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5 things recipients find annoying about surveys (and how to fix them!)

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Market researchers need surveys. Whether they’re executed on the phone or online, surveys deliver insights that marketers need to effectively position and sell their products or services to prospective customers.

Unfortunately, telemarketers have a pretty bad reputation. People will do a lot of things to avoid being pestered by questions that don’t seem to benefit them in any way. The people who do agree to participate in surveys often do so out of generosity and a willingness to spend time talking to the interviewers, even if there isn’t anything in it for them. But not everyone is that selfless and helpful.

There’s a reason people don’t want to answer surveys. Many common survey practices alienate or at the very least annoy the people researchers are hoping to persuade to participate in their research projects. Here are some of the most common issues and some easy solutions.

Calling Potential Respondents Over the Dinner Hour

Market researchers tend to call during a mealtime, since respondents are more likely to be at home. But interrupting someone’s dinner with a call asking him or her to participate in a survey generates high refusal rates—not ideal for the interviewer, who probably has quotas to fill. An effective solution is to block calling during likely dinner hours, or skip the hassle altogether and opt for online surveys instead using a tool like Qualtrics.

Repeated Outreach Bordering on Harrassment

Sometimes market researchers go too far when they’re trying to increase respondent rates. Unfortunately, in their efforts to successfully contact a participant, interviewers may call or email too frequently and make respondents feel harassed. To avoid this danger, space out call-backs over a longer period of time and limit the number of email or phone follow-ups that may be made to one respondent (we recommend maxing out at two or three).

Fudging the Length of the Survey

Whether you’re conducting your survey online or on the phone, if it’s going to take 30 minutes, don’t tell participants five. Interviewers fudge the length of surveys to entice participation. Unfortunately, this strategy backfires when respondents become angry because they’ve been misled. This may cause them to answer carelessly, leave out questions entirely, or terminate the survey before completing it.

The answer to this problem is for researchers to design their surveys with respondent fatigue in mind. Keep surveys no longer than 10–12 minutes, and be honest about how long they will take to complete. If you’re administering your survey online, a progress bar at the top of the screen helps show respondents how much of the survey they have completed and how much remains.

Asking Questions Respondents Can't Answer

Oftentimes survey questions assume a certain level of respondent knowledge or experience that just isn’t there. Respondents may make up responses, which undermines the quality of the research.

To avoid this problem, survey questions should be pre-tested with individuals who fall into your target research audience before the survey is fielded. Pre-testing works to minimize these issues by ensuring questions are framed with respondent language and experience in mind.

A related issue is asking questions that don’t apply to all respondents. Make sure to add a “don’t know/unsure” option if the situation merits it, or allow certain questions to be skipped.

Expecting Participation Without an Incentive

Persuading individuals to participate in surveys is becoming more and more difficult. Caller display allows people to screen calls that come from unknown or toll free numbers. Email queries end up in the spam folder. If an interviewer is lucky enough to make contact with a real person, interest in participating in research surveys is often low.

To increase response rates, offer a reward or incentive, and mention it when asking for participation. For example, instead of asking recipients if they have time to answer a survey, ask them if they have time to answer a survey in exchange for a $10 gift card to a merchant of their choice.

Don’t be the market researcher that everyone wants to hang up on. Acknowledging these common irritants and avoiding them will help you deliver research that more accurately reflects opinions and behaviors in the marketplace.