Eight Survey Characteristics That Make Respondents Happy


By Jackie Lorch, VP Global Knowledge Management, Survey Sampling International

Survey Sampling International (SSI) asks participants at the end of every one in four surveys what they thought of their experience of the survey. If people say they were extremely satisfied, we’re curious to know why, so we ask them to tell us more. (Those who weren’t so happy get a chance to speak out as well.)

In examining 600 random responses from people who were extremely satisfied with their survey experience, we found some interesting themes. Participants identified 8 characteristics that they say make up a great survey experience:

1. Ease of use: 93 of the 600 comments expressed a liking for the survey because it was easy. We often underestimate how cognitively difficult some surveys are. When we ask long, complex questions, and present them in a daunting format such as a grid, it’s just plain hard work for the participant. People are willing to participate, even to challenge themselves to think hard (“I liked the interactive challenge” said one person and “you really had to think and challenge your memory” said another), but in the absence of a live interviewer in the online world, we have to keep in mind ease of use when constructing our questionnaires.

2. Respect for their time: 84 of the comments included the words “quick,” “short” or “fast” as a reason for being satisfied. The ARF’s Foundations of Quality study found that survey length was the biggest driver of poor quality responses. When we respect people’s time by keeping a questionnaire short and to the point, they notice and appreciate it.

3. Relevance: If we can make a connection between the person and the survey content, we are often rewarded with enthusiasm and thanks for a great survey experience. Comments from our research include “very interesting and relates to the NOW in our lives,” “important topic and totally relevant to me in my daily life” and “of interest because it is one of the stores I shop at.” Making a connection may be as simple as including appropriate categories in our questions: “I like that being a housewife is considered on your listing as a career” said one participant. In a world of social networking opportunities, taking a survey can be another avenue for making a connection with people like you and feeling a sense of belonging: “It was fun, and would be interesting to know about others’ experiences in this area” said one participant.

4. Opportunity to learn: Nowadays, news and opinion-giving are closely linked. People expect to get their news and information from a variety of sources online and to give their opinion on what they read. When we ask people to share their opinions, it seems natural to learn something at the same time. Many people mentioned this as a satisfaction driver. “I learned a few things about Healthcare Reform” said one and “I never knew how many cars there were” said another.

5. Good questionnaire design and no technical glitches: People know a good survey when they see one as shown by the specificity of their comments: “Really good graphics that loaded quickly,” “I liked how there were several choices listed and you could choose more than one” and “I liked that it was two parts because it made it easier to keep myself focused.” Respondents are aware and appreciative when researchers go the extra mile to get the details right.

6. Time to pause and reflect: Surveys give people a chance to reflect on the things they do and the choices they make. “It let me look into why I chose…,” “It made me realize just how many [things I do] in a month,” “it made me think about my role in this company,” “it reminded me of [something I want to do more of].” The act of reporting what they think, feel and believe can lead people to change. Surveys are unique in that way.

7. A break in the routine: So many surveys are similar that when something different is offered, participants get excited. A product placement study was in field when the comments we examined were given and there was a lot of “buzz” about the fun of following the instructions and trying something new. “They sent me food” was one grateful comment. Even conventional questionnaires can offer a change of pace: “It jumped around and made you think,” said one participant.

8. Fun! Many people mentioned “fun” as the reason for their satisfaction. 28 comments even used the word “love.” More people than we might think “love” taking our surveys!

If someone had asked you before reading this “What are the most important things we can do to make respondents happy?” you might have thought first about cash or other tangible rewards. Almost everyone who contributed to this group of comments would have received sweepstakes entries for cash and other prizes, with a minority receiving points toward rewards, as well. However, only 7 of the 600 comments mentioned these rewards as a reason for their satisfaction with the experience. Eight times as many comments mentioned enjoyment or fun.

We often think that to make participants happy we have to pay them. Understanding participants’ real motivations for taking surveys and paying attention to non-tangible rewards like information, learning opportunities, a sense of community and respect for people’s time, can help increase participation and preserve our participant resource into the future.