Surveys are becoming more prevalent in the as businesses focus more on customer-centric and data-driven approaches to development. This popularity has resulted in an over-saturation of survey based research, and a depreciation in the quality of their design. So it’s only natural that respondents begin to tire of the process, enter: survey fatigue.
What is Survey Fatigue?
(Also referred to as ‘Respondent Fatigue’ or ‘Participant Fatigue’). This phenomenon refers to respondents who lose motivation with a survey, which in-turn affects the quality of responses provided. Respondents can become demotivated if certain elements within a survey are mentally-taxing, provoking substandard performance.
Types of Survey Fatigue
Respondents are affected by two types of fatigue: survey response fatigue and survey taking fatigue.
Survey Response Fatigue: This type of fatigue concerns respondents who become disengaged from surveys before they start to complete them. This is due to participants being overloaded with survey requests, and results in a lower response rate for your project.
Survey Taking Fatigue: This form of fatigue occurs during the survey taking process. Respondent become disengaged and begin to provide ‘dishonest’ responses, or leave your project altogether, i.e. a lower completion rate.
Problems Caused by Survey Fatigue
A few respondents leaving or ignoring your survey may seem like a benign problem, but there are some notable consequences.
Negative Brand Perceptions
The constant requests for customer feedback takes its toll on respondents. As you can probably empathise, it can taxing to potential respondents and damage their perception of your brand or organisation.
Low Data Quality
If respondents begin to exhibit fatigue, their motivation and engagement will begin to depreciate. Respondents will attempt to finish your survey quicker, which often manifests as some form of answer dishonesty. Those who don’t display this form of bias may be more inclined to exit your project altogether. Leaving you with only a portion of the data you would have originally collected.
The respondents who most want their voices to be heard are less likely to be affected by survey fatigue. This seems like a positive, as you’re still collecting results, but in-fact can lead to non-response bias.
How it Manifests in your Results
Asides from lower rates of response and completion, survey fatigue can manifest as ‘satisficing’. This is a mix of the words ‘satisfy’ and ‘suffice’, meaning as ‘what is sufficient to obtain a satisfactory outcome’. It refers to respondents who display a range of techniques to complete your survey as quickly and easily as possible.
Below you’ll find a list of examples of satisficing:
Respondents speed through your survey without paying any attention to their answer choices, simply to finish your project as quickly as they can.
Straight Lining and Patterning
This type of satisficing results in patterns being formed in your results, such as straight lines or other types of patterns. Participants may be consciously or unconsciously forming these patterns, but it is often a sign of disengagement or answer dishonesty.
Mainly concerning scaled questions (Likert/ Opinion Scale/ Matrix) where respondents select the same numbered answer for each question, i.e. they select the third point along the scale each time.
Acquiescence Response Bias
Also referred to as ‘yea-saying’, participants may solely choose answers that have positive connotations.
Neutral Answer Selection
Respondents choose the neutral answer options, such as ‘Don’t Know’, ‘N/A’ and ‘No Opinion’ as opposed to providing an answer that represents their opinions or experiences.
The disposition to select extreme answer choices, such as ‘Strongly Agree’ or ‘Strongly Disagree’, rather than fully evaluating where their opinion fits along the scale.
These examples encapsulate the main occurrences of satisficing, but there are many other biases that pose a risk to the integrity of your data. You can read one of our other articles for more information on the different types of Response Bias.
How to Prevent Survey Fatigue
Unfortunately, it would be impossible to eliminate all occurrences of survey fatigue, as some factors are beyond your control. However, there are measures you can take in order to reduce the amount to which respondents are mentally-taxed.
Surveys with an excessive number of pages and questions is a big red-flag to respondents. Make your surveys as short as possible, and demonstrate that you value their time and effort. Our advice is to always test your own survey. If you find it to be mentally-taxing, you can assume that respondents will feel the same way.
Although closely linked to survey length, the time it takes to complete your survey is arguably more important in avoiding survey fatigue. It is often determined by the complexity of questions, which should be easily understandable and contextualised by respondents.
The perfect survey will take no longer than 7 minutes to complete, if it takes longer than this you’re probably demanding too much from respondents.
Survey Request Language
We would recommend avoiding cliche request phrases like ‘Please Complete this Survey’. Respondents have seen this all before, and such repetition only deters them further from completing projects.
Instead, showcase the uniqueness of your organisation’s/ brand’s voice and create a personal experience for respondents, e.g. ‘is there something we should know?’.
Determine the Frequency of Surveys
There are two elements in determining the frequency of surveys. Firstly, how often other departments in your organisation distribute surveys and secondly, how often your competitors do.
You can use this information to avoid saturating the survey space, and clashing with competitor survey timings. Run some tests to determine what frequency of surveys results in a higher quantity and quality of responses.
Personalize Respondent Paths
Use page logic to create individualised respondent paths. This will keep the survey content relevant to that participant, and reduce disengagement.
Avoid Personal Questions at the Beginning of your Project
Only include these types of questions where necessary, and don’t place them at the start of your survey. Many respondents are resistant to answering personal questions, regardless of their relevance, and will leave surveys that open with them.
Try and focus on questions that meet your project’s aims, and place requests for personal information at the end.
Ensure Active Communication
Customers want their voices to be heard and acted upon. Simply giving them an update after your survey has closed will give value to the time and effort they spent completing your project.
This will also go some way in building customer relationships (if this is a concern of your organisation/ project). More importantly, it will encourage openness and honesty in future projects.
We recommend that you communicate the changes you’ve made, and highlight how those respondents contributed to that change.
Follow up the initial survey with a campaign based on the steps you’re taking to improve your product/ service/ experience.
The context and purpose of questions should always be clear to respondents. If they don’t understand a question, or the answer selection, you’ll find that respondents begin to display satisficing tendencies.
Mobile Friendly Surveys
People are always on the move and they’ll often have access to multiple devices. Therefore, your surveys need to be accessible as possible, specifically on mobile devices, as the large majority of your participants will have access to these.
Be appreciative of Their Efforts
Go out of your way to assure respondents that you were listening and their time hasn’t been wasted. For example, get in touch after the survey via email and social media campaigns.
Alternatively, you could offer some form of incentive or prize for their efforts, but this runs the risk of inducing other forms of bias.
Avoid Requiring too Many Questions
Requiring too many questions can lead to a higher non-completion rate for your project, or give rise to satisficing. It’s especially important not to require personal questions, as respondents are reluctant to answer these.
Save employing this feature for the most important questions, that contribute the most to meeting yours research aims.
Avoid Sensitive Questions
We’ve mentioned this a few times across this list of suggestions, but we can’t over-emphasise it. It’s easy for survey creators to view their project as impersonal or objective, but it’s a very personal experience for respondents as they’re sharing their personal experiences and opinions.
These types of questions include topics such as: contact information, salary, full names, location, and demographic information (race/ ethnicity).
However, respondents will comply if they feel that information is crucial to meeting the research aims. The onus is on the survey creator to communicate importance.
Be upfront for how you intend to use the information, either in the request communication or in the project introduction, where you might detail the aims and purpose of your research.
There are some respondents who are resistant to survey fatigue, like those who are invested in the topic/ subject, or those who have been incentivised with a potential prize or reward.
However, the motivations that drive this resistance are not always pure, and can mean negative connotations for your data. Those invested in a topic are likely to have the most extreme or ideological opinions, and won’t mind going out of their way to have their opinion heard. Whilst those incentivised respondents are prone to ‘satisficing’ in order to complete the project faster, just so they have a shot at winning a prize.
Respondents who’re experiencing survey fatigue, and alter their answer selections as a result, can be difficult to screen for and identify. So, it can be difficult to remove them from your data set, even with all this knowledge.
But, by implementing some of the above methods and reducing the chances of survey fatigue occurring within respondents, you’re likely to collect a more balanced set of data.
The most pertinent advice we can give you it to keep your respondents in mind throughout the survey creation process. This will allow you to construct a clear, unbiased, project that engages participants from start to finish.
Beyond survey fatigue and satisficing, it may be beneficial to understand how other survey elements and formats affect the respondent experience:
- Survey Language, Spelling, and Grammar
- Question Wording
- Question Order
- Visual Design
- Survey Length and Time