How to Improve the Return Rate of Your Written Client Questionnaires

Published: 11th May 2011
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The number of companies who are carrying out home made market research is increasing. To salespeople what is of particular interest on sales training courses is how they can utilise home made written questionnaires to survey their customers. Such surveys are reasonable to use and easy to assess. However, anyone who has performed such a review knows that the most annoying thing is the low level of return. Just a minute number of surveys are returned and too few people who are sent the questionnaires return them complete. Below are a some useful, tried and tested stategies that will help to increase your rate of return.

Technique 1: Announce the questionnaire

The simplest technique, namely written notification of the questionnaire, has not proved to be effective. Even including an answer card asking the recipient to return the questionnaire does not improve the rate of return.

A method which has proved to be very effective, on the other hand, is announcing the questionnaire over the phone. After a sales training course all of the people from a group of managers who said over the telephone that they were willing to take part in a client survey returned the questionnaire.

Technique 2: Small gifts increase the rate of return

If the recipients receive a small gift with the questionnaire, they will feel obliged to fill it in and return it. Even high-earning managers can be tempted.

It is important that the small gift is enclosed with the actual questionnaire itself. The promise of a gift, like taking part in a raffle, does not produce the same effect.

Even promising to send the results of the client survey to everyone who returns the questionnaire does not have a considerable effect on the rate of return.

Technique 3: Formulate the letter properly Recipients feel a "moral obligation" to return the questionnaire if it is accompanied by a stamped return envelope. They will feel that the company carrying out the survey has already paid for the price of a stamp and so has "a right to an answer".

Technique 4: The right form of address

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not worthwhile finding out the name of the recipient. There is no difference in the rate of return if you use the general form of address "Dear Sir/Madam!" or the personal form of address "Dear Mr. Miller". Too much intimacy can tend to be detrimental in fact because participants prefer to remain anonymous.

On the other hand, an individual and lavish form of address does have a favourable effect: handwritten signatures indicate to the recipients that you are not carrying out a mass survey and that you are interested in their individual opinion.

Technique 5: Guarantee anonymity

Even though it is given that the recipient will remain anonymous and the answers treated with the strictest confidence, you should nonetheless give the recipients your written guarantee of this. The rates of return of an experiment with the various different techniques are:

Assuring anonymity and confidentiality 75% Assuring anonymity 63% No assurance 37%

If you do not receive enough returned questionnaires, follow up those who have not replied.

Technique 6: Colourful questionnaires

Have a look at your desk: most of the papers there are white. A coloured questionnaire will stand out and will not be so easy to throw away or forget. Appropriate colours are yellow and blue.

A study of the question of colour shows that green questionnaires have a worse rate of return than white ones.

Technique 7: Appeal to recipients willingness

Questionnaires which appeal to the recipients to help have a 5-10% higher rate of return. Phrases such as "We need your help" or "Your answer will help us to....improve..". The current egotistical appeal "everything depends on your opinion" was found not to be appropriate.

Technique 8: Use questions the recipient only has to cross The recipients find it easier to answer questions you only have to cross, since for one thing the possible answer is already given and for another, it takes less time to fill in the questionnaire. A pleasant additional benefit of this is that this type of question is much easier and quicker to assess!

The rate of return of a questionnaire with questions you only have to cross was 78%, whereas the comparative percentage for a questionnaire with open questions was only 27%.

Technique 9: Reduce the size

Print the questionnaire on both sides of a sheet of paper, rather than using two separate sheets. The recipient will judge the amount of time it will take them to fill in the questionnaire from its size.

Technique 10: Start a follow-up campaign

If too few people return their questionnaires, it is a good idea to send one or two written reminders. Studies have shown that a "second wave" increases the level of return by 15-20% and that a "third wave" increases the rate of return by a further 5-8%. It is worthwhile enclosing another questionnaire with the "third wave": recipients may have lost or thrown away the first copy.

Using the above techniques will not guarantee you a 100% response rate but it will increase the effectiveness of your home made research. Customer feedback is important when assessing the effectiveness of your sales team and the results will often influence the type and frequency of sales training you deliver.


Richard Stone is a Director for Spearhead Training Limited that specialises in running management and sales training courses to improve business performance. Richard provides consultancy advice for numerous world leading companies.

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