take. It’s only fair that if you’re going to ask someone the favor of responding that you let them know what they’re getting into. If the survey is five minutes, tell the potential participant you expect the survey to take five minutes. One note though: Don’t fudge the time or they won’t believe you next time when you ask for five minutes of their time.
  6. Offer An Incentive. It still boggles my mind that people who make $400,000 a year will be motivated to complete a survey for a chance to win a $50 iPod Shuffle or so they can get a copy of a white paper or report for free, but it works. I believe that it’s not just that they can get something for free. Offering them an incentive tells them you care enough about their time that you’ll give them something in exchange for their attention to your request.

If you want to know more, here’s another blog post on Increasing Your Response Rates.