Consumer Survey Fatigue's Impact on Brand Perception

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Marketers are currently moving into the new era of customer feedback. While traditional surveys came to be in an environment where such information was scarce, it's no longer quite so difficult for marketers to determine what consumers think about their products. Today, customer insights abound, yet brands still need to hone their understanding as to what data they already have and what information may be missing. Luckily, opt-in and permission-based formats have the potential to fill these blanks, as brands can begin to conduct shorter surveys that target customers with truly relevant questions.
Voice of the Customer

Marketers are currently moving into the new era of customer feedback. While traditional surveys came to be in an environment where such information was scarce, it's no longer quite so difficult for marketers to determine what consumers think about their products. Today, customer insights abound, yet brands still need to hone their understanding as to what data they already have and what information may be missing. Luckily, opt-in and permission-based formats have the potential to fill these blanks, as brands can begin to conduct shorter surveys that target customers with truly relevant questions.We here at 1to1 Media spoke with Jonathan Levitt, OpinionLab's CMO, to explore how companies are coping with the increase in customer survey fatigue. Levitt notes that this new era revolves around focus over fatigue, as brands look to pare down their questions and dig deeper into consumer behaviors and brand perceptions as they pertain to the most pressing issues facing the given company. Here, Levitt discusses the biggest hurdles facing today's marketers and how to overcome such obstacles:

1to1 Media: Why are companies increasingly eager to dispense surveys and gather such customer feedback? How do they typically go about doing so?

Jonathan Levitt: Marketers are under pressure to be customer-centric and data-driven when it comes to their brand and products. Surveys seem to promise a path to positive brand building for marketers who want to listen to their customers and involve them in the brand experience. Even better, they're ridiculously easy to field in the digital age so there's a really low barrier for anyone who's interested.

The problem, however, is that surveys aren't the right vehicle for achieving these goals and are usually executed poorly. Surveys interrupt customers by asking them a long list of questions that the brand would like to have answered. They are inherently marketer-centric, and often designed to satisfy business curiosities and justify marketing spend. Typically, teams develop a reasonably short questionnaire, and it continues to swell in size as more people get their hands on it. The end result is a really long survey--and no plan for taking action on the answers. So now you have a way to interrogate customers about every possible brand nuance, but you're not illuminating the hearts and minds of respondents and, most critically, aren't showing them that you're taking action on what you learn.

1to1: In what ways do consumers demonstrate their fatigue? How do such behaviors counteract the underlying goals of such surveys?

JL: Survey fatigue shows up as survey avoidance. Research shows that survey response rates have dropped sharply in the past two decades, from as high as around 20 percent to just 2 percent today. This obviously has a huge impact on the data sets available to brands and marketers. Any parent of a small child will also tell you that fatigue breeds irritation and annoyance. Not surprisingly, our research shows that surveys can actually damage your brand. Nearly half of the consumers in our study reported that online pop-up surveys negatively impact their perception of the brand running them. Therefore, you're annoying your customers, and they're not answering your questions--it's a lose-lose situation.

1to1: In many instances, when cashiers direct customers to the survey or incentive printed on their receipt, they will indicate that the store strives for 9s and 10s, and that all other scores will count as zero. How does such coercion lead to fatigue and disengagement?

JL: This completely defeats the purpose of collecting feedback. The goal is to get authentic, real-time information from customers that you can use to improve your brand, products, and stores. The other really common practice at the register is to incorporate some kind of sweepstakes, like complete an online survey for the chance to win $500. This is another tactic to overcome the fact that people simply don't want to take surveys. From the brand's perspective, they want feedback from engaged respondents who care about making the brand better, not people who are trying to win a prize. Thus, sweepstakes aren't a solution to survey fatigue. Brands that are serious about doing it right need to change their whole approach to prioritize opt-in participation, dramatically reduce the number of questions they ask, refocus on open-ended feedback and, most importantly, respond and prove that they are taking feedback seriously.

1to1: What methods can companies implement to reduce fatigue and reengage consumers in order to obtain the desired feedback? How can marketers use social media to supplement such customer insight data?

JL: I think there's a pervasive myth in marketing that consumers are eager to bash brands on Twitter or Facebook. In fact, our research shows that consumers would much rather share their opinion directly with a brand than on social media. Nearly 75 percent said that, following a bad experience, they would first tell the company itself using email, phone, or feedback. Less than 3 percent would go directly to social media. This demonstrates that people are wiling to give brands a chance to make it right before they start to make their complaints public.

Given that marketers can't employ social listening as the primary source of customer insight, they need to get better at collecting direct feedback using methods that are respectful and efficient. No matter what method they use, marketers must make sure that consumers opt-in to feedback, for the right feedback invitation method can make the difference between alienating your customers or gaining their buy-in. Marketers also must say no to long-form surveys. Feedback collection should take 3-4 minutes to complete. After that, response rates start to decline. Research shows that 80 percent of customers have abandoned a survey halfway through, and 73 percent of those dropped off because it was too long.

Perhaps the best way to reduce fatigue is to show that you appreciate their time and are taking action on what they're saying. Thank respondents for their feedback and explain how the data will be used--to improve customer service, to guide product development, etc. You can even consider rewarding participants by sharing the survey results or by giving them access to other relevant research that you've conducted.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION