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Survey Personalization Gone Bad – Mistakes To Avoid

5 min read
Employee Experience Surveys
Survey Personalization Gone Bad – Mistakes To Avoid

Personalization is a pathway to survey success, but be careful, because done wrong it can alienate respondents and reduce completion rates.

Personalization is kind of a big deal. Statistics show it boosts user engagement with emails, questionnaires, websites and just about every other form of communication.

  • 74% of online consumers feel frustrated when websites display content that’s irrelevant to their interests.
  • E-commerce businesses using personalization technologies gain an average increase of 19% in sales.
  • Personalized email marketing messages get 25% to 37% higher unique open rates and 41% to 51% higher click through rates than non-personalized emails.

So it’s not surprising that many surveys are personalized to some degree. We all want to create surveys that engage the recipients, get high completion rates and yield valuable information.

Why personalization works

People withstand a huge onslaught of sights, sounds, messages and ideas each day. The human brain has evolved to filter these inputs automatically, so that they don’t overwhelm us and so that we can pay attention to the things that seem most important.

In essence, our brains are magnificent spam filters.

And personalization is a way to get through that filter. Our brains scan incoming messages ultra-fast to decide what to focus on and what to ignore. When we find something highly relevant to our situation and needs, we pause to consume it.

Even something as simple as mentioning a person’s name or home town in your message can be enough to trigger that relevance reaction. But if you take personalization further and tailor your entire message to the individual, using all the insight at your disposal to understand what they need the most, you hit the relevance jackpot.

Then you can ask them the right questions at the right time, offer them the information they’ll need today, the appointment they forgot to book, or an opportunity to join a group or event they’ll love. They’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness, and the next message they receive from you will get extra attention, because the last message was so rewarding.

Personalization sounds like the key to boosting your surveys’ success. You can automate it, you can scale it, you can do it in real time. No wonder everyone’s obsessed with the idea. Who wouldn’t be?

Next question: why are so many people doing it wrong, and how can you avoid their mistakes?

Personalized irrelevance

You’ve seen it before.

The kind of personalization that screams, “Hi {firstname}, we barely know you!”

It’s in the sales pitch that uses your name five times while making a completely irrelevant offer. It’s in your email inbox (or more likely in your spam folder). It’s in the ads you see when you browse online.

Do you truly personalize the surveys you send to your organization’s customers, employees or other stakeholders? True personalization goes beyond adding the recipient’s name or automatically skipping a survey question based on the answers to previous questions.

You can send a survey with questions personalized for the recipient’s job title, location, gender, known responses, or any number of other factors, but if you’re sending that survey for the wrong reasons, it’ll still miss the mark.

The problem is that personalization doesn’t guarantee relevance. And in some cases, personalization is downright unpleasant for those on the receiving end.

The alienation effect 

Research in the advertising industry has revealed that 69% of consumers find some personalization tactics “creepy”.

When advertisements stalk you across the internet, showing up on every site you visit, it’s creepy. When you open your email inbox and every subject line includes your name, it’s creepy. When someone seems to think they know you better than you believe they should… it’s creepy.

Creepiness alienates your survey recipients. It creates friction and reduces engagement. That means fewer people open your invitation, fewer read it, fewer people start your survey and fewer complete it.

Here are a few examples of how to get survey personalization wrong:

  • Incorrect data — when you send surveys personalized for a male aged 50 to 60, but your recipient is a woman in her 20s.
  • Incomplete data — when you know the recipient’s name and birthday but have no idea about their lifestyle, interests and values, so your invitations aren’t always relevant.
  • Missing data — when your recipient sees blank spaces or shortcodes like {firstname} instead of your carefully personalized messages.
  • Old data — when you think your recipient has one child, but in fact they’ve had two more since you last checked.
  • Bad timing — when you send out survey invitations on your recipient’s day of rest, on their busiest work day, or during their family dinnertime.
  • Selling under the guise of research — when you make a sales offer within your survey. No matter how personalized the offer, surveys are no place for sales promotions.
  • Over-personalization — when you mention the recipient’s full name, address and birthday before you’ve even said hello.


When to get personal 

To avoid alienating your survey recipients, don’t personalize elements of your surveys that don’t need to be personalized.

If personalizing adds value for the recipient, do it. If it doesn’t add value, skip it. And if you’re not sure, run a quick pilot survey and split test to find out what difference personalization makes for your surveys.

Think of your survey recipients as individuals, not data sources. Find ways to use personalization to show you respect their time, show you care about them and they’ll share their opinions with you.

Advanced, real-time personalization can be complex, of course. But the data exists, the technology exists to bring it all together, and the expert support exists for businesses to explore personalization strategy today.

So far, interest in personalization is high but few businesses make the most of the opportunity. That’s a gap your organization can step into now, while it’s an advantage rather than the norm.

Personalization isn’t only for surveys and invitations. After you’ve collected more, better data with your personalized surveys, the next step is to integrate all the data and personalize the analysis — this time to suit your business objectives. Then personalize your reports for the recipients, too.

Use personalization to get the insights you need, and act on them to maximize competitive advantage.

Ask. Analyze. Act. We’ll support you in every step.

Read more about eNPS


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