In this era of smart phones and social media, it’s never been easier for organizations to communicate with their customers and prospects. That’s mostly a good thing from an overall marketing perspective. From a market research perspective, it’s proven to be somewhat of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, researchers have new, often more cost-effective ways to reach consumers and obtain faster results. On the other hand, the fact that the opportunities for research have grown, particularly surveying, leads to an increasing number of people feeling as if they are being bombarded with too many surveys.

Over-surveying customers

Are you over-surveying your customers?

This 2012 article from the New York Times explains how many American consumers are losing their patience with well-meaning attempts to survey them about their experiences. The issue isn’t just limited to the United States. An article from the British-based Customer Experience Magazine explains how over-surveying customers can actually be counter-productive to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) efforts.

Regardless of which country consumers live in, the psychology behind feeling over-surveyed is the same. This post from the blog does a good job of laying out one of the main dynamics of the issue. As the author points out, “When you ask a customer to take a few minutes to do a survey, you are asking the customer to do you a favor. Most people have a natural instinct to help, and don’t mind. But if you keep asking over and over and over, pretty soon doing a favor feels like a burden.”

At RMS, surveys are one of the key and most valuable services we offer to our clients. As such, we would never argue against surveying in general. But we do acknowledge that over-surveying is a legitimate issue in market research and believe that researchers and their clients should take measures to prevent wearing out the public with too many surveys. With that in mind, we offer these 9 tips to avoid over-surveying your customers:

  • 1) Only survey when you plan to actually use the data – This might sound obvious, but the sad truth is that many organizations administer surveys and never take action on the data. In a lot of cases, we suspect that these organizations are conducting surveys simply because other firms in their industry do, and they believe it’s just expected of them or “the right thing to do.” At best, this is a waste of time and effort. But in an environment where consumers are feeling increasingly over-communicated with, contacting them for a survey you ultimately won’t do anything which adds to the problem.
  • 2) Make sure that the surveys you administer are professionally designed and executed – Respondents quickly lose patience with surveys that are poorly written and designed. Nobody has time to figure out what a vaguely-worded question really means, or to struggle to follow along with an instrument that’s poorly laid out or routed.  This problem has gotten worse with the proliferation of survey software like Survey Monkey, that not only increase the volume of surveys sent, but have also led to more of them being created by people without an understanding of the basics of survey design. Sending out a flawed survey instrument not only ensures flawed results, it also tries the patience of the intended audience.
  • 3) Don’t make surveys longer than they need to be – One of the main reasons some people avoid surveys is because they fear they will take too much time.Survey fatigue is a real phenomenon and promises to become more of a problem as attention spans get shorter. Researchers need to respond with shorter surveys that will not only reduce the fatigue level of those who take them, but also hopefully win back people who have shied away from surveys because of the time factor.
  • 4) Be mindful of how many “touches” a potential survey respondent gets from you. Don’t overdo it. As research panels grow in use, the issue of over-surveying panel members warrants a great deal of concern. Hitting panel members up for surveys too frequently will cause many of them to either start ignoring the invitations or to leave the panel altogether. At the same time, researchers need to be careful that those who accept all those survey invitations don’t become “professional survey takers” who become so exposed to market research that their value as respondents is compromised.  As RMS maintains and grows its ViewPoint research panel, making sure that we are not over-surveying our members has been one of our main priorities.
  • 5) If you use phone surveys, make sure your callers are professional and personable – This is another one that sounds obvious in theory, but isn’t exercised enough in practice. When the public feels over-surveyed, they certainly aren’t going to make time for a rude or robotic voice on the phone, nor should they. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: call center reps are not a commodity.
  • 6) If you use online surveys, make sure that your invites and reminders don’t seem like spam – One of the biggest factors in the 21st Century that makes people feel like victims of information overload is unwanted email.  Because it’s such a wide-spread annoyance, as a society, we’ve become pretty good at filtering it out and ignoring it. If your online survey invites look or read like spam, or if they become spam-like in their frequency, they will get filtered out and ignored by their intended recipients. It’s that simple. To get around this, keep the invitations short, to the point and avoid trigger words that might land your correspondence in a junk mail folder. Also, don’t overdo it in terms of frequency. An initial invite plus one or two reminders to non-responders is usually enough.
  • 7)Consider alternative ways of obtaining information you want from a survey – Surveys are incredibly useful research tools, but they aren’t the only ones at your disposal. Sometimes the information you’re looking for can be obtained through syndicated or other secondary research, government databases, feedback from your sales force and service reps, qualitatively focused in-depth interviews with just a few customers, or even past research that you recently conducted. As an added bonus, those methods should all be less expensive and probably faster than conducting a brand new survey.
  • 8) Let potential respondents know how taking the survey can benefit them – Most of your potential survey respondents are probably nice people, but let’s face it: Even nice people are more willing to do something for you if there’s something in it for them. With that said, consider sweepstakes or other incentives as a way to reward people for taking the time to do a survey. Also, be sure to remind them that the feedback they give will help improve the service and offerings you provide in the future. (If you’re approaching market research the right way, that will be true.)
  • 9) Above all, consider how any survey might enhance or detract from the long-term relationship you are trying to build with your customers/the public – In other words, keep the big picture in mind. The relationship you have with customers is your most valuable asset. When the insights you gain from a survey will ultimately help you strengthen that relationship, then by all means survey. But when you do so, use the previous 8 tips to avoid going about it in a way that might harm that relationship.

Can you think of any more tips? Comment below.

The Director of Business Development at Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) can be reached at or by calling 1-866-567-5422.