When you are conducting surveys, an important metric for determining how well they were received is by looking at the response rates. The response rate represents the number of people who responded to the survey compared to the number of people you contacted. Similar to the response rate and just as important is the survey completion rate, which shows the percentage of people who finished the survey.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
To calculate a response rate, divide the number of responses by the number of people who were asked to respond and then multiply this by 100.
Response Rate Formula
The formula used for determining response rates is an easy one compared to other formulas. Simply divide the number of people who responded to you by the number of people you invited. Then, to get this decimal number as a percentage, multiply it by 100.
For example, if you sent out a survey to 800 people and 420 responded, the response rate would be 420/800 x 100 = 52.5%. If only 280 people completed the survey, then your completed rate would be 280/800 x 100 = 35%.
Acceptable Response Rates for Surveys
In most cases, it's better to get a high response rate from a small and random sample of people than to get a low response rate from a larger group. A short, well-executed survey can receive response rates of 85% or more, while a long, poorly delivered survey to unverified contact lists can be as low as 2%.
The difference between a good response rate and a poor one typically depends on who is being asked. Internal surveys to employees should have a minimum response rate of between 30% and 40%, according to Survey Gizmo. External surveys typically average 10% to 15%. This boils down to motivation. Employees usually have good reasons to answer surveys because the organization will often be making decisions that affect them based on their answers.
Those who are external to your organization, including devoted customers, simply don't have the same motivation to answer surveys compared to those whose livelihood could depend on the outcomes. Offering incentives like prizes, coupons or discounts can increase the response rate, but the motivation to receive these gifts seldom increases the response rates to the same levels as an employee survey.
How to Increase Response Percentages
There are many different factors that can affect response rates. If you are sending a survey to customers, loyal customers with repeat purchases will respond better than a sample group of all customers. Those who recognize your name or brand will have a better response rate than those who don't readily recognize who you are.
It's also important to understand your audience. Millennials will be more likely to respond to surveys through social media channels, while older customers will be more likely to respond to email invitations or surveys sent by mail.
The best way to increase response rates is to respect people's time and to make both the reasons for the survey and the benefits clear to them. Steps you can take to increase response rates include:
- Keep it short: Surveys that take less than 10 minutes to complete get better response rates and completion rates. Respondents can generally complete two open-ended questions or five closed-ended questions per minute.
- Offer value: Offer incentives, like offering to share the results with those who complete the survey. Explain why you are conducting the survey and what actions you may take based on the results.
- Send reminders: Sending up to two reminders can improve your response rates, particularly if you send emails on different days of the week and different times.
A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.