How to overcome challenges when conducting survey research

Patrick McGill

You’re asked to provide feedback and ratings all the time. Businesses all want to know how they performed. Did you have a good experience? Were you satisfied? Would you recommend us?

All of this surveying can lead to survey fatigue. The ubiquity of being asked about all manner of topics every day has led to challenges gathering responses for companies who don’t survey very often. But there are ways to overcome these.

Quantitative or qualitative research?

Often what you want to be quantitative research turns out to be more qualitative in nature. Qualitative research, while useful at providing trends and perspective, might not be replicable or representative of all audiences.

If you talk to 10 people, you could get a completely different result by talking to the next 10 people. The answers aren’t less valid, they are just subject to a different level of interpretation or scrutiny.

Making massive, important business decisions solely based on qualitative research often is not advised — but it can be used to help frame a problem, understand an issue or illuminate other considerations as you are conducting this research.

Understanding how your research results will be used — and the level of importance to the business attached to the results — should help point to the right research methodology.

It also can help you decide when you should push for more responses or when to accept the information you have. If you’ve attempted to do something quantitative but ended up short, what can you learn from the results you do have and how does that shape your decision-making path forward?

How can you boost survey responses?

It can be helpful to deploy some of the following methods to boost survey responses.

• Offer incentives. A chance to win or everybody gets something can help with responses, depending on the level of incentive.

• Conduct your research at the appropriate time of year for your industry. Consider seasonality and its impact on response.

• Request participation from a known source. While this might eliminate the anonymity of the survey sponsor or be seen as biasing responses, sending from a known/trusted source can be better than an unknown source. It’s less likely to end up in a spam folder or be ignored if it comes from someone they know.

• Follow up. A friendly reminder or a heads-up from their primary contact can help encourage response.

• Keep the survey short and simple. Long surveys see quite a drop-off and abandonment in the middle.

How to be successful

You can look to other ways of learning about your audiences beyond conducting a survey.

• Consider their online behaviors and things you can learn from digital means and what they are doing.

• Capture feedback “in the moment” within Salesforce, or through other means via your sales team. Sales can sometimes be a resistant audience to doing work like this, but they often have the customer’s ear and can capture good intelligence. Sharing is key to learning.

• Look into existing research sources and findings, particularly regarding questions that are more generic in nature (e.g., where one looks for product information). These types of questions and answers have been widely researched by many consumer companies.

Be prepared

Overall, you need to recognize and acknowledge that survey research has become much more challenging to get a strong quantitative response done quickly. You should manage expectations on response rates and the cost of conducting surveys appropriately — those incentives can add up. And, use other research methods to get the answers you need.

As always, plan in advance. Look for the opportunity to gather the best and most important feedback needed in one attempt, versus trying to conduct multiple surveys throughout the year.

Think about yourself and your personal behavior. How many surveys do you take? How often do you provide feedback on your flight or your hotel or the clothing item you purchased? Putting yourself in your audience’s shoes can help you gain insight as to their potential responses.

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