Tips for Getting Customers to Take Online Surveys

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Surveys, across the board, have made a massive shift from telephone to online. Though telephone surveys have their place, online surveys are faster, cheaper and more accurate.  In addition, less people have landlines and most people have constant access to the internet. Utilities across the nation are using online surveys to learn more about:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Water use practices
  • Wastewater practices (FOG (fats, oils & grease), flushable wipes and toilet trash)
  • Stormwater awareness
  • Education & outreach opportunities (measuring behavior)

Online surveys seem to be an obvious choice for utilities, and many utilities are making the switch.  Unfortunately, many aren’t seeing the response rate they had hoped.

Early 2017, we worked with the City of Lodi California to complete a large stormwater awareness survey of their entire customer base.  The City plans to use the results from the survey to guide their stormwater education and outreach program over the next several years.  They used both print and online advertising and the results may surprise you!

Case Study: Lodi Online Survey Response Results

Lodi has a population of about 64,000 people and 503 people completed the survey.  Another 110 started the survey but did not finish.  In this case, we decided to evaluate only those who competed the survey, from start to finish.  Of those that completed the survey, 17 took the survey in Spanish and the rest in English.  Here is how they reached/heard about the online survey:

  • 3 people from local online newspaper ad (clickable image)
  • 1 person from City Facebook post (clickable image)
  • 0 people from the City website/homepage (clickable image)
  • 0 people from the press release (text only, with hyperlink)
  • ~150 people from direct postcard to select part of town
  • ~349 from bill insert, inserted into every customer bill

Check out the advertising material the City of Lodi used to advertise for their recent online survey.

Tips for Getting the BEST Online Survey Response Rate
  1. Incentives

    Prize drawings are a great way to entice your customers to participate…even if they don’t really care about where their water comes from or where it goes when they flush the toilet. Incentives can include:

  • Cash gift cards – $100 or more gets the best response
  • Gift cards to local businesses – popular restaurants, local nurseries, etc
  • Internal tickets or fares – bus pass, local park fees, community center or parks and rec class vouchers.
  1. Be Eye Catching

    You absolutely must use engaging imagery, colors and graphics. You also need to limit the amount of words.  Use ONLY the words you need to get your customers to take the survey. Period. The more words you use, the less response you will get.

  2. Use Print Material

    Technology definitely drives our world these days, but people do still read the printed material, especially for local surveys or event driven activities. It is something they can stick on their fridge for a few days, if they are interested.

  3. Limit the WHY

    When you start saying things like “use budget efficiently” or “to inform our education and outreach plan”, customers tune out…instantly. Here is one phrase that we like to use when trying to explain WHY the survey is being conducted: “This survey will help our (City/County/Utility) improve services to its customers”

  4. Share Results

    Sharing the results with your customers lets them know that you are listening, really listening. Just stick to the highlights, and be brief, but do share! It can be anything from a quick little blurb in a newsletter or a really cool infographic that you share through social media and through your website.   For those who took the survey, it fully justifies their time, and improves their chances of taking a survey for your utility again in the future.  For those who didn’t, it potentially instills in them a sense of trust that should another survey come along, it will be worth their time to respond.

  5. Use Various Advertising Methods 

    Each community has a slightly different dynamic in play, whether its income level, location, culture.  For this reason, it will be important to learn more about the best ways to reach YOUR community for an online survey.  Try several different methods to advertise for the same survey.  Here are a few advertising methods to consider:

    • Mailed postcard
    • Bill insert
    • Printed flyers, posted in various public locations throughout the City
    • Social media (regular posts, boosted posts, facebook ads)
    • Local newspaper (online and print)
    • Email (if email lists are available)
    • Text notifications (if available through your organization)
  6. Track Each Advertising Method You Use

    Because each community may respond differently to their response to online surveys, it will be really important to find out exactly how your customers found out about the survey they decided to complete.  This will make future surveys less of a guessing game, saving you money in the end.  Take the time to track each method you decide to use to advertise for the online survey.

    One way to do this is to simply ask the survey respondents how they heard about the survey.  This does have a few drawbacks, especially if are using more than two methods to advertise for your survey.  People may have “seen in somewhere” but surprisingly may not remember exactly, so will often just choose one of the options, or say they don’t know.  Not very helpful information.  Tracking each method by using different web addresses can be extremely helpful, and quite simple to do!  Here are a few ways to use different urls to track your survey advertising methods:

    • Purchased Domains

      You can purchase domain names from services like GoDaddy for around $20 each. This would allow you to have very simple, easy to remember links.  For example, citysurvey1.com, citysurvey2.com, etc. Once purchased you would need to redirect these new links to your online survey.  If you are unsure how to do this, your IT department can likely help you.

    • URL Shorteners

      There are several free url shortening tools out there, and they are very simple to use.  You type in your online survey link and the tool generates a short link, typically made up of a random series of letters/numbers. You would create a different url for each of your chosen advertising methods. These tools will also allow you to track each of the shortened links, hence tracking how people who completed the survey actually go to your survey.  Google URL Shortener and Bit.ly are two options for creating shortened and tracked urls.

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