I received four survey requests today and one glaring thing stood out about the surveys. Some companies value my time more than others. In three of the cases, there was no incentive to go online and complete the survey. Nothing. A presumption that I value the brand enough to help out was the message.

My relationship with brands that I use is a relationship but it is not one in which the brand can call on me to do it favours and completing a survey is a favour.

Expecting free participation is not new in the research industry. Telephone surveys began and are largely still based on the concept of a willingness on the part of respondents to participate without an incentive. And while response rates to telephone surveys are dreadfully low at the moment, for a long time large proportions of the population were willing to give their time with no personal benefit, except the feeling of participation.

When the survey is about public affairs, the giving of my time makes sense as a public service, but when my credit card company wants to know my satisfaction with their call centre I fail to see the tangible benefit to me.

Surveys — at least some types — may improve products or services (for which we benefit) but as a public good I do not need to participate in order to benefit from the improvements companies make.

Incentives certainly increase an organizations costs but the investment is fairly small because a good incentive is one that sends a signal to the respondent about how much the survey response is valued. More importantly they seem in-line with social trends (consider the number of offers that are tied to liking the brand on social networking sites). People seem to expect to get something in return for their efforts.

So why are companies not using incentives? Three possibilities come to mind:

  1. There is enough sample that they do not care about response rates. People not motivated to participate are just ignored.
  2. Incentives are no longer proving effective. Seems unlikely.
  3. Brands feel that incentives are in conflict with their identity and engagement strategy with consumers. If I pay them for this, is it reminding them that it is a commercial relationship?

Have you noticed more and more of the businesses you are dealing with expecting you to give them feedback for nothing in return? Does an incentive work for you?