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For decades, companies have relied on ad hoc surveys to learn about their customers. But at a time when customers hold more power to broadcast their opinions, are traditional surveys still a relevant source of customer insight?

As marketers and market researchers know, surveys work best when they have a high response rate. In the past decade, however, response rates for traditional surveys have experienced an unprecedented slide.

For instance, the analyst service Econsultancy estimates that response rates to e-surveys are as low as 10 percent. Even the Pew Research Center witnessed the drop first hand. In 1997, the Center could count on a response rate to its surveys of about 36 percent. In 2003, that number was 25 percent. By 2014, Pew received a response rate of just nine percent.

To put it simply, one-off surveys are no longer giving companies the insight they need to make better decisions. 

So why aren’t customers answering surveys from marketers anymore? There are four main reasons why ad hoc, traditional surveys annoy customers.

  1. Traditional surveys appear out of nowhere and are, most often, unwelcome.

Let’s face it: most ad-hoc surveys are uninvited and are, therefore, spam. Indeed, spam surveys are everywhere: in spam emails and texts, in pop-up windows and in nagging robocalls people receive the moment they sit down to eat dinner. It’s no wonder surveys have developed a bad rep.

As a response to declining response rates, online survey companies have resorted to sending out even more surveys to achieve a critical mass of responses. Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle where as more customers get annoyed with surveys, companies spam them with more surveys.

  1. They’ve become impersonal.

The way companies use spam surveys is not in sync with the expectations of customers today. Empowered by technology, customers today demand a more personal relationship with companies they do business with. Customers are no longer content to be treated like faceless data points. When they engage with you, they want to know what’s in it for them. They want to know why they matter.

Spam surveys are the opposite of personal. They are often generic and are disconnected from customers’ experiences. Ad-hoc surveys don’t consider what customers have said in the past; they ask questions that don’t respond to the customers’ specific interests and desires.

  1. They are often overly long.

Demographic data is critical in customer intelligence as it provides context to the response. That’s why companies and survey companies often ask profiling questions in their surveys. But getting demographic data poses a critical problem: Profiling questionnaires can make up to half of many traditional surveys, significantly increasing the length of time it takes for customers to complete the activity.

But who wants to answer the same set of identifying questions about gender and age and income over and over again? Asking for demographic information every time you send out a new survey is a waste of your customers’ time—and it doesn’t provide a good experience for your customers.

Tweet this!Asking for demographic info every time you send out a new survey is a waste of your customers’ time - @TylerDouglas (TWEET THIS INSIGHT)

In the end, long surveys don’t respect the time and effort required of the customer. Spam surveys ask stupid questions—requesting information companies should already have.

  1. Surveys are one-way conversations.

Customers are more likely to participate in a survey if they feel like their voices are being heard. In a study of survey-takers, Vision Critical found that 86 percent participated because they wanted to make a difference in the world, and 87 percent wanted to have a say in a company’s future products and services.

Yet the more people are asked to give their time to multiple surveys from dozens of e-survey services, the less the experience seems worthwhile. They send their survey responses into what can seem like a black hole—survey companies take their input and never let them hear if it results in any change.

Surveys have become more akin to interrogation than a genuine request for feedback—an inconsiderate interruption to your day. Spam surveys are strictly about the results the survey company wants to acquire, not the interests of the customer.

More on the drawbacks of traditional surveys in the infographic below. 

The death of traditional, ad hoc, one-off surveys


The end of traditional surveys is here. While the survey once provided a new way for customers to provide feedback to companies, that state of affairs has been turned on its head. To succeed today, companies need to pay attention to what their customers think and feel.

Succeeding in business today requires a fresh, new approach to customer intelligence. One that is rooted in treating customers for what they truly are: people, and not just interchangeable data points. Adopting new insight methods is a must for companies that truly believe that their customers matter.

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