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10 ways to increase IT customer survey response rates

Using internal customer feedback is a powerful way to drive IT service improvement and far more effective than using typical ITIL-based process maturity assessments. Periodic IT customer satisfaction surveys are a great way to do this but it’s vital you get enough people to respond.

If your sample size is small, you won’t be able to reliably identify themes in the feedback. And if you’re like most IT departments, you’ll find the feedback biased towards the negative – the only people who bother to respond are those that are particularly disgruntled. And any satisfaction score you derive may fluctuate for insignificant reasons and won’t highlight any real trends.

Here are ten things you can do to drive up your response rate.

  1. Avoid spamming people. No more than one survey every six months and no less than once a year seems to work well for our clients. If you have a large enough customer base, you can have the best of both worlds by surveying half your customers twice a year.
  2. Let everyone know that the survey is coming. Explain why you’re running it and how the survey will be used to benefit the organisation and those you’re asking to respond (“What’s in it for me?”). Email is fine for this, but if you have multiple communication channels available (LCD screens in the canteen, noticeboards, the Intranet etc) use them. And at the risk of stating the obvious, comms from the CEO or CIO are more likely to be successful than those from Jim the DBA. This ‘heads up’ communication is also a great opportunity to highlight the improvements you’ve made as a result of the last survey (you have made improvements as a result of the survey, haven’t you?!).
  3. If you have a relatively easy avenue for doing so (e.g. via IT Account Managers/BRMs), ask the managers within your customer base to encourage their staff to complete the survey.
  4. Make sure the survey email is short and punchy – a few sentences, perhaps a paragraph. We’re all overloaded with email these days and no-one has the time to read a page of waffle.
  5. Keep the survey itself as short as possible. A Net Promoter®* style survey (2-3 questions) is ideal. The more questions you ask your time-poor customer, the less likely they will be to actually finish the survey once they’ve started it.
  6. In the survey email, make sure you point out how quick the survey will be to complete (“Completing this survey will take you less than 2 minutes!” or “Please complete this super short survey – it only has three questions!”).
  7. Consider offering to enter respondents into a prize draw. We’ve seen even a small potential reward, such as cinema tickets, add another 5% to the response rate. One of our clients offered a laptop as a prize and saw their response rate increase from 10% to 25% (and if you have fully depreciated laptops sitting around taking up space…).
  8. Before the survey closes, send a reminder. You may need to experiment to work out the best timing for this, but if you get that timing right you can probably add another 5-10% to your response rate.
  9. After the survey, make sure you send another email thanking everyone for completing it and letting them know what you learned and what you’re going to do about it. By responding to your survey, your customers are doing you a favour so it’s only courteous to thank them and let them know what actions their ‘advice’ will lead to.
  10. And most importantly of all, do something with the survey data. Mine it for themes, identify potential causes of dissatisfaction, come up with solutions and actually implement them. The next time you run your survey, make sure you’re able to communicate what you’ve done since the last survey.

I like to call response rate the ‘Apathy KPI’ – a low response rate indicates that your customers don’t really care about your survey because they don’t believe you’ll make any improvements as a result. If you continually improve in response to customer feedback, and those improvements are tangible (the customer can tell the difference), I guarantee your response rate will look after itself.

What is your typical response rate for periodic IT customer satisfaction surveys? What successes have you had with increasing it over time?

*I’m an unashamed advocate of taking a Net Promoter®-based approach for driving improvements to IT customer. If you’d like to learn more, I’ve written an e-book that explains why Net Promoter is so powerful and how IT teams can use it to drive continual service improvement and improve IT customer satisfaction. You can download it here…

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