How to Combat Survey Fatigue

Too many poorly implemented surveys have conditioned people to disregard them.

By Peter Lyle  DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Organizations of all types know the importance of receiving feedback from their stakeholders, be it their customers, clients, stockholders, prospects, users, participants, donors, volunteers, or advocates. A stakeholder who feels heard is one who feels valued. This results in an increased affiliation with the organization and a growing connection to its mission.

One-on-one meetings are the most effective way to accomplish this, rather than in person, on the phone, or via email. Next on the effectiveness scale are group interactions, which similarly lend themselves to physical meetings, conference calls, and group messaging. These all take time and have varying degrees of expense associated with them. But they are ineffective at obtaining feedback on a large scale.

Perhaps that’s why online and automated phone surveys have taken off. Both are inexpensive ways to obtain valuable feedback and cement a stronger connection between the organization and the stakeholder. In addition to not costing much, surveys are also time-conscious.

Their ease of implementation and low cost, however, have led to overuse and misuse. Too many are poorly designed. Too often they irritate stakeholders instead of ingratiating them.

Here are some reasons why surveys fail:

Too Often: I deal with some companies that ask me to take a survey at the end of every call. Sometimes I sigh and take the survey. Other times I sigh and don’t. The data they collect is actionable, more or less, but it is also trivial.

Too Long: Some surveys go on and on, presenting an array of questions, often asking the same thing but in different ways and various formats. These are clearly designed by people with a data focus but who lack a people focus. They gather my feedback and earn my ire in the process.

Too Short: Do one-question surveys really accomplish anything?

Too Soon: Often I’m asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the call before I know the answer. Many times, when the call ends I think the problem is resolved, but time proves otherwise. Then I need to call back, even though on the survey I said the reason for my initial call was accomplished.

Too Limited: Sometimes I want to provide detailed information, either because I’m mad or because I have input I feel is valuable. Yet the survey has no provision for me to provide it, just options to click and no place to write.

Too Frustrating: The opposite of surveys with no provision to give details are surveys that force it. For example, “Did the agent address your concern?” is followed up with the inane “How?” which requires a response in the form of an essay question. If I have nothing to say in a particular manner, don’t compel me to make something up.

As a result of all of these problems, people too often respond to surveys by not responding. And that may be the most telling response of all. They have survey fatigue.

To recapture the full benefits of stakeholder surveys, organizations need to overhaul their use and their form. They should design surveys that provide both actionable and important data. These new surveys need to engage stakeholders and show true appreciation, not merely spew trite platitudes. And they need to provide value to both parties.

To develop improved surveys, organizations require input from the stakeholders who will take them – just don’t send them a survey to gain that input.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at

[From Connection MagazineMay/June 2016]

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