June 24, 2010
Case Study

Email Invite and Q&A Format Double Survey Completion Rate: 4 Steps

SUMMARY: Two of the biggest challenges when fielding a customer survey is getting people to start the survey, and then keeping them engaged enough to finish it.

See how a credit union designed its annual member survey to get more responses and better information about what customers wanted. Includes details on writing questions in a conversational Q&A format to increase completion rate, and why email was the best promotional channel.
by Sean Donahue, Editor


Amy Nelson, Chief Operating Officer, Point West Credit Union, needed a better way to handle the company's annual customer survey.

In the past, the team mailed paper surveys and offered gift cards or other incentives to encourage members to answer questions about products and services and their satisfaction with the credit union. Then, it took one or two employees several months to compile the responses and analyze results.

"Instead of a survey, it was more of an historical record by the time it was compiled," says Nelson.

So for 2009, she wanted to try a new approach for fielding the survey and receiving results. But she also wanted to design a survey that solicited a blend of qualitative and quantitative information from customers, which would help her team make decisions about new products and service offerings.


The team launched an online survey with an innovative format. Rather than presenting a list of questions that customers scrolled through and answered individually, they designed a survey that functioned like an online interview, presenting one question at a time and then immediately loading a follow-up question based on the person’s previous answer.

They promoted the survey through house email, the website and in the main branch to determine which method was best for generating responses.

Here are four major steps they took to design and launch the survey:

Step #1. Identify objectives for the survey

Nelson’s team needed to uncover customer insights that would help determine decisions about new products and services, as well as find areas for improvement.

They focused the survey on four critical issues:

- Satisfaction with current products and services

- Interest in new products and services

- Interest in, and satisfaction with, the credit union’s technology offerings, including online banking and a proposed new blog

- Opinions about the quality of the credit union’s customer service

Step #2. Map out dialog tracks for questions

The team wanted to generate a mix of qualitative and quantitative information pertaining to major subject areas.

To do that, they designed the survey as a series of dialog tracks, which would start with quantitative questions about a specific topic area and then funnel respondents through additional questions designed to gauge the opinions behind their answers.

For example:

- One set of questions about products began by asking customers which types of accounts they had with the credit union.

- Customers who said they had a checking account were then asked to specify which type of checking account they held.

- Next, they were asked to rate how competitive they believed those accounts were with competitors’ products, according to the following choices:
o More competitive
o About the same
o Less competitive

- Customers who said that accounts were more or less competitive were then asked to describe why they felt that way, and were offered a text box to provide details.

The team ended up with about 40 potential questions a customer might receive. To help manage the design process, they created a visual diagram of the entire survey, showing the various branches of potential dialog tracks based on a customer’s answer (see creative samples link below).

"Marketers are visual folks, and we had a great appreciation for that visual representation of the dialog."

Step #3. Use conversational tone for questions

To reinforce the notion of the survey as a dialog, the team wrote questions in a more conversational tone and presented each follow-up as an extension of the respondent’s previous answer.

For example, they used this question to ask customers about a potential new service offering:

- "We’re considering adding a new service that lets you securely receive your credit union account balance(s) via phone text message. How valuable would you find this service?"

Customers who selected "Valuable" from the answer choices then received this follow-up question:

- "Why would you find it valuable to obtain your account balance by phone text message?"

"The tone was so key," says Nelson. "It felt comfortable and friendly, and if you feel comfortable, you’re more likely to continue."

Step #4. Promote through email, website and in-store fliers

Because this was testing a new survey approach, the team wasn’t sure which channel would deliver the best responses. The survey was promoted to customers in three ways:
o Email invitation
o Website ad
o In-store flier with survey URL

The team applied the same conversational tone to its email invitation, writing simpler, more direct copy than they typically used in email promotions. Nelson admits that credit unions are used to talking in a certain way to an older audience, but a younger marketing assistant on her team was instrumental in shaping the tone of that message.

"It was a little more frank than what we were accustomed to," Nelson says.

The text of the email invitation included:
o Headline -- "Point West member survey. Reaching out to you. That’s the point."
o Body copy -- "We want to hear from you. What you love. What you hate. What we should change. What we should keep doing."

The combination of email outreach with an innovative online dialog format gave the team its most successful survey ever.

- Email proved to be the most effective solicitation channel:
o 67.3% of total respondents came through the email invitation
o 28.4% of recipients opened the email
o 43.8% of openers clicked through to the survey

- 68% of those who started the survey completed the process, about double the team’s previous survey completion rate.

- The blend of quantitative and qualitative information they collected in November 2009 allowed the team to make significant decisions about its 2010 strategy and budget.

"Instead of experiencing a survey as a historical report, truly we’re able to use it as a tool to implement a strategic business plan," says Nelson.

For example, by asking a series of questions related to customer service, the team learned that for many customers "service" means education. They wanted more of the financial education classes that the credit union typically offers.

So Nelson’s team planned 24 in-person financial seminars in 2010, up from the four they conducted in 2009.

At the same time, customers showed little interest in the proposed blog that Nelson’s team wanted to start. So they had to put blog plans on hold, while devoting more resources to the financial education classes.

"You have to be willing as a management team to back up and say, ‘I have an open mind here, and I’m going to initiate what membership wants,’" says Nelson.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Point West Credit Union’s member survey campaign

Members Library -- Special Report: How to Conduct Email Surveys - Tips to Lift Response & Write Subject Lines

FUSE Insight -- provided the survey platform with online dialog capabilities:

Point West Credit Union

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