What is the Best Channel for Customer Surveys - Email, Text or In-app?
Every business, be it a one-man band or an enterprise, is aware that proactively listening to customers and responding to their needs can translate into a huge competitive advantage. Yet most struggle to understand how their audience really feel about the brand and how they can refine their business model to match those expectations.
While customer satisfaction surveys are a great way to capture the brand sentiment, the truth is that like all business processes, they need to be fine-tuned to reach the right customer segment.
For instance, imagine a company that has an NPS® rank of 50 (60% Promoters, 10% Detractors and 30% Passives). Based on the score itself, it might feel that the customer satisfaction is high and the company is poised to be a market leader. But, what if the survey had a poor response rate of only 10%? What if, out of the 90% of non-respondents, there were 10% Promoters, 40% Passives, and 50% Detractors?
That would take the score to -22, instead of 50. That’s what we call response bias. It happens when the survey is not properly conducted to reach the target customers. The bias can only be eliminated by improving the response rate and collecting feedback from customers on a consistent basis.
However, figuring out the most effective channels to capture customer feedback can be challenging, as businesses have little insights on where and when to survey their customers.
In this article, we look at the most popular channels (email, in-app, SMS, phone and messenger) for running NPS surveys, analyze their pros and cons and what they are best suited for. Once you get an understanding of each customer feedback channel, you’re armed at all points to develop a viable strategy aimed at meeting your business goals.
1. Email surveys
Good old emails remain one of the most efficient methods of interaction between a company and its customers. It is a channel that is used extensively for sending NPS surveys, due to the low investment and high productivity for gathering insightful data.
However, it is less personal, so the open and response rates aren’t the strong point of email surveys. According to the DMA’s Email benchmarking report for 2018, email open rates across industries are on average at 18,1%, less than the case of other channels. But, let’s take a closer look at the related advantages and disadvantages below:
Email survey advantages
Just like text messages, customers can respond to email NPS surveys when they’re comfortable, as it sits right in their personal inbox. Since clients can complete it at their own sweet time, it improves the odds of capturing qualitative open-ended feedback, as there’s no pressure or urgency to answer the survey right-away.
Tracks loyalty towards brand
Email surveys measure customer loyalty towards your whole company and would not be influenced by recent experiences with a specific aspect of your business, as in the case of in-app surveys.
Ideally, you should be sending email NPS surveys at regular predefined intervals (30 to 90 days after the initial engagement) to accurately measure customer loyalty and capture honest open-ended feedback.
You get the most valuable feedback from your Passives or Detractors, as they’re the ones who can tell you exactly what’s wrong with your product and how you can improve the customer experience.
Unfortunately, you will not be able to get these insights through in-app surveys, as you’ll only be surveying regular active customers. Emails can help you reach recently inactive users and get responses even from customers that have already cancelled their service. The collected feedback is vital in identifying bottlenecks and preventing further churn.
Email survey disadvantages
Low response rate
Given the fact that an average person receives around 140 emails per day, it’s no surprise that customers don’t actively respond to every email that lands up in their inbox. While response rate can be improved by sending the surveys at the right time, email campaigns simply can’t match up the responsiveness of phone or in-app surveys.
Since customers only open emails from businesses that they know, like and trust, you’ll never be able to interact with a significant percentage of non-respondents or brand Detractors, simply because they’ll never respond to your email. To mitigate the effect of non-response bias on your NPS survey, you need to treat non-respondents as 50% Passives and 50% Detractors.
Best Suited for: almost any kind of business that maintains an active subscriber/customer list, and wants to measure brand sentiment.
2. In-app surveys
People that landed on your website or use your web or mobile application are probably interested in what you have to offer. As long as you don’t bother them with annoying forms, you can collect insightful feedback that can help you in many ways. Nowadays, it’s used extensively; usually, it’s a pop-up asking one to three questions. Even if at times it might put more focus on the score, it is better to get hold of something to follow up with than to have your email ignored by an unhappy customer.
Here are some recommendations on when using in-app NPS surveys is most suited:
In-app survey advantages
Time is an important part of any customer satisfaction survey. Asking restaurant visitors how they felt a month ago when they had lunch is not a smart strategy. An in-app NPS survey is second to none in this regard. The respondents have in front of them both the questionnaire and the experience – website/mobile app. Therefore, the feedback is specific, fresh, and relevant. On top of that, in-app surveys are simple to implement – sometimes a plug-in is all you need; plus, it’s cost-effective
High response rate
The quality and the quantity of in-app survey feedback heavily rely on the traffic of the website/mobile app. But if the visitors are interested in your services or products, it’s quite probable that they will be willing to provide insightful feedback, since it’s them who will benefit from the further improvements. The high response rate that in-app NPS surveys deliver can be a good start to effectively close the customer feedback loop.
In-app survey disadvantages
While in-app surveys provide great contextual insights, the feedback is largely influenced by a customer’s most recent transaction or workflow, rather than what they feel about the overall brand experience. That’s in direct contrast with what NPS measures: the loyalty that exists between the company and its customers.
Compromise on qualitative feedback
What a client feels about your brand while they’re using your product can differ a lot from what they might feel a few weeks later. And usually the later is more honest than their impression at the moment. Since the goal of the NPS framework is to proactively elicit key insights from your customers and not to score high on a metric, it makes little sense to boost responsiveness by compromising on qualitative feedback.
Intrusive to the user experience
Depending on how in-app NPS surveys are triggered, they can either improve survey responsiveness or decrease statistical significance. For instance, if you ask your customers to take a survey when they’re in the midst of a highly critical workflow, they’ll most likely close the pop-up or quickly fast-forward the survey to get back to what they were doing. They’ll also hold back from providing consistent open-ended feedback, which is one of the most important elements of a successful NPS campaign.
Best Suited for: companies with a strong digital presence, especially relevant for SaaS companies, eCommerce or internet businesses, that have regular active users and for whom capturing in-app contextual feedback is critical for customer retention.
3. Text messages (SMS)
Text messages instantly grab our attention, being something that we all open and reply to. SMS is the easiest and fastest way to reach out to customers, as it allows to capture them in the place they spend most of their time – on mobile phones.
In fact, according to mobileSQUARED, over 90% of people read a text message within the first three minutes due to our innate tendency to open any SMS we receive. This being said, text surveys may seem as a golden pot, excluding the need of any other channel. But, is it the case?
Although SMS surveys tend to reach higher response rates, they can be too personal, annoying and intrusive to your clients. To get a clearer idea of whether you want to use text messages for sending your surveys, we listed the relevant advantages and disadvantages.
Text survey advantages
High response rate
Considering the fact that there are officially more mobile devices than people in the world, there’s no undermining the ubiquity of smartphones that have now reached up to 67.00% of the world population (5 billion unique mobile subscriptions).
If that statistic is not an overwhelming testimony of the popularity of text surveys, consider this — text messages have a whopping 98% open rate, which is in sharp contrast to other popular survey channels including email.
Since text messages imply the surveyed customers agreed to be contacted by means of this channel, they are more likely to respond than ignore the SMS survey — the fate of a huge number of emails in our inbox. As response rate is directly linked with the open-rate, you can expect a much higher response rate by sending out customer satisfaction surveys through text messages than other customer feedback channels.
Moreover, if the client had a less pleasant experience with your brand, he is more likely to give you feedback via a text message than going back to your website.
Fast response time
As it takes little activation energy to respond to a text message than to click on a survey or attend a survey call, the response time for an SMS survey is incredibly fast.
Smart Insight states that SMS surveys enjoy high response rate, with 31% of consumers providing a reply on average within five minutes. Hence, you get feedback in almost real-time, making it a good choice for administering surveys on a near consistent basis.
Customers can respond to text messages when they’re comfortable, as they do not require active participation. The passivity of the text survey plays a vital role in capturing honest, unbiased customer feedback.
Text survey disadvantages
Customers aren’t going to pay to tell you how they feel about you, which is the reason why you would have to buy a toll-free number that does not charge the customer for responding to text messages. You’d also have to pay for an SMS service that allows you to send messages in bulk, and reach customers at the right time. Or you can hire an outside company to take care of that for you. That makes sending CX surveys an expensive choice unless you’re already using it to interact with customers on a regular basis.
Taking into account the immediacy a text message involves, you have to be prepared to deal with the received feedback by interacting accordingly. If you are not able to ensure the same level of promptness, you might get the opposite reaction from the surveyed customer – ignorance.
You can only send customer satisfaction surveys to customers who have shared their personal contact information with you, thereby narrowing the outreach of your NPS campaign. Administering your survey on such a narrow dataset can capture feedback with a high degree of non-response bias, as you progressively miss out on capturing the real voice of the customer.
Best Suited for: Transaction-related feedback – Low trust deficit businesses that support transactions, offer deliveries or other personal services, as for example banks, e-commerce stores, airlines, telecommunication providers, etc.
4. Phone Surveys
Phone surveys are favored by many businesses since they tend to get a higher response rate due to the more active involvement of respondents. It’s simple and at the same time efficient. Phone surveys can be divided into two categories: person-to-person and Interactive Voice Response – automated surveys. Person-to-person surveys are usually conducted by specially trained staff because the quality of the feedback heavily relies on the interviewer’s professionalism.
Phone survey advantages
High response rate
According to the rule of reciprocity in social psychology, it’s hard for a customer to be outright rude if the business shows genuine concern for the customer’s problems
While emails and text messages are scalable and cost-efficient strategies of administering NPS surveys, it’s a lot easier to ignore a survey email or text message, but quite difficult (and rude!) to hang up on a survey call. However, that dynamic is slowly changing with the advent of spam filtering apps that now alert customers of incoming surveys calls, leading to a reduced response rate
Provide in-depth insights
Telephone customer satisfaction surveys provide a great opportunity to engage respondents and dive deeper into customer pain points while getting more in-depth insights. That’s because customers are generally unwilling to provide meticulous details in an email or text message (unless it’s a grievance), but are more than happy to share their thoughts verbally, as spanning into the gory details require little time and effort.
Phone survey disadvantages
Audience composition effect
When it comes to telephone surveys, the general observation is that people with certain demographic profiles, such as age, are more or less likely to respond than others. This sparks the composition effect, with the survey failing to gather an accurate representation of what the overall audience feels about the brand.
Perhaps, the best example of the composition effect is the 2016 U.S presidential election, where Donald Trump managed to win, despite the fact that almost every pre-election poll predicted Hillary’s victory. According to a study published by HBR, one of the primary reasons why telephone surveys failed to predict the outcome was because a few particular groups systematically excluded themselves from participating in the survey, thereby skewing the aggregated results
Scale endpoints in feedback
Another disadvantage of surveying via phone is that there is a high chance that the respondents will choose the endpoints of the scale. When inquired “On a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 represents “not likely” and 10 represents “very likely”, how likely are you to recommend X to your friends?” respondents have the tendency to pick the first or last option, since it might be the fastest one.
The interviewers can present the question with different intonation and prompts, that might push the respondent towards the desired answer. Also, the presence of an interviewer is known to lead to more positive responses, since most respondents are not fond of saying negative things to live people. For instance, your flight experience was a nightmare and you decided to never use this airline again. Nonetheless, when nicely asked about it by a friendly representative, you might actually answer that the flight was good.
Just like with text surveys, calling a person to get feedback might feel too personal and intrusive. Many people want to keep their lives private and any calls from a company might be perceived as a privacy violation and therefore blocked or added to “do not call” list.
As compared to web-based or email surveys, reaching out by phone is relatively expensive. Phone surveys require interviewers who are properly trained, as well as a system in place for making the calls and storing the feedback. These unavoidably imply additional costs.
Best Suited for: Low-touchpoint businesses, where customer feedback is critical, but the response rate is inherently low.
5. Chatbots and messaging apps
Messaging apps are undoubtedly part of our day-to-day lives, and chatbots seem to be the near future. There are lots of developments in this field that encourage us to rethink the applications we daily use to make them more conversational.
Building surveys that are distributed over major messaging channels like Facebook Messenger, Viber, Telegram, Whatsapp, Intercom, etc., makes the interaction feel more natural, as they replace the traditional surveys with a more personalised and engaging experience. Now you can make surveys an integral part of your customer communication, automatically gather NPS scores and easily respond to feedback inside the Messenger.
Chatbots provide an innovative approach to surveys that delivers high response rates and actionable feedback. Messenger apps regularly get up to 88% open rates and 56% clickthrough rates, results that are hard to top.
Messenger survey advantages
Better customer experience
Although it may seem to be better suited for millenials, chatbots have the potential to improve the online customer experience irrespective of the age. Since the interface is similar to the messenger apps we interact on a daily basis and are comfortable with, the messenger surveys can connect more closely with the audience. The familiarity of the interface makes the respondent more open to engage.
Although there is no human interaction involved it provides a social context, as if there is a person at the other end. This way, customers have the feeling that their voice is listened which impacts the quality of the received data. The respondents are more willing to spend time on giving a higher level of detail hence providing more insights.
Feedback loop automation
By means of chatbots you can create actions related to certain criteria, so that to give a real-time acknowledgement of the reported issue to the respondent. Thus an email can be triggered to the respondent or to the staff member who can deal with the raised pain point as soon as possible.
Messenger survey disadvantages
Focus on input, not customer
Chatbots mostly focus on capturing input/feedback from respondents, and not on the customer. This can hamper building up a trust-based relationship with your audience. We are all expecting to have a connection, and a bot cannot ensure that bond.
Prone to error
One of the top concerns when it comes to using a chatbot is the high error rate. Chatbots are still evolving, therefore there is still place for a lot of improvement. If chatbots take too much on, there is a huge chance of negatively affecting the customer experience.
Best Suited for: any business that is looking for a new intuitive way to reach users irrespective of the covered industry.
Chatbots are here to stay, there is no doubt about it. The only question is when and how to implement it to scale with your business. However ways chatbots will change over time, the potential it holds will bring utility to each business in their endeavour to better connect with customers.
6. Offline surveys
Despite the impact of the digital world over all aspects of our lives, when it comes to surveying, there are companies who prefer sticking to the traditional offline surveys, especially in the public sector. However, offline has also made a transition. We no longer think of it solely as paper-version questionnaires, that imply significant costs, data quality issues and increased human error risks.
Offline surveys have found a place sustained by the new technologies and manage to stand out. There is a variety of tools that provide respondents with similar convenience as the online services, but are not dependant on internet connectivity. Let’s dive in and see if the offline surveys can really complement the digital ones and what is their contribution.
Offline survey advantages
Any interaction with our audience is a new opportunity to learn something new about their expectations. Offline surveys are the ones inviting you to always stay in touch, and be there for your customers even when there is limited or no internet connectivity available. You can just ask your customers to fill in the survey, and when you are in the internet-range easily back up the received responses.
Data collection from all target groups and in any location
There are target audiences that are not that comfortable with technology and the internet, and in this case the offline surveys solves the issue of no response. For instance, if you are an e-commerce, your delivery staff can use offline tablets to capture in-the-moment feedback about customer satisfaction following interaction with your brand.
Armed with a tablet or smartphone, you can survey your clients in any remote location and have your feedback safely stored. In the case of self-served kiosks, if installed at strategic points visible to customers, there is a very high potential to collect survey data from a huge audience. Moreover, it favours the image of the company, since such initiatives showcase the interest in the voice of the customer.
Most of the time the offline surveys are taken by placing a kiosk or a tablet in the premises of the surveyed service provider, be it a shop, bank, public transport, or by means of interviewers after certain transactions. In this respect, taken surveys have contextual relevance and most of the time do not interfere or disrupt customers from their daily routine, causing minimum inconvenience. Very often they are anonymous which might encourage more honest feedback from respondents.
Offline survey disadvantages
No real time analytics
The main disadvantage is related to one of its strengths. Offline surveys can capture and store data, but cannot submit survey results in real time as long as there is no internet connection. Hence, the received feedback shall be added in your database only when such connectivity is ensured.
When looking into the financial aspect, offline surveys are quite of a hassle. Additional costs are inevitable since for instance in the case of self-served kiosks, they involve having this computer terminal, plus a survey software that will handle the surveys, and of course someone to run regular maintenance. It may seem bearable if you have one device to handle, but it can become quite tricky if you have tens of them (for example in banks).
Best Suited for: the public sector, market research, and any business willing to provide a smooth survey experience by complementing the online surveys, as they remove the worry about the biggest let-downs: internet connectivity issues and syncing problems.
Solution? Kickstart Your Multi-Channel Survey Strategy
Want to improve the response rate of your survey, while also enhancing the outreach and statistical accuracy? Kickstart your multi-channel NPS campaign. There is no perfect channel that can match customer preferences for all companies that try it out. You need to experiment to get to cover as many audiences as possible
Instead of relying on a single channel for your customers’ satisfaction survey (let’s say — emails), you can first, reach out to your most active users through in-app surveys. In case they don’t respond, you send them an automatically triggered reminder email to ask for their feedback. For a better outreach you can experiment with the subject line to make it more engaging. In rare cases where you still get no response from the customer after 1-2 weeks, you move towards more personal survey channels like SMS and phone calls (if it suits your business model) for re-engagement.
The advantage of adopting the funnel approach is that it allows you to gradually administer your customer satisfaction survey from a low touchpoint strategy towards a highly personalized one, allowing you to reach more customers and improve the response rate while eliminating the risk of survey fatigue and statistical irrelevance.
Get notified of new articles
Leave your email to get our monthly newsletter.