6 email subject line strategies to increase your survey feedback

Written by Christian Reni

It can be a struggle to get customers to respond to surveys. As both a sender and receiver of such requests, we all know how apprehensive people are to fill out surveys. Some of this comes down to the length of the survey. But the shortness of Net Promoter® surveys has improved response rates greatly by tackling this issue. However, there’s another big problem.

Before we can even announce to a customer that the survey will only take 2-minutes, we have to get their attention. And if you’re sending your surveys out by email, this means the subject line is becoming your most valuable piece or real estate.

The digital lives of people today are an avalanche of emails that for many people never seems to end. Random companies we can’t remember giving our email to, sharing notifications, requests and updates – all clutter and fill our inboxes.

There are fundamentals though that will help increase the likelihood of cutting through this clutter and get people opening your email.

The fundamentals

1. Trigger people’s emotions

For instant “knee jerk” decisions such as opening an email, connecting with people emotionally is far more effective than trying to be informative and appeal to their rationale. This means targeting people’s empathy, desire to influence and intellect. Example: “You have the power to make a better experience”

The difficult thing about appealing to rationale is that customers’ conscious minds must be engaged and motivated enough to want to process the information at hand. And if they are not they will simply choose to ignore it.  Emotion, on the other hand, appeals to the subconscious mind. Which takes shortcuts to avoid actually evaluating the information in front of it, and instead appeals to previously learnt emotions and instincts to shorten the decision making process.

And yes, as noted above, you can phrase something intellectually and have it still act as an emotional trigger. “We require your careful reasoned evaluation,” appeals to intellect but creates a sense of inclusiveness and importance.

2. Be specific, relevant and personalized

Get to the point fast, make sure it’s useful for customers and direct the email to them. While you can talk about yourself, make sure this is still directed at the importance of the customer: what’s in it for them? This may seem hard convince a customer of, for something like surveys, but what a customer gets out of it isn’t always as selfish as you think. E.g. “help us, help you!”

Also, use time or location as a way to create a sense of interest. Something like, “tell us about yesterday’s purchase” is a great way to create a sense of inquisitiveness through a feeling of personalization.

3. Questions?

People like being asked questions because everyone wants to be heard. Targeting the same impulse as the point above, questions feel personal and convey a sense of worth/importance.

But don’t think it just has to be a question; anything that sparks people’s desire to give their opinion is the key here. “What do you think we should do next?”

4. Don’t lie, be clear what’s inside the email

It is commonly said good copywriting means that each line you write should want to make the customer read the next line, and after that line the next line. And while this is completely true, if the email itself has nothing to do with the subject then you will start to find the difference between your open-rate and click-through rate growing. “Tell us what you think in just 1 minute”

5. “My robot is street legal”

This great subject line from the Daily Digg illustrates how being absurd, nonsensical or humorous will spark people’s’ curiosity. Leaving information out will also peak the inquisitive nature of recipients. Note that being clever and funny does not mean being deceptive

Lastly, don’t be afraid to experiment with your language, people get tired of reading the same set of adjectives to describe things.

6. Keep it short and sweet

Make it brief, because after about 50 characters people stop read….

While this is not a hard and fast rule, and if you have come up with something longer that you think targets your audience brilliantly, try it out. However, unless it is a targeted email that customers are sort looking to receive, providing more information tends to lose the audience.

Some uncertain resources

  • Superlatives can work. Words like certain, no-fail or worst, can entice people to click, but be careful this can become cheesy sales talk if not carefully employed.
  • Numbers, numbers, numbers. This has be the godsend for the digital age writer: If in doubt of what to say, use numbers. So why have we put it as an uncertainty?  After 10 years of people being bombarded with “10 reasons why…..” and “5 ways to improve…”, its own strength and thus oversaturation may be its own undoing. Oh, and yes we realize the hypocrisy of this statement.
  • ALL CAPS, exclamation points, symbols and special characters. This is tricky because at times such things as all caps and exclamation points serve a purpose and are effective. But much of the time, these things can make your email look too much like sales and will turn people off.

Don’t just follow, test for yourself.

The principles above are a guide to creating good subject lines. Not all can or need to be applied within each subject line, and others can be broken if in favor of another principle being well employed.

But blindly following content marketing tips is not a good idea. Each company and its customers are different, and finding what works and what doesn’t means testing your own subject lines to learn what attracts your customers best.

Testing really is king. And don’t just test subject lines, but make sure you test what days of the week or hours of the day are more effective, because a good subject line might ultimately be weakened by sending it at the wrong time.

We’ve given you the fundamentals, now click through to discover how to create your next survey and boost your open rates.

subject lines survey


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Written by Christian Reni

Christian writes for CustomerGauge about all things Net Promoter and customer experience related. Not content with merely being informative, Christian's aim is to create free-flowing stories that not only enlighten but actively engage the reader.

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