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A Three-Step Communication Strategy for Surveys

Online surveys are as much about communicating as they are about collecting information, and it is important to keep this in mind, particularly if you are looking to achieve buy-in from your respondents. With the right amount of communication before and after a survey is dispatched, you will contribute to making the entire experience as positive as possible, with the upside of obtaining a higher response rate.

The beauty of an online survey is that it provides respondents with a simple and efficient way to answer questions and submit responses. Any communication strategy around a survey should be simple and efficient.

The fundamentals of a 3-step communication strategy are: 1) notify your respondents that you are planning to send a survey to them, 2) use the survey itself as a communication vehicle, and 3) share the findings of your research with post-survey communication. 

Step 1: Pre-Survey Communication

If printed or electronic newsletters are already part of your communication process, this is a good place to start. There is no additional expense to information your customers through this type of channel. Notifying your respondent group of an upcoming survey and identifying the purpose of the survey helps to offset questions from your respondents wondering: "What is this in my inbox?"

Pre-survey communication underscores that your organization is actively listening, learning, and addressing needs head-on. If you don't have a printed or electronic monthly newsletter, common alternatives include printed postcards, electronic bulletins, and postings on your website announcing survey activity.

Here is an example of a message that demonstrates good pre-survey communication.

Dear valued customer:

ACME Corporation is now using InSite Systems to survey our customers in order to gain a better understanding of your product and service needs from our business. We plan to conduct regular customer surveys using this system and we will provide you with timely follow-up on the areas and issues we are exploring. Your feedback will allow us to stay current with customer expectations and will better inform our customer service delivery -- so that we can continue to meet your expectation (and our goal!) for an outstanding customer experience.

Our first survey will take no more than a few minutes of your time, and it includes questions on several topics: online ordering, order tracking and delivery, our loyalty program, and demographic information. Your survey invitation will be emailed to you on May 30 with this subject line: ACME Customer Service Survey.

In consideration for your time, a small token of our appreciation will be made available to all respondents: a $10.00 gift certificate for merchandise at Amazon.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

ACME Customer Services Team

Step 2: Survey Communication

When you dispatch an online survey via email, you have the ability to communicate to respondents using the email subject line, the body of the email message, and the lead-in to the survey itself.  You can also use a "landing page" if there is a need to provide more detailed instruction, present specific terms and conditions, or highlight specific privacy policies before a respondent begins the survey.

Important information should be contained in the body of the survey invitation email message so that you can keep your survey as clean and as "light" as possible. If you have sent out pre-survey communication, it is a good idea to make reference to this in the email body for continuity.

After a survey has been submitted by a respondent, you should give some thought to a "thank-you" message to inform respondents their their survey has been received, and you may want to provide other information -- e.g., a link to your web site home page. Second and third-round distributions (or survey reminders sent to non-respondents) should also have a different message in the subject line and email body. You simply want to  include something like this: "This is a friendly reminder that we would still like to hear from you..." It is a good rule of thumb to ensure that each message builds upon the previous message.

Step 3: Post Survey Communication

Now that your online survey is complete, and you have analyzed the results, it is time to put your information to work. An important and often overlooked component to conducting surveys is providing validation to your respondents: their time was appreciated and worthwhile.

Sharing results (even at a very high level) with your respondents after your survey is complete sends a clear and positive message that you are actively listening and learning -- and at the same time you are reinforcing "buy-in" for future surveys by highlighting outcomes and action items that have resulted from the process. It is a good idea to build a strong online community with your customers, members, and employees so that you can leverage and grow the community for gathering timely feedback in the future.

Following this strategy contribute to making the survey experience positive, and it ensures higher participation rates for all your online surveys.

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