Poor response rates are a big problem that no-one is properly facing…and also a big opportunity to stand out for outstanding listening.

While response rates do vary by survey medium, they’re often as low as 5-20%.  Even worse, in NPS post-interaction surveys, 10% response is the expectation and many don’t even achieve that.

This creates problems with the veracity of the feedback you’re getting – e.g. what do the other 90% think?  As a result you tend to get feedback from the happiest and unhappiest customers, but those in the middle (the ambivalents) are well underrepresented.

And if you’re in the business of deep relationships, which you live and die by, a low response rate is even more disastrous because people in these relationships don’t believe in your listening program enough to even be bothered to respond.

What does that say about your relationship with them – and why is that?  Perhaps they feel you won’t do anything as a result of their feedback?  Or they feel you’re simply going through the motions, and doing the same as everyone else (e.g. NPS post-interaction surveys)?

How to really improve response rates

All the advice out there is superficial and just plain wrong for deep relationship businesses, for example – subject lines, incentives and timing of invitations.  It’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Instead, the heart of the problem is that you’re likely using an ill-fitting listening method for your type of business.  The first golden rule is to choose a listening method that fits the type of relationship you have with your customers – this will be very different depending on whether your relationships are B2B; long and deep consumer, strategic accounts or partnerships.

CHECK: which listening method should you be using?

It’s all about following. In many cases you need to follow people over time (a longitudinal method), because it gives you opportunity to show you are listening.  Rather than taking NPS-like snapshots after an event, you can regularly re-contact people (say two or three times a year) each time asking them the same questions so that you can join up their responses and map out over time their relationship experience (hence the idea of ‘following’)

Mirroring back is key. Another golden rule is mirroring back to people what they have said in the past, as so much gets lost in translation. If you follow people over time then technology exists to reflect back to them in real time what they have said previously. You start to show your participants that it is their journey that matters, not just a single snapshot in time.

People who feel listened to are more willing to do business.

You also need to take action on concerning scenarios.  For example, when following someone over time, if they give a low score and then no response, this is a clear signal that action is required.  Are they now so unhappy that you’re about to lose them as a customer?  Isn’t it worth checking?  This is something you can only do if you follow people over time and track the trend in their feedback.

Extra considerations for account or relationship managed customers

Get your relationship managers on board.  They may feel threatened, or worried about no longer being the mouthpiece for customers.  In reality, there’s actually a lot in it for them – and improving response rates takes Voice of Customer (VoC) right to the top what they’ve been saying for ages.

  • It hits home more when feedback comes from the customer’s mouth
  • It creates opportunities to strengthen relationships and get better business outcomes
  • It gives relationship managers a reason for making contact (e.g. close the loop; keep people in the loop based on the feedback).

Continuity is as important as response rate.  For example, which is better? 80% answer one survey and then 20% the next, or 50% give you continuing feedback over the term of their relationship with you?

Non-response is an indicator of relationship strength, so measure and manage it.  Use it!  Show people you missed their feedback.  It’s too easy for people to do nothing and not be noticed for it.

In summary, you MUST choose the listening system that is right for your business, based on the relationship you have with your customers, partners or strategic accounts.  Following people over time and getting into a rhythm of listening and responding will knock people’s socks off. As a result, your response rates and business outcomes are almost guaranteed to improve.

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