Last week, we announced the winner of a promotion based around a customer survey and a chance to win a free $50 gift card. But as productivity experts, we have to ask: are prizes linked to surveys a good idea?
Over a dozen people chimed in on the post last week in the comments. So what’s the answer? Should you give a prize away when you’re running a survey? The answer is a firm “maybe.”
To understand the relationship between surveys and incentives, we have to once again delve in to the science of motivation. This topic comes up all the time in business productivity and process design, because the reason why people conduct work impacts how they do the work.
In this case, the incentive for completing the evaluation is at least, in part, the value provided through the prizes. We explained that everyone who completed the survey would receive two complimentary passes to 2011 Productivity Series events (a $70 value—check your email) and that one person would win a $50 gift card. These are called extrinsic motivators, because they come from the outside world.
There’s also the sense of intrinsic motivation of helping to improve our program by giving feedback. Hopefully some people are inspired to help others, or at least to help themselves by getting concerns off their chest! As commenter Rhett C noted, “the ones that are MOST likely to give feedback are the ones that typically have a bad experience.”
In an ideal world, you want everyone to be intrinsically motivated. We know that extrinsic rewards are the worst way to motivate people. And indeed, if you look at the data from our survey, almost nobody left any comments. Most people checked a few boxes, perhaps hoping to win the prize. In fact, there’s every incentive to race through the survey, since the quality of your responses don’t impact your chances of winning the prize.
Several individuals, including Daniel Herndon, Michelle Morris, John Cannon, Sara McGuyer and John Uhri, pointed out these potential biases in the survey. It’s true that adding a prize does impact the quality of the result. However, it’s also likely to increase the number of participants. The size of the incentive is the major factor at work here. We only reached out to those who attended one of the events in 2010, and received a 30% response rate. Had we offered more cash prizes, we would probably have gotten more responses. Had we opened the survey to a wider audience, we would have certainly received more submissions. This leads to another pair of questions: Is more, in fact, better? Are these kinds of surveys really advertising in disguise?
Ultimately, the fundamental issue here is the degree to which this effort constitutes marketing. Like all small businesses, we want potential customers to know who we are and have a chance to find out more about our services. At the same time, we want to be careful about how we motivate those individuals. Clients should be people who believe in our value and want to pay for our expertise, not people who have been motivated mostly through gifts, prizes and discounts. The best customers, like the best employees, are those that are driven by a sense of purpose. Prizes should be used sparingly. Motivation is what gives work meaning.