9 Tips to Get Better Survey Response Rates

Being “the customer survey guys” means we get a lot of questions around survey response rates and ways to increase participation. Often, I also get asked “what is an average participation rate” for a customer feedback survey. So, I wanted share some of my tips on the best practices to get better survey response rates as a follow-up to Ross’s article.

What are the Industry Averages?

Survey response rates differ per industry and depending on what’s involved in the survey itself. For instance, IT companies have a survey attached at the end of  support ticket emails and get response rate of around 10%.

Here’s a breakdown from Client Heartbeat of average response rates across a couple of industries:

 IT Services  Accounting  Education  Recruitment  Property Management
 Open email rate  77.6%  77.0%  86.0%  72.2%  88.1%
 Open survey rate  70.3%  59.8%  69.4%  41.3%  78.3%
 Participation  63.2%  59.0%  64.7%  35.4%  68.3%
  • Open email rate – is the open rate of the email itself.
  • Open survey rate – once clicking on the email, how many people opened the survey
  • Participation – once opened the survey, how many people submitted it


Bear in mind, the average response rates above may be higher than what you would typically expect because the survey process has been optimised and best practices enforced as part of our tool.

In truth, there are so many factors that influence your response rate that it’s often very difficult to come up with an average. However, based off the data we have collected at Client Heartbeat we’ve come up with a list of tips which will help you improve your survey response rates.


Tip #1 – Integrate into your new client process

This simply won’t be possible in certain businesses but particularly in a service based business, you can build the customer feedback process into your new client process. As an example, as part of the group of companies I own we have a Managed IT Service Provider R & G Technologies that provides IT services to businesses. When we bring on a new client, during the on-boarding we explain to them that they will be getting a short customer survey each quarter and we consider it compulsory (yes we dare use that word) that they complete it.

This has two benefits:

  • At the early outset of our relationship – we make it clear that we are focused on customer service and reinforce this in a positive way in the new client’s mind (you cannot make a second first impression!)
  • We guarantee that we’ll get high participation as part of our surveys


Again, this is not something that every business can do however it has proven to increase our survey response rate from 50-60% to 87%.


Tip #2 – Do a manual follow-up over the phone

If you want a no nonsense way to increase survey response rates then this is it. Let your survey system do the work initially, and then produce a list of the people that have not completed the survey. Have one of your administrative staff then follow up each customer for their feedback, re-sending the survey where required.

It will take them a couple of hours but will dramatically improve your survey response rate guaranteed. Bear in mind, whilst you will have to do this the first time (and maybe the second time), it is a fact that moving forward, this act will increase your survey response rate for future customer feedback surveys – as the customer will understand that you are taking this process seriously.

People that do manual follow-ups for the first two rounds of Client Heartbeat Surveys have on average a 15% improvement in client participation for all future surveys.


Tip #3 – Send a personal email (non automated)

Perhaps it’s not practical to call your clients on the phone or you simply don’t want to. Well, the next easiest option is to send a personal email follow-up to the people that haven’t responded.

You have to remember, that most of the time people are very time poor and are also wary of surveys. By simply reaching out to them in a personal way it will increase your survey response rate significantly. It does seem a bit silly given that they received a “personal” email from you when you sent the survey itself out however in fact most people know it wasn’t a personal email.

  • It had an unsubscribe link on it
  • It was probably a very pretty, generic email which did a find/replace of their name
  • It may have looked like it came from you but in fact it came from a foreign email address
  • What’s worse, it may have come from [email protected] */]]> or “Tim’s Computers Customer Service Department”


For this reason, there will be a barrier to a higher response simply because people can tell it wasn’t really a personal email. However, if they do receive an email they deem to be personal they will more likely take action and respond often apologising saying “Sorry, I’ll get onto this now”.


Tip #4 – Offer an incentive

Offering an incentive is a great way to increase survey response rates and participation. A study was completed by Kurt Snapton, Executive Vice President of e-Rewards Market Research which indicated that a $2 cash reward for filling in the survey worked better than a $2,500 sweepstake/draw. However an incentive is a great way to increase survey participation (It doesn’t need to even be that expensive, a couple of bottles of wine will be fine).


Tip #5 – Shorten Survey Length

Survey length is the biggest killer in Customer Feedback surveys. The regular authorities on customer feedback surveys talk in “minutes”. However we are firm believers that the reason why Client Heartbeat gets on average a 60% participation rate with no manual follow-up is because the survey is extremely short (a total of 6 questions).

In truth, asking any more than this is a waste of time! Gallup Organisation, one of the world’s leading management firms surveyed 1,000,000 small businesses and found that client advocacy and customer satisfaction can be broken down into 4 key metrics:

  • Availability – getting stuff when you want it
  • Accuracy – getting what you asked for
  • Partnership – collaboration
  • Advice – ongoing learning


Ask yourself, why do you need to ask more questions that this? Shortening your survey and framing them around these questions will significantly improve your survey response rate.


Tip #6 – Limit text input

By limiting the amount of text required on your survey (ie: text boxes) you greatly improve participation. Nothing is going to scare off your clients as fast as opening up a survey and seeing 2 pages of textboxes.

People are even condensing their surveys into one question (The “Net Promoter” question). This is based around the one most important questions to ask a customer “How would you feel about recommending us”. This was developed by Bain and Satmetrix and is widely employed by organisations of all sizes.


Tip #7 – Send reminders

I’ve said it before but people are generally time poor. You need an automated way of sending reminders out to the people that haven’t responded to your survey. Here’s an example participation table demonstrating the impact of reminders:


 Action  Survey Response Rate
 First Survey Email Sent  30%
 First Email Reminder (7 days)  50%
 Second Email Reminder (14 days)  60%


So effectively, you can double your participation rate by simply sending out 2 reminders. If you’re using a Survey Tool, make sure it has the ability to send follow-up reminders.


Tip #8 – Watch for Spam Filters

One of the biggest killers of participation rates in today’s modern world is spam filters. On many occasions, spam filters will end up ensuring that the surveys themselves never get to the desired participants. Here are some tips to avoid spam filters:

  1. Try to tailor your language – remember that spam filters are looking for works like “offer”, “free prize” etc. so make sure when writing emails that you taper this kind of language out.
  2. Use reputable mail servers to send your newsletter. A lot of spam filters work off the reputation of the person who is sending it so the more credible your service the better. You may need to speak to your IT department to address this one, or alternatively make sure you use reputable services like Survey Monkey or Client Heartbeat.


Tip #9 – The survey email matters

Make sure the survey comes out from an email address and contact address that they know. As I’ve said before, nothing kills survey response rates faster than having the email come from “Company A Customer Service Team”. Make sure it comes from an individual that they have had dealings with and make sure the email is personal.

Take a look at one of the emails that we send from Client Heartbeat.

I hope we’ve given you some useful insights into how to better improve your survey response rates. If you’re interested in a set and forget tool that takes the majority of these tips and applies them out of the box then check out Client Heartbeat.

Gordon Tan

Gordon Tan is an entrepreneur based in Australia who has started and sold multiple technology companies with a combined value of $150m. This included a client satisfaction benchmarking platform which gave him first hand insight into the best practices of over 6,000 businesses. After retiring at 35 he is now a recognised thought leader on winning and retaining clients - His two passions: making clients the heartbeat of a business no matter what the product or service and this blog.

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