David DThe absolute best way to improve survey response rates is to make it valuable for the potential respondents to participate. This is often easier said than done. I’ve fielded hundreds of surveys in my career and there are basically two kinds of value that I have found will encourage higher response rates: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic value is received by the participant in exchange for completing the survey or is the related to some other value. It is value that is separate from the survey itself. One of the most common examples is a survey respondent being entered into a drawing for a prize or gift. Others will provide some form of consideration to every participant.

If the perceived value of the reward is high enough, then response rates will increase.

The challenge with extrinsic value is that it is very hard to sustain over time. What was valuable yesterday isn’t so much today, and you may end up having to increase the offers over time to keep rates high. There is also a valid concern about the quality of the responses when people are motivated to participate for a gift rather than providing good feedback or input.

This leads us to the more challenging but immensely more powerful intrinsic value. An intrinsically valuable survey is one in which participating in the survey is inherently valuable to the respondent.

I used to run corporate policy benchmarking surveys for Fortune 1000 companies. We had very high response rates because the resulting aggregate data and analysis were so valuable to the industry that it would encourage participation. The data made their jobs easier and they had a vested interest in making sure their companies were represented.

When doing customer satisfaction surveys, you’ll actually get a better response rate when people have made a significant investment in the product or service. If they have a lot of time or money in it there is more value for them to provide feedback in this way and to benefit from the improvements.

Many organizations need to gather feedback for programs, products, services or events in which the respondent has a smaller investment. How can you increase response rates without adding in extrinsic value? Fred Reichheld, author of The Ultimate Question, recommends asking only this in satisfaction surveys: would you recommend this to a colleague? Asking a single question, and stating that the survey literally requires just a few seconds, can help increase your response rate because the investment of time for the respondent is so small.

Another way to offer value is to provide respondents with the results upon completing the survey. This may not be advisable for a satisfaction survey, but it can be magic for a “state of the industry”, salary, and other survey types that give respondents information they may not readily have access to.

I guarantee that if you have surveys that receive a very low response rate then you do not have enough value of either type baked into it for the respondents.

Always ask: why would they want to complete this? If you can’t answer that question your respondents won’t be able to either.

By C. David Gammel, CAE, president of High Context Consulting and author of the book, “Online and On Mission: Practical Web Strategy for Breakthrough Results.” You may contact David at david@highcontext.com.