24.Mar.2016

Kevin Lyons
Research Supervisor

Survey Fatigue

Real or Imagined?

Chances are today you’ll receive a survey. It might be just a brief one asking you to rate your most recent Amazon purchase or your experience on a recent flight. It might be something more in-depth from an organization that you have supported.

This prevalence of surveying everyone – by email, by phone, on-line, whenever you open a website – has led many organizations to be hesitant about asking their own constituents for feedback. You don’t want to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, and send your members running from your organization.

Yes, it is possible to over-survey (and annoy) your constituents, but thankfully, you can stay in the clear by following a few simple rules.

Be Relevant
Only ask what you need to know, and only ask questions if you are prepared to act on what you learn.

These are the two most important rules, and following them requires a surprising amount of discipline. People are happy to give feedback to your organization, but will be unhappy if you completely ignore their feedback. Only ask for information that will really help shape your initiative, and be ready to follow-through. This does not mean that you need to act on every piece of information – it means you need to let your constituents know what you found out in your survey, and how this is now shaping your next steps. People want to know that they have been heard, and surveys are a great way to maintain a healthy dialogue.

Be Careful of the Length
People are busy, so be mindful of the length of your surveys, and be honest about that length. If you say your survey will take 5 minutes to complete knowing it will take 15 – this violates the ethical standards set out by the Marketing Research Association, and it will also likely backfire on you by creating feelings of mistrust with your constituents. As a rule, shorter is better. Respondents get tired or distracted during long surveys, and their answers might not be complete or even accurate as a result. If you need a lot of information, consider breaking one long survey up into smaller question sets, and distribute each version to a random sample of your constituents. Or, if your email list is too small to allow for that, you can distribute the versions over several waves, even as often as one a month. Just be sure to communicate your intentions with your constituents to avoid any confusion.

Get Personal
Know your audience and use their language when sending surveys. If appropriate, consider segmenting your lists, and sending a more targeted survey. In addition to improving data you get back and response rates, you will lower the risk of annoying your constituents by sending them something that they don’t understand or does not apply to them.