What’s Your Response Rate — Survey Apathy


I am a bit of a survey expert…I used to manage the Air Force’s Quality of Life (QoL) Survey for Ramstein Air Base and then USAFE.  As a consultant with Booz Allen, I worked closely with employee and customer survey results.  Now that I am with USAA, I also work closely with our Q12 (UCount) from Gallup. member surveys, and internal customer surveys.

In regards to low survey response rates, I will tell you that the reason you have a low response rate is because leaders do not share the results of the survey, or take actions to improve anything (react) to the survey.  When people take surveys (especially a lot of them) and the people administering the survey do not visibly and openly share the results and respond to the issues, the people surveyed feel the survey was a waste of their time.

Imagine if someone came up to you and asked, “How are you today?”  You responded to them and they simply walked away.  The next day, they walk up to you and ask, “How are you feeling today?”  What response would you give…

The thoughts going through your head right now is survey apathy…why should you waste your time answering your questions when no one is doing anything with the information.

You might not be aware that the person that asked that question went back and changed things based on your responses and wanted to see if there was an impact the next day.  But, if you are not aware that any actions were taken as a result of the survey (even if you noticed the changes made), then you become jaded to answering not only that survey question, but any survey question.

Just a little survey-related tip that might help in your future survey activities.


About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

4 Responses to What’s Your Response Rate — Survey Apathy

  1. Kraig Bear Croft says:

    John, I think surveys are too long. Also the customer may feel the questions do not address their concerns. I abort surveys if I don’t think they are asking appropriate questions. When questions don’t address customer concerns, then the customer may feel their input is not valued. I used to administer surveys in my workplace (outpatient Pharmacy) I never had more than 3 questions. Always had the same first two questions. These questions were used for metrics. Occasionally, I would ask a person if they would take a more in depth survey and when they agreed to take survey, it was given orally by a technician. We almost always got our best feedback when we showed the customer knew we were genuinely interested with their opinion. Take care Brother.

    • johnrknotts says:

      The length of a survey can be key to it’s completion. And survey development is very important. However, a short and effective survey still will falter if the participants think you’ll never do anything with the results. Thanks for the input Bear.

  2. Cliff O'Donnell says:

    I totally agree that providing feedback and keeping the survey short but in my experience a lot of surveys try and direct questions to achieve a desired conclusion. I will terminate a survey if I detect that the bias of questions is merely trying to support a view already held by the organisation. This not only creates the feeling that I have wasted my time trying to complete the survey but engenders a feeling that the organisation are not really interested in MY views.

    • johnrknotts says:

      Survey bias is hard to overcome because many people who are creating the surveys are not very skilled at it (if at all) and they unwittingly bias the survey by their questions. I have seen this many times when someone wants to answer a specific question and they already think they know the answer. They tend to lead you down the path of answering it the way they want you to answer. I have caught myself doing this from time to time. However, many professional surveys that are created by firms are built by professional survey designers. I actually have a 10-volume set called The Survey Kit 2. It really helps in crafting a professional survey.

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