Editor’s note: David Ensing is vice president, automotive research consulting at research and software firm MaritzCX, Toledo, Ohio. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Improving survey response rates through incentives.”

From time to time customer experience managers hear the following questions from their internal clients: “Is our response rate too low?” “What can we do to increase our response rate?” “Should we provide an incentive for people to respond?” Like many things in research, these relatively simple questions have somewhat complex answers.

When faced with these questions, the first thing to address is what issue is really being raised. Is the question about increasing response rates (the percentage of people who respond to a survey invitation), increasing the total number of responses at a given level of the organization (e.g., dealerships) or improving the representativeness of the responses obtained? Improving the response rate is often not the most effective way to increase the total number of responses and/or improve representativeness.

Part I of this two-part series will look at increasing responses and considering the cost-benefit analysis consumers make when considering taking a survey. Part II will look more specifically at appropriately using monetary incentives to increase response rates.

To increase responses at the unit level and improve representativeness, the first place to look is the sampling scheme. Is the program sampling only a small percentage of customers in an attempt to control costs? If so, it is often more economically feasible to sample more customers and not use an incentive than it is to provide an incentive to increase response rates of a smaller sample.

Another aspect of the sampling scheme to examine is whether important segments of customers are being excluded from the sample frame. For instance, i...