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Almost all marketers want to increase response rates to their email-based customer experience measurement programs, and the first step they take is usually to shorten the survey. However, that is often an ineffective method.

That's because 90-95% of respondents who begin a reasonably sized CX survey will complete it, I've found. Also, most people who abandon a survey usually do so on the first page. Therefore, survey length is not what's driving most of the abandonments.

A much more fruitful place to work on increasing response rates is the survey invitation process—because most nonresponses are the result of people never entering the survey at all.

Crafting email survey invitations is both an art and a science. To increase response rates, you need to make invitations as compelling as possible to the customer; there are both nontechnical (art) and technical (science) facets to doing so.

The following are suggestions for how to apply nontechnical and technical solutions to accomplish the invitation-related steps that lead to higher response rates.

Getting the Customer to Notice and Open the Email Survey Invitation

After a customer receives an email invitation, you need that customer to notice and open it. Unfortunately, that can be difficult for many reasons: The email invitation can be buried among other emails, respondents can perceive the invitations as spam and therefore delete them before opening them (which is one trigger spam filters take into account, thus jeopardizing the entire program), or customers can just ignore them.

Getting the potential respondent to notice and open an email invitation is the step where most nonresponse occurs.

Getting the Customer to Open the Survey

The most important step is to get the customer to open the survey from within the survey invitation. That means making the survey invitation as compelling and as simple as possible. Here are several suggestions for how to do so.

Configure pre-header information

The first thing you can do to increase the likelihood that customers will notice and open your survey invitation is to configure the preheader information.

Many email clients display text after the subject line even before the email is opened. That is the preheader. By default, the beginning of the email text is shown there, and that can sometimes lead to very ugly displays. Fortunately, the preheader can be configured by adding preview text to the appropriate section of the email HTML code. That will make your subject line more appealing and thus your invitations more likely to be opened.

Keep the invitation text to one screen on a smartphone

Many email survey responses now come from smartphone users; therefore, it is important

that the email invitation display well on smartphones.

If at all possible, limit your invitation graphic and text to one screen. If you can't do that, at least ensure the link to the survey is accessible without scrolling.

Don't use a graphic as a link to start the survey

Many programs use an attractive graphic with an embedded link to have respondents enter the survey. Although that can be appealing, some email clients and some customers by default do not load graphics. In those cases, the customer will not be able to enter the survey.

The best solution to such a situation is to construct attractive survey start buttons using HTML. A less preferred solution is to use a text-based link to the survey, or at least have a text-based link as an alternative to the graphic start button.

Embed the first question in the invitation text

Allowing the customer to respond to the first question of the survey from within the text of the email has been shown to increase survey open rates and completion rates. That should be done by formatting the question using HTML rather than using a graphic (for the reasons previously discussed). However, questions with 10- or 11-point response scales can be difficult to format to display well on a smartphone.

Briefly explain how responses are used to improve products or services

Customers want to know why they should take the time to respond. Briefly explaining how results are used to make improvements will help them to know that their feedback is valuable. The more specific you can get about what improvements are made, the better.

Also, some invitations include a link to a short (1-3 minute) video of the company CEO or president thanking the customer, explaining how feedback is used, and asking the customer to respond. That helps response rates because customers know that the head of the company is interested in using the survey information.

Don't Forget About Data Quality

It's easy to forget about data quality when trying to improve response rates. When developing survey invitations, make sure they don't appeal more to some customer groups than to others. That could introduce bias into your data because the relative size of customer groups will be misrepresented.

Also, think about how your invitation might affect how positively or negatively customers respond in their ratings. For instance, personalizing the invitation to say something like "Rate your salesperson Jenny Smith" might drive up response rates, but because of social pressure it might also cause respondents to rate Jenny higher than they would have otherwise.

Analyzing and comparing the data you receive from various survey invitations should help you determine whether the invitations are biased as a consequence of who is responding and how they are responding.

* * *

The aspects of email survey invitation design discussed in this article should help you achieve higher survey open rates and therefore higher response rates.

Although there are no silver bullets for increasing response rates for your survey program, some analyses of your invitations should reveal ideas that will give you the most bang for your buck.

More Resources on Survey Invitations and Response Rates

Four Mistakes That Marketers Make When They Conduct Surveys

Four Email Optimizations That Will Increase Your Clickthrough Rates

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The Art and Science of Email Survey Invitations

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image of David Ensing

David Ensing is the vice-president of solutions strategy at InMoment, an employee and customer experience solutions company.

LinkedIn: David Ensing