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I Took Your Survey Because You Incentivized It.

So I’m the proud owner of a snazzy new iPad 2, and it only cost me about five minutes of online survey time. Maybe I’m an easy mark, but just the chance of winning that gizmo was all the incentive I needed to complete an online customer satisfaction survey at the behest of DC Mosquito Squad. Before we conclude that electronics are all it takes to solicit feedback, understand that I was already in a pretty happy place with this company. DC’s Asian Tiger problem is well documented, and loudly bemoaned by the locals. The past several summers have been ruined outright by these insatiable bloodsuckers, which attack at all hours in swarms that require a transfusion. Despite my best off-the-shelf efforts, the Asian Tigers were unbowed, so I figured I had nothing to lose on an $89 Groupon for their yard-spraying service.

It was, without exaggeration, the best 89 bucks I ever spent. My yard was bug free for six weeks. My daughters rediscovered their swing set and sandbox. My wife returned to her garden. Friends chatted comfortably at ease, sipping beer and inquiring as to the status of appetizers during cookouts without swatting themselves to pieces. Games of Baggo went long past sunset as my neighbors and I battled for bragging rights. DC Mosquito Squad had saved summer.

So, yes, I was a satisfied customer. But that alone wouldn’t have been enough for survey engagement. Via phone, email and snail mail, we’re constantly bombarded  by requests for feedback. And we’re all incalculably busy. So why would I take even five minutes to let you know I was pleased, upset, or otherwise? To be blunt, I need a bribe — or in this case just the chance that I might receive a bribe. A few clicks and I might win an iPad? Sure.

We work with clients all the time who like regular email outreach, and we’ve helped build and sustain some effective means of email-driven interaction. But getting people to participate in a survey or provide experience feedback is a big hurdle. Unless it’s an order from the top brass, or a component of required training, people take a pass. So how do you get people to play?

In a similar circumstance, I recently purchased a new Toyota — a spiffy little Prius C, with which I’m quite pleased. In the weeks since closing the deal, I received an email just about daily from the dealership asking me to rate my experience. The overture language was very polite and well crafted, but the messaging had a desperate undertone: “Please, help us ensure a good experience for future customers” was the subtext. “It’s important to us!” Well that’s great, Toyota dealership, but I just kicked you upwards of twenty grand to buy a car, and you still want me to do you a favor? Interestingly enough, after about the sixth email delivery, the survey request came through letting me know I’d be entered in a drawing for a $500 American Express gift card. Okay. You got me and it took less than three minutes.

What’s the lesson? If you want my time, at least do me the courtesy of acknowledging that you recognize its value. It may sound horribly selfish, but that’s because appeals for my time and opinion are themselves intrusive and presumptuous. Does this mean every survey has to promise a gadget or gift card? Hardly. You can offer a free consultative session, a short-term service upgrade, cripes, a cup of coffee. But offer something, and you’re meeting me with the admission that you want a slice of my most valuable commodity. I’ll respect you for that, even if I don’t win, and the odds that I give you some data (which is what you want) go up appreciably.