She’s got ten minutes. In a world of competing priorities, she’s found some “me” time – maybe it’s lunchtime, maybe she just completed a task at work, maybe she’s awaiting her connecting flight, maybe the show she’s watching is boring – and she’s got an iPhone at 57% power. She’s after a hit of endorphins (comfort chemical), dopamine (pleasure chemical), or oxytocin (love chemical) . Put more simply, she wants to feel good and she has a digital genie in her hand ready to pull just about anything down from a satellite for her amusement.
Enter stage left: your survey. She’s just the person you need to speak to in order to answer your business question – maybe she’s got the right amount of investable assets, or she’s a decision maker at her company for a particular service, or she buys your product at the right retailer, or she watches the right TV shows. You need to talk to her, and your sample provider is ready to make an introduction.
Like any conversation, there’s etiquette that helps everything go well. If you approach her at a party and you act like a Neanderthal, she’s not likely to give you her real phone number. If you ask her a question that she’s already answered, she’ll think that you’re not really listening to her. If the conversation is boring, she might not want to talk to you for an hour – especially if there are other more interesting people in the room.
So how do you apply these concepts when you’re planning your survey? How do you make sure she’s interested in talking to you, engaged during the conversation, and willing to stay till the end?
1. Keep It Short and Sweet.
One of the first things I want to know when working with a client is: how long is the survey? If it’s at 10 minutes (or less) – hooray! If it’s 40 minutes, we’re in for a difficult discussion. It’s not that 40-minute engagements are impossible (see “Make It Worthwhile” below), it’s that you’re unlikely to have a fully engaged respondent for that long. Go ahead and log onto your favorite panel (if you work in this industry I’d bet folding money you’re on at least one panel) and click on a long survey. It doesn’t have to be 40 minutes – even just 25 minutes. How long does it take before you start wishing the survey was done? Do you feel resentful when you’re asked the same questions over and over? This is what your respondents are feeling. What we’ve found at Prodege is that ideally a survey is around 10 minutes, not longer than 20 (research  has been done to back this up). When planning your survey, estimate that 2.5 questions = 1 minute. Factor in more time for multi-part questions (e.g. grids) and open-ended responses. Is there anything you can remove? Is it possible to field two separate surveys? Can you bypass any of the screening and demographic questions using profile data? If you’re short on ideas, lean on your panel provider for help.
2. Make It Easy on the Eyes (and Thumbs).
Your survey is competing with every other online experience. As compelling at your questionnaire about mayonnaise shopping might be, your respondent might also have a Tinder profile to update, or new posts to view on Instagram, or a high score to beat on Helix Jump, or she wants to find a pair of wedge boots at Zappos. It’s like trying to get a kid to make a healthy eating choice after they go trick-or-treating. They’ve got a bag full of candy bars, and a series of grid questions is like a plate full of their least favorite vegetable. More to the point, a frustrating experience is going to hurt your results. If she has to scroll down and to the left on every question to find the “continue” button, or has to type out 5 open-ended responses, it’s an unsatisfying experience. These might not sound like big complaints – like waiting at the microwave for 30 seconds and thinking, “This is taking forever.” However, these frustrations add up, and they don’t give your respondent the endorphin/dopamine/oxytocin “hit” she desires. The hit she can easily get by clicking one of the other 50 fun apps on her phone. A good survey should be programmed with these things in mind, and QC’ed for UX. A good sample provider will offer you sophisticated programming support.
3. Make It Worthwhile.
Yes, cost is a factor when you’re scoping a project. Sample Company A might offer a cost that’s 1⁄4 that of Sample Company B, and you don’t want to overpay. Think about it from your respondent’s point of view, though. How much is her time worth? Would she give up 15 minutes for $0.40? For $0.25? Would you? How do you think she’s going to feel if she answers 15 questions, only to be screened out and minimally compensated – was that a good experience for her? To attract and maintain her attention, become her advocate. Find out what her compensation will be. Be willing to invest in her time – it’s an investment in your data quality. A good sample provider will work with you to optimize the respondents’ experiences.
4. Keep It Fun and Interesting.
I enjoy a good survey about mayonnaise path to purchase as much as you do, but your respondent might not. When crafting your survey, think about successful gaming apps. Remember that first level of Candy Crush you played that kept telling you that you were “AWESOME!”? Good games make you feel good about yourself – what a genius you are to have won so easily! The most addictive games capitalize on this. It’s not wrong to say “Thank you” every once in a while during a survey, or tell her “You’re doing great!” as the survey proceeds. Remember when we go online in our spare time, we want instant gratification , we crave entertainment, and we’re motivated by rewards. The YouTube app is right next to the survey app on her iPhone. It’s easy to bail on your survey if you aren’t providing her a rewarding experience.
These are a few ideas that can help guide you towards a rewarding experience – not just for the respondent, but for you as a researcher. On the wall of Prodege’s headquarters are the words “CREATE REWARDING MOMENTS.” This is a great mantra when thinking about your survey, and most importantly about the people who are going to take it.