Survey response rate: What it is & how to make it better

The rate of results of a study conducted to understand from potential respondents how useful an online tool is, what existing features do they like and what features they would like to see added to the tool is what we call a survey response rate.

What is a survey response rate?

A survey response is defined as a respondent receiving and completing a survey. An incomplete survey or survey dropout does not count towards the survey response. A survey response rate is defined as the percentage of the total number of completed survey responses out of the respective total number of survey respondents

The survey can also track if the respondents would pay for additional features and the upper spend limits for the tool. The number of responses received for this online survey is called the survey responses and this is used to calculate the survey response rate.

Calculating your survey response rate

Therefore, a survey response rate is calculated as the number of people that took and completed a survey divided by the sample that the survey was sent out to. This number can also be depicted in a percentage format which is calculated by dividing the number of survey responses by the total survey sample and multiplying that by 100.

Survey Response Rate

For example, an apparel brand sent out surveys to 2864 potential respondents. Out of this, 482 completed the survey. Here, the survey response rate by using the above formula is 16.82%. The steps in calculating this are:

  • 482/2864 = 0.1682
  • 0.1682*100 = 16.82

Importance of  a good survey response rate

The survey response rate lends credibility to the research and the subsequent results. A low response rate may undermine the statistical ability of the collected data and in turn, dilute the reliability of the results. This results in the study not being indicative of the complete or a larger population. Two major factors that dictate the importance of online survey response rates are:

  • Research objective: The end result of the research via the survey dictates what is an acceptable survey response rate. If the purpose of the study is to project results to a larger population like with product feedback, awareness or usage trends, etc. a higher survey response rate is important to adjudge the effectiveness of conducting the survey. If the research study is exploratory in nature; like with studies that seek insights about general attitudes, the representation isn’t as important and hence lower response rates do not impact the research outcome.
  • Data analysis: If the survey collects a lower response rate, the data that is collected and analyzed cannot be considered as representative of the general population. Generally, minimum samples are required to determine significance and lesser responses hamper the ability to conduct significance testing or even statistical analysis.

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Factors that influence survey response rates

Multiple factors like the target audience, the survey objective, incentives offered, level of personalization, etc. influence the response rate in a market research survey. The factors that can improve your survey response rates are:

    1. Survey design: Before the survey is conducted, the end objective of the survey has to be clearly chalked out and hence the survey design is very important. This helps plan each milestone of the survey and there is no ambiguity on the data analysis. Some of the basic metrics to keep in mind are:
      • Survey questions: Survey questions have to be easy to understand even easier to respond. This can help in collecting multiple and genuine responses.
      • Survey length: The survey length has a major impact on the survey response. If the survey is too long, the respondent loses interest. If they were to even complete the survey, there is a risk of uninterested responses which dilutes the validity of the survey responses and analysis.
      • Survey logic: Survey logic is an important aspect of the survey process. If the logic is erratic or the questions are disjointed, there is a high risk of a survey dropout.
    2. Respondent demographics: The range of potential respondents for a survey is derived from a sampling method. A sample provides the best potential respondents for a survey on the basis of the respondent demographics. This may be a mix of customers or respondents that are aware of the organization conducting the survey. The survey can also be sent out to an opt-in sample for a certain topic. Surveys that are sent out to B2B respondents and surveys sent out to B2C respondents also have different response rates. Lastly, some demographics of people generally have a higher response rate to surveys than some other demographics. All of these factors influence the survey response rate.
    3. Study invitation: Respondents like to receive personalized invitations to a survey, even if they have opted in to be a part of that survey. A good survey invite should not only motivate participation but also set the expectations requirement (like time required, any further information to be provided, etc.) of the survey and the value that the respondent would receive at the end of the survey. Managing expectations helps reduce the survey dropout rate and increase the value of the data collection.
    4. Survey topic: Not all topics appeal to all potential respondents – some topics may be of more or lesser interest depending on each individual respondent. Participation may also be low if the research topic is potentially “sensitive”. In this case, it is important to reassure respondents about how the data would be collected and used.
    5. Incentives: Most surveys are taken only if the respondent finds some value in it for them. This value could be in the form of a tangible item like vouchers, coupons or the chance to own an object. The other incentive that piques the curiosity of a potential respondent is the chance to have access to the research report at the end of the study or some snippets of relevant information in return for completing the survey.
    6. Reminder emails: Often sending reminder emails to answer the survey too improves the response rate.

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Average survey response rates: Good survey response rates & benchmarks

As seen above, there are multiple factors that affect or dictate the survey response rate. As the attention span of the consumers is reducing, average survey responses have plummeted to below 10% response rates. And any future long-form surveys are going to drop this number down even more. But is it all gloom and doom? Let’s find out the average survey response rates and industry benchmarks.

Average response rates for various survey distribution methods

Getting a desired number of responses requires the right sampling techniques and getting to the right number of people that will be a part of the survey. But if these respondents aren’t reached out to appropriately, the desired number of responses could never be collected. Even distributing this survey is important. Some typical survey response rates via distribution methods are:

  • Phone surveys have the highest deviation amongst the survey types – from 9% to 73%. Unsolicited surveys receive the least number of completed surveys. The survey completion rate is 73% when the respondent is aware of the organization, brand or researcher conducting the survey.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) questions have a response rate of 95% because the respondent finds it easy to associate with the brand and a negative or positive experience dictates the score.
  • Web-intercept surveys, at 83% have the next highest survey response rate at 83%. These surveys have a high response rate because a non-invasive survey pops up when a potential respondent is interacting with the brand or just has, there is high brand recall and the chance to respond increases.
  • Due to the penetration of mobile phones, mobile surveys are now being extensively shared via mobile. Apps have a huge part to play in the mobile game and any in-app surveys fetch on an average a 13% response. By contrast, mobile surveys have a 3%-5% survey response rate. So even though the in-app survey responses don’t seem as huge, they are exponentially higher than mobile surveys.
  • Mail surveys, although reducing in use now due to logistics, still have a 13% response rate.
  • Email surveys fluctuate between 25% to 33% depending on the brand value in the mind of the respondent, the length of questions and the information that is expected to be provided.
  • Offline surveys and field surveys have a response rate of about 22% although the domain in which the survey is conducted causes fluctuation in the number of completed responses.
  • In-person surveys can fetch anywhere between 21% to 54% completed responses.
  • Surveys that are conducted at the point-of-sale, especially mall intercept surveys fetch a survey completion rate of 33%.

Benchmarks for a good rate of survey responses

The survey response rate varies widely from each domain and industry. Some average response rates across different domains and industries.

  • The response rate for B2B surveys ranges from 23% to 32%. The response rate depends on the type of survey. Research shows that surveys that measure relationship health have a very high survey response rate whereas the surveys that ask feedback on product or service upgrades typically don’t do as well.
  • As for B2C surveys, the response rate range is much lower at 13% to 16%. The higher end of the spectrum here is from transactional surveys. The difference between B2B surveys and B2C surveys though is the number of potential respondents to a survey – B2C surveys have an exponentially higher number of responses.
  • Customer satisfaction surveys typically fetch 33% survey response rates. This number fluctuates on the perceived brand value in the mind of the respondent though. Customer feedback surveys also have response rates in the same range.
  • For in-app surveys too, the average response rate for entertainment is the highest at 19% and food & drink is at 11%. Other industries like shopping fetch a 16% response rate, lifestyle at 14% and productivity at 12%.
  • Annual benchmarking surveys have the least response rate at 0.5% to 1% in general.
  • Internal surveys have between a 30%-40% completion rate whereas external surveys have between a 10%-13% completion rate. The different motivation levels for each of these respondents have a large part to play with such a huge swing in the average response rate.

The bottom line is the survey response rate increases when the survey design is good and the respondent has a very high brand recall. On average though, taking into consideration a lot of the above factors and taking an average of them, the average survey response rate is 33%. 

Advantages of improving the responses rate for your surveys

The advantages of a good survey response rate are:

  • They help towards conducting in-depth statistical analysis and provide comprehensive market research insights.
  • They provide actionable insights to an organization or a brand.
  • It can help make a quick product or service upgrade.

Here are the top 5 ways to get higher survey completion rates:


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