Maximize Your Tenant Survey Response Rates

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We recently completed a tenant satisfaction survey for a client … this was the third wave of a survey that we do for this client every couple of years. As most of you know, in addition to one-off-type questions, it’s important to ask a core group of consistent questions from wave to wave so that you can compare the results over time and see what improvements your amazing property management efforts have resulted in between surveys. For our client’s survey, the interesting thing about the most recent wave is that the response rate was more than three times that of the previous wave and more than five times the response rate of the first wave. (For the most recent wave, the property manager did an amazing job of encouraging the tenants to complete the survey, which resulted in much higher response rates.)

Great news, right? Well, yes and no. The higher response rate means that the sample from the latest wave is a more representative sample of the total building population, which leads to more reliable and therefore more actionable results, which is great. The bad news is that because the sample size for the most recent survey is SO much bigger than the samples from the previous two waves, the results of each wave can’t be reliably compared. So even though a lot of time and effort went into the first two waves and there was a lot of useful information gleaned from those surveys, doing a comparative analysis is not going to yield meaningful results.

So how can this be avoided? The key is to work on maximizing response rates from the get-go so that you have a representative sample starting with the very first survey. Try these simple steps:

  1. Start by letting your tenants know that you’re planning to do a survey (through all available communication channels)
  2. Let the tenants know the benefits of completing the survey (improved service, amenities, etc.,)
  3. You can offer an incentive, like a contest entry for gift cards or movie passes, to help drive response rates
  4. Then follow up with a summary of the results after the survey is complete.

When I worked at Marathon Realty in the ‘90s and helped oversee Marathon’s tenant satisfaction surveys, we had a competition between buildings to see who could get the highest response rate. Now don’t expect to get the 60% response rate that one of our Montreal buildings got, but, based on my experience, you can shoot for something in the 25-30% range and feel that you’ll have a representative sample.

I’m not going to get into confidence intervals and margins of error (you’re welcome!), but if this is something that you’d like to get a feel for and measure on your next (or last) survey, check out this online tool. At the end of the day there’s a balance between getting representative survey results and the incremental cost of increasing response rates, so try to find your sweet spot. Do your best to make sure that your tenants are aware of the survey – as well as the benefits – then follow up with the results, and the responses should take care of themselves.

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