Customer Success October 16, 2019 7 min read by Tim

8 Actionable Tips for Engaging Survey Subject Lines

8 Actionable Tips for Engaging Survey Subject Lines

When customers receive a survey by email, what’s the first thing they notice?

The survey question? The response options? The branding?

No, it’s actually the email subject line that determines whether or not they’ll find the message interesting or engaging, and open it in the first place. Taking into account the survey fatigue, coming up with efficient subject lines that will actually get the door open is quite a challenge.

Bearing in mind its impact, we decided to come up with the most actionable pointers on this topic, including the ones some of our clients stuck to when coming up with their survey subject lines.

Survey Subject Lines Best Practices
Survey Subject Lines Best Practices

1. Personalize the subject line

When it comes to subject lines for survey emails, personalization is a must. According to data, personalizing the subject line can make people 22.2% more likely to open the emails. Another study showed that personalized subject lines can offer a 37% increase in open rates, and a 41% boost in survey response rates.

It’s not hard to see why. A subject line that doesn’t have a personal touch won’t feel as “human” to the recipient. It makes them feel like the sender doesn’t really value their opinions as they claim to. After all, they didn’t really bother to put any effort into making sure the subject line is relevant enough to quickly get the recipient’s attention.

So how can businesses make their survey subject lines more personalized? Some ideas include:

  • Using the recipient’s first name – “[first name], how are you finding our service so far?”
  • Using the recipient’s job title – “[first name], as [job_title], how do you like our service?”
  • Utilizing relevant time triggers – “Share your opinion about the purchase you made yesterday.”

That kind of personalization can be done by means of custom properties included as survey variables anywhere in the survey template – like the ones Retently supports.

2. Ask questions

Many businesses use a simple statement as their subject line – like “Take our satisfaction survey,” for example. While it’s short and clear, some people might end up ignoring it simply because it feels more like a robot response than the start of an actual human conversation.

Using a question instead of a statement, like “How do you feel about our service?” – might get a better reaction from people simply because it feels like the company is creating an instant dialogue with its customers.

If businesses use personalization, they can make the question even more engaging and relevant. An email survey subject line like “[first name], how’s our product working out for you?” is much more likely to elicit a response than something like “Please rate our product” since it gives the impression the company actually cares how the client has been using their service, and what goals they’ve managed to achieve with it.

Ideally, businesses should use open-ended questions (“Hi [first name] – What do you think about ACME?”) instead of Yes/No questions (“Would you like to rate our service?”) because it prevents respondents from inwardly answering the question with a quick “No.”

Of course, questions are a good way of boosting engagement but they must not be overused to serve its purpose.

3. Make the subject line clear

Data shows that clear subject lines get a much better response rate – around an increase of 366% according to AWeber team’s case study, to be precise. That’s not hard to see why – the less confusing customers find the survey subject line, the more they’ll be likely to engage with it.

We actually have a few examples of unclear subject lines from our own research:

  • “Would you refer ACME to another dealer?” – “Refer” can be confusing for some people, especially customers who don’t speak English as a first language. “Recommend” is much clearer.
  • “ACME feedback” – The subject line feels confusing to read. “Feedback” on its own doesn’t make clear what kind of input is required (Customer service feedback? Product/service feedback? Purchase feedback? etc.).
  • “How are we doing?” – The wording is a bit vague, and the question can confuse the recipient. How is the brand doing in terms of offering good services, or how is the recipient feeling? The subject line is misleading and the recipient confused about who the sender is and what kind of feedback is expected from them.

Businesses need to make sure their subject lines get the point across quickly and clearly. Vagueness, verbosity, and unfamiliar words (“gratified” instead of “happy”) should be avoided, and the subject line should give clear, actionable directions.

“Hi [first name], how happy are you with our service?” is much clearer than “Hi [first name], are you satisfied?” or “Hi [first name], give us your input”, for example.

Also, it’s a good practice to mention the name of the service/product/brand customers are surveyed about. It offers a better response rate because it instantly informs recipients who the survey is coming from. For instance, “[first name], would you recommend Retently to your friends?” is more engaging than “[first name], would you recommend us to your friends?

Especially, since people tend to be over surveyed, branding the subject line is a win-win tip, as it approaches the recipient with something they are already familiar with.

4. Optimize the survey subject line and preview for mobile

Long subject lines just don’t resonate well with people nowadays. Short attention spans don’t allow them to notice long subject lines. And, for some, having to read a lengthy subject line can feel like a chore, so they’re less likely to click on it.

Plus, businesses should also consider that most email open rates come from mobile devices. Since in the US alone, 75% of people use their smartphones to check their inbox, it is extremely important for your survey to look great on any device, starting with the subject line, the email preview and ending with the length and number of questions preventing customers from dropping halfway.

It’s no secret long subject lines are truncated on mobile screens. But how long should the subject line then be? According to data, around six to 10 words will offer the most optimal open rate – 21%. In terms of characters, that’d be around 50 characters, give or take a few.

A good example of this would be using “[first name], how well did Retently support team do?” instead of “Hello [first name], how would you rate your satisfaction with our customer support team?”.

Short and clear subject lines are what helps you draw attention while mobile-optimized and compelling email previews – what helps you engage to further provide the best possible customer experience.

To easier deal with the screen size complexity and make your content user-friendly anytime and on any device, take advantage of the many available optimization software. Make sure you’re doing it right by, for example, running your email template through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and see how mobile responsive your sample is.

5. Address customers in their native language

You can spend days carefully crafting the perfect survey – addressing targeted questions to acquire valuable data, automating processes, and taking into account the lessons learned. But how much time and effort sink would it be if the survey does not take into consideration your customers’ different demographics? To get people to actually respond to something you’ve put so much effort in, you have to make sure that your message is at least understood.

Addressing clients from different geographical areas in their native language when surveyed is a must. Adjust the subject line to get appropriate attention; translate the rating and the follow-up question to make it familiar and easy to interact with. Since your target is an increased response rate, consideration to such detail as language will repay the efforts.  Keep in mind that once your business commits to an international audience, the touchpoints must be customized accordingly.

6. Offer incentives and highlight benefits

Incentives can significantly boost survey response rates simply because they give people a clear reason to engage – they stand to win a prize. It’s pretty hard for a person to ignore a subject line that says they can get a nice discount or a free item, after all.

Some good survey subject lines that work in this case would be “Give us your feedback – Get a free hat,” “Want to win free sunglasses [first name]? Take our survey now,” and “Share your thoughts & we’ll share a 25% discount.”

While this is an effective strategy, it does have two drawbacks.

Firstly, it only works for B2C companies. B2B businesses can’t really use incentives in the subject line. The only exception would be a B2B company that has a small, high-ticket client base. In that case, subject lines like “Share your opinion and get a free month” would work.

Secondly, if businesses only use these types of subject lines, they can end up feeling really spammy, and recipients might report them as such. So, a balance needs to be found.

However, if businesses can’t offer incentives, they need to have a survey subject line that focuses on a particular benefit the respondent stands to get.

“Help us help you,” “Enjoy a better experience – Help us improve our product,” and “Help us offer you better results” are all good examples.

Such a subject line highlights just how important the recipient’s feedback will be, making clients feel more valued. Also, it won’t be perceived as a chore for a corporate entity since the line makes it clear it’s in their best interest to fill out the survey. Lastly, it might get a better response because it’s an emotional appeal, so it’s harder for the customer to ignore it.

7. Trigger emotions

The idea is that if a survey subject line doesn’t trigger an emotion, the email might not stand out from the dozens of other messages the recipient receives in his inbox.

For instance, a subject line like “Tell us what you think” isn’t likely to make people feel anything in particular. Customers might ignore it simply because it’s too similar (both in style and in tone) to many other subject lines, and people will ignore it just because they are over surveyed.

So what can businesses do? Well, especially for B2Cs, here are some emotions they could try triggering along with a subject line example for each one:

  • Empathy – “Help us deliver better service”;
  • Belonging/Friendship – “[first name], Welcome to the family! How was your purchase experience?” or “[first name], can you help a friend out?”;
  • Feeling flattered – “[first name] – Your opinion matters. We want to hear your thoughts”.

8. A/B test the survey subject lines

So, what’s the most efficient of the tips? It’s hard to say. Obviously, combining all of these ideas to create email survey subject lines isn’t very efficient. The end result will just be a confusing mess that doesn’t resonate well.

The key to an increased open and response rate lies in testing a variety of subject lines. Only by experimenting as a way to refine the subject lines, businesses can succeed in standing out from the hundreds of emails we all receive on a daily basis.

To get the most out of your surveys, look for something that doesn’t simply work, but that works best for your audience. A/B testing subject lines is a great idea since it allows brands to accurately compare open and response rates for different subject lines and come up with something that truly appeals to respondents. Your subject lines are the ones that get that door opened, therefore make sure it’s the best it can be.

To sum it all up

The subject line can make or break a survey. If it’s not interesting or engaging enough, people will likely ignore the email, meaning companies will waste money on surveys that aren’t answered.

So how can brands come up with the best subject lines for survey emails?

Well, personalization, keeping subject lines short and clear, and using questions (among other things) can definitely help. Of course, companies should do a lot of testing to see which type of survey subject line delivers the best response rate.

If you’re looking for a user-friendly scalable service that lets you send highly personalized surveys to segmented audiences, and A/B test subject lines at the same time, give Retently a try.

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