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Avoid The “Incentive Inflation” Trap In Your Surveys

Avoid the “Incentive Inflation” Trap in Your Surveys

There are many methods to dramatically increase response rates on your surveys. Spending money on incentives is not one of them.

Folks in Higher Education have long known that awarding money or prizes in random drawings yields the lowest ROI and is the least effective way to encourage students to complete their instructor evaluations. If even cash-hungry students aren’t incentivized by lotteries, why waste money on lotteries for the surveys given by your organization?

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In fact, many learning organizations spend more money on ineffective financial incentives than on the actual creation, delivery, analysis and reporting of the survey itself! Sadly, this is all time and money wasted. Studies show that students fail to provide more meaningful feedback or respond in greater numbers over time due to the type or number of financial incentives offered.

One explanation for this is “incentive inflation”. Here is a short story from my own experience to illustrate:

When I first started conducting web-based surveys for colleges and training organizations, this new company called “Amazon” emerged, and soon the Amazon gift card was the most popular lottery prize offered to students who completed their online evaluation forms. But not long after, MP3 players became the rage and Amazon gift cards lost their luster.

Of course you know where this is headed: each generation of MP3 players had more memory and schools had to keep up. Schools reported students complaining that even their younger siblings had MP3 players with more memory than was offered in the random drawing (you know you have a bad incentive if respondents are dissing it!).

MP3 players eventually were replaced by the iPod as the popular incentive, with ongoing offerings of the latest in the iPod line to keep up the appeal. Then the laptop computer. Then the Kindle. Then generations of the latest tablet.

I recall the lengthy debates among administrators who struggled to find the sweet spot between the numbers of prizes awarded versus a necessary cap on incentives that were now costing thousands of dollars.

The lesson here is that you can’t beat Incentive Inflation and there is no reason to try as the outcomes rarely improve over time regardless of the quality or amount of financial incentives.

A far better idea is to apply Individualized Incentives and Internal Incentives to your practice. These are the two highest ROI incentives used in a game-changing methodology that combines the science of surveys with the psychological principles inherent in social media. Researchers and practitioners use it to generate massive enthusiasm and engagement in their survey practices, including the principles of Individualized and Internal Incentives.

In brief, an individualized incentive is tailored to the specific desires of the survey respondent and an internal incentive is one that is consistent with the activity or the company experience. Incentives that fail are those that are generic (same prize offered to all) or external (perceived as an add-on and unrelated to the purpose of the survey).

An example in education is to allow a respondent to EITHER receive bonus points OR drop their lowest quiz score from the final grade if they complete the instructor evaluation. This gives the respondents choice (individualized) and both rewards are related to the course itself (internal).

Organizations that deliver membership surveys have offered a choice of incentives to respondents, such as a discount on the annual fee, upgrade of placement at an upcoming tradeshow, or invitation to an exclusive gathering at a conference.

Successful companies don’t look to spend more on wasteful generic and external incentives but wisely use their time to create and discover individualized and internal incentives that work for their organization.  Tell us what your company is doing with incentives in the comment box below. Follow me on Twitter @EvaluationGuy   / Doc

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