Responding to the sound of (mostly) silence

Out of the blue, we sent you, our clients, partners and friends, a short survey that asked what you think about us. Here’s what you told us.

Firstly, you told us that an out of the blue survey is not the right way to do this. Ninety-two of you responded, for an overall response rate of eight percent. For those of you in current engagements with us the response rate was 12 percent. Our reigning hypothesis regarding response rates is that they are driven by context: “If those surveyed care about the organization and think the survey will be taken seriously, then they are likely to respond”. Now, if you were sent this survey you already know that we take these surveys super seriously, so we have to register the volume of this silence as deafening. Do the vast majority of you think we are not relevant to your work, or that we are not going to act on the survey? Is there something more benign explaining this deafening silence, like assuming someone else will respond in ways that represent you? We don’t know.

For Keystone, surveys are first and foremost a form of engagement, and not merely a data collection moment. We work a lot with our clients to get survey response rates to be as high as possible. We see from this work that it can take many months of surveys and most importantly well-communicated responses to surveys for everyone – staff and constituents alike – to see them as an essential gesture in an engagement process. We know this has happened when response rates stay above 50 percent and can reach much higher. Maybe we are a case of “cobbler’s children going barefoot”. Clearly we ourselves have a lot of work to do here. Over the next few months we will lean in on this issue and we will share with you what we learn through this blog.

Here are some of the things we heard and some things we are doing in response:

  • You trust our commitment, experience and expertise. You consider our Constituent Voice methodology to be valuable and unique. We are good thought partners.
  • Our internal back office operations have room for improvement; we can appear disorganized. We commissioned an independent operational review by a former COO of a listed company and following her recommendations have recruited a new director of operations.
  • Many of you want better tools to manage feedback loops to mine the full value of good feedback systems. You told us that our solution – the Feedback Commons – is potentially the break through you want, but is still too buggy and not sufficiently user-friendly. Our plans to address this and the development trajectory we see for the Feedback Commons will be the subject of a future blog post.
  • Some of you want us to improve our outreach, explain our method better through videos, and provide more email updates. Work is in progress to improve our website, ensure we send out regular email newsletters, and we are looking into adding video and infographics to our communications products.

One of our first internal activities in response to this survey was to conduct an audit of the past year’s client work. What we found was that all-too-often we have not met our own requirements for conducting client feedback surveys, client exit interviews, and end-of-engagement surveys. We hope that you see an immediate impact from our rededication to these practices.

Yeah, we know you have heard it before, but we do really review and act on all the feedback we receive. Please, if you have any suggestions or experiences to share, use the comments section below to let us know what you think. And you can rest assured that you will have a chance later to tell us if we responded adequately.



2 thoughts on “Responding to the sound of (mostly) silence

  • Seeking feedback yourselves is evidence of internal integrity – walking the talk – well done! I think 8% might not be low, depends on your reference point. Many businesses would be thrilled with 8% of their clients responding. I think there might also be a “more benign” (as you put it) explanation – the ecosystem of email and feedback/customer satisfaction requests. In America it is saturating – yesterday my dentist sent me a text, “how did you like your teeth cleaning?” Seriously!? So the ecosystem may be numbing response rates. As for me, I didn’t respond simply because I engage about 70% of directly addressed personal email and less than 20% of “group” or non-personal email. But I think you are doing extremely important work and I am a strong supporter, encouraging others to connect with you. Keep up the great work!

  • Thanks for your comment Scott. We love that you believe in and support our work. Your point about feedback request saturation is sobering. And your response rates on personal and group/”non-personal” emails even more so. You make me realize that mine are similar. This begs a question, how can we make Constituent Voice survey requests more like personal emails? We will keep this question in mind as we go forward and test out this three-part in-box segmentation (personal, non-personal, and survey) in the covering text for future feedback requests. Cheers and thank you!

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