Response rate matters

Why response rate matters more than score

Michael Carden Engagement Leave a Comment

Pop quiz! What’s going to be more useful to you in the long run: a high engagement survey score with a low response rate, or a low engagement score with a high response rate?

High engagement is good, right? Low is bad?

You want to know if you have a highly engaged workforce, so you need as many survey responses as you can get. Ideally 100%. Definitely more than the 10-15% you can expect from surveying complete strangers. Response rate matters.

Surveys are an average of opinions… of those who bother responding

When do you leave a hotel review online? When the stay has been awesome? When it’s been terrible? When it’s been… just OK? Most star ratings come from a combo of 5- and 1-star reviews with a smattering in between. You can’t factor in the people who don’t respond, even though their feedback could change the score completely.

It’s the same deal with engagement surveys: it usually takes a strong opinion one way or other to move people to respond. You’ll likely hear from the really happy and the extremely annoyed, but you might not hear anything from the rest.

So while it’s tempting consider a high score a win regardless of the response rate, that’s not really how it works. Sure, more people gave you a high score than a low one, but many others didn’t respond at all. Why not?

Do we really need to hear from the people who don’t respond?

Yeah, you really do. The value of engagement surveys isn’t in discovering how awesomely you’re doing, it’s in finding ways you can do better. There’s a potential goldmine of information in the non-responses; any number of reasons why people don’t participate, and some of those things can be easily fixed. But if you don’t hear from them, how will you know what to work on?

Four quick ways to encourage more responses

If you’re after a better response rate, you need to make engagement an ongoing conversation. Check in with employees regularly and encourage everyone to have their say.

Survey more often

Companies are increasingly using shorter, more frequent surveys (say, a question a week) for engagement feedback. These pulse surveys don’t take as much time to complete, provide more current information, and allow for faster follow up than annual surveys. Of course, they too can be ignored, so you can’t just stop there…

Make feedback attributed

For feedback to be useful it needs to be actionable, and the most useful feedback is often actionable at an individual or small team level. If people believe their feedback won’t be acted on, because you have no way of knowing whose feedback it is, then they’re less likely to give it. So only anonymize what you absolutely have to, and make sure people know they’re being heard on everything else.

Make it a conversation

Turn engagement into a conversation by following up with employees directly via a conversational or messaging UI: ask for more detail, offer help, solve problems and generally keep people engaged by listening and responding to their feedback directly.

Be provocative

Encourage deeper conversations by asking the types of probing, challenging or unexpected questions you don’t get in a typical survey. The right questions can spark discussions on topics you otherwise wouldn’t know were important; and people are way more likely to talk about things that are important to them.

If people don’t respond to your survey it’s often because they don’t think there’s a point; that their participation isn’t going to change anything. Change that perception by making engagement more engaging, and watch your response rates rise.

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