April 23, 2008
How To

How to Get Double-Digit Response From Customer Surveys - Copywriting & Subject Line Tips

SUMMARY: Online surveys can really add to your bottom line. You learn valuable information about your customers. Doing them right can make them even more informative and cost-effective.

See how a software provider entices 12% of past customers and 31% of all new customers to complete their surveys. Includes a dozen tips to help you craft your survey and subject lines that will gather revenue-boosting responses.

Online surveys make sense to use to gather customer data because they’re cost-effective, produce quick results and can be tested and tracked to help clue you in on how to improve your marketing tactics.

Tara Zanecki, Director Online Sales Channel, Workshare Inc., and her team have been testing and tweaking their email surveys for small and mid-size business customers for more than two years. Four surveys conducted over the past year have had completion rates of up to 12%. On top of that, they get a 31% completion rate with every new online store customer who makes a purchase.

Does all the information they collect lift sales? “Yes, it absolutely does,” Zanecki says. “It helps you in the end when it comes to messaging possibilities. You find out something new about your customers all of the time. You can take that information and use it for a subject line in an email campaign or another type of offer campaign.”

Here are a dozen tips from Zanecki’s on emailing and writing surveys:

-> Tip #1. Follow a preproduction checklist

Zanecki and her team use what amounts to a preproduction checklist to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Three key steps she takes:

- Emails survey to her own email accounts in various receivers to see how they render. This helps her f deliverability issues when it comes to filtering and the way the design appears in each email system. It also lets her identify and amend things like subject line miscues, lazy copy and typos.

- Sends the email to another manager for a separate review.
“You always want to get an additional set of eyeballs -- that haven’t seen the survey at that point -- taking a look at it before you send it,” she says.

- Scrub the list before each new send.
You want to make sure the surveys don’t affect your reputation scores. Her team cleans out the hard bounces seen in the last campaign and makes sure all opt-out requests have been honored.

-> Tip #2. Involve other departments

Zanecki asks other department managers for questions to include in her team’s surveys. Collaborating with other departments can help you write a more-successful survey and is key to optimizing the effort.

“I talk to sales, product management and marketing and ask them: ‘What are your burning questions? What are the things that you most need to know?’ Once I get all of the input, it’s then that I start to craft the survey.”

-> Tip #3. Keep surveys short

Keep the survey as short as possible -- while still getting the information you need. B-to-B surveys are likely going to be longer than most consumer surveys, she says.

“The [survey length] will be determined by what information you are trying to get. Our emailed customer surveys are never more than 20 questions, and our post-sale surveys are never more than three questions.”

-> Tip #4. Mix types of answer fields

Zanecki and her team would love to have participants give gobs of information on every question, but they know that’s not realistic. They don’t bog down surveys with too many open-ended answer fields.

Instead, they use the following mix of fields for answers:
o Drill-downs
o Rankings
o A, B, C, D selections
o Open-ended fields

-> Tip #5. Incentivize survey takers

Zanecki strongly recommends adding a prize to entice people to spend a few minutes voicing their views. For instance, they recently used a $400 Apple Store gift card to drive completions.

They normally give recipients 10 days to submit their survey to qualify for the prize, and they always state that they allow only one entry per contest in the “Terms and Conditions” section.

“Most of the time, we have prizes worth between $300 and $400. It’s enough where it’s a cool thing to win, but not so much that it hurts us [ROI-wise] at all. It’s amazing how vocal your audience will be if you put a little carrot out in front of them.”

-> Tip #6. Write survey in work week

How much time should you take to get the wording just right? Zanecki spends parts of five work days to write a survey. “Getting input from various departments takes time in of itself, as your colleagues have their own schedules to worry about.”

From start to finish -- drafting to delivery to data calculations -- Zanecki completes each survey in about a month, she says.

-> Tip #7. Get the subject line right

The subject line is a key factor for any email survey. Here are two Workshare examples that were sent as a one-two punch last fall:

o “Share Your Thoughts on Workshare Products - Win a $400 Apple Gift Card”
o “Survey Ends October 28: Share Your Thoughts on Workshare Products, Win a $400 Apple Giftcard”

Putting the giveaway information in the subject line helps push the initiative, Zanecki says. She realizes that they’re long, but they work for what they are doing. “Fewer characters is a great rule, but other rules state to say exactly what they will get in the mail. I test two [lengths] in every mailing.”

-> Tip #8. Follow best practices for send

Sending surveys on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, which is consistent with most email industry response data, is optimal. It’s worth getting the timing of your emails as precise as possible, she says, especially with global customers.

“You have to be sensitive to worldwide customers, which are in different time zones and often can be on different days of the week. For instance, you don’t want to email a survey on Friday and have your Asian customers getting it on Saturday.”

-> Tip #9. Branding helps

Zanecki uses a standard design template but adds the company logo on the survey header. Customizing the survey with brand imagery encourages completions, she says.

“We’ve been branding the surveys for the last year. It gives them a more cohesive appearance.”

-> Tip #10. Get quick info on “Thank You” page

The success of their post-sale survey is in how it’s set up, Zanecki says. Buyers are taken to a “Thank You” page with the following three queries:

o Size of their business (answers available in a drill-down)
o Operating system they’ll use to run the software (answers in a drill-down)
o Features of the software that clinched the purchase (open-ended field)

-> Tip #11. Take your competitors’ surveys

Sherpa readers know that inspecting competitors’ tactics is a wise practice. Zanecki looks at the surveys on competitors’ websites and then completes them -- earnestly.

You’ll learn about things you like or don’t like about surveys and can apply those realizations to your own work.

-> Tip #12. Share results with your team

Share your findings with other departments, including sales, product development and marketing. The positive impact can often be widespread.

“My colleagues have found the data to be absolutely 100% useful and they had reasons why the data was important that significantly differed from mine.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Workshare’s emails and surveys:

Past Sherpa articles -
Special Report: How to Conduct Email Surveys: Tips to Lift Response and Write Subject Lines

How to Use Customer Surveys to Track Leads - 5 Tactics to Keep Them From Getting Lost:

Case Study: How Scholastic Doubled eCommerce Revenues with a Site Survey:

SurveyMonkey.com - Workshare’s online surveys provider:

Workshare Inc.:

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