How to run a survey with a 95% response rate

Do you ever see those folks standing at a busy part of town holding a questionnaire in their hands? As soon as you spot them, you’re trying to think of a polite and yet firm way to reject them. I often wonder who actually does stop to talk to them. What kind of a response rate do they get? Maybe 10%?

I found myself on the other end of the equation the other day. I needed to get some real life feedback to a few versions of a name for a new project.

Having seen those guys standing with the questionnaire and knowing my automatic reaction to them, I knew I had to try something different.

Without thinking too much about why and how, this is what  I ended up doing:

  1. I approached people waiting for the bus, to cross the street or walking next to me.
  2. I didn’t hold my questionnaire so obviously up in front of me like a shield. They didn’t see it, until I spoke to them.
  3. I kept moving around. I didn’t stick with the same spot for too long so that I didn’t become a sight people would get accustomed to and develop an aversion for.
  4. Instead of asking them something like “Do you have a minute…” or “May I ask you a few questions…”, I showed them one of the names right after saying hi and asked them how they’d pronounce it.
  5. I honored their responsiveness by being very concise and not taking too much of their time.

With one exception, all the people I approached responded and many of them actually started asking me questions. As a result I ended up with a lot more insights than what I was originally hoping for.

I only talked to 20 people, so I’m not suggesting that I’ve tested this method extensively. But I don’t see why it would not work with a larger sample size.

My whole interaction with one person took about one minute – I got 20 answers in about 40 minutes – so I’m not suggesting that you’d get the same response rate if you were trying to get people to participate in a 50 question survey. However, even with longer surveys, I’m pretty sure that this approach would yield better results.

There are way more efficient ways of conducting a survey online or on the phone. But if you need real life feedback from real people to just a few simple concepts, and if you need it quick, (and if you don’t want to make it public online,) this method is hard to beat.

Your sample being restricted to a single geographical location as well as its small size will not allow your results to be statistically significant, but hey, knowing what 20 people think of something is exactly 20 times more than just trying to figure it out by yourself.