It is no secret that completes are increasingly difficult to get, and even more so when the survey questions can be deemed sensitive.

It is no secret that completes are increasingly difficult to get, and even more so when the survey questions can be deemed sensitive. Market researchers are faced with the reality of dwindling response rates; which can be exacerbated when asking questions around drug use, personal health, political affiliations, and beyond.

It has never been more important to approach sensitive survey questions with care in order to preserve response rate and get a robust representative sample. Special attention must be paid to ensure that the survey does not appear too intrusive – for risk of offending the respondent or encouraging them to be dishonest with their responses.

Social desirability bias is when respondents feel compelled to provide inaccurate answers due to perceived societal pressure. In addition to this unease, respondents may also be apprehensive to provide more personal information if they are unsure about the security of their data.

How can asking sensitive questions impact your survey metrics? There are 3 key downfalls:

  • Dip in overall response rates
  • Single question decline rates
  • Response accuracy

How can we increase the likelihood of a steady response rate with accurate answers?

Below, we have outlined 5 effective tactics for asking sensitive survey questions.

1. Go the Multichannel Route

Integrated survey platforms help researchers target a single respondent database and follow their responses across multiple channels. For example, sending an online survey after a phone interview is completed. With the right tools, the logic of the online survey can trigger questions based on CATI responses and pose questions on sensitive topics that are easier to respond to online than on the phone.

2. Switch It Up – Live

Redirecting respondents mid-interview to a self-completion channel to get sensitive information can encourage more honest responses. This lets respondents enjoy the anonymity and privacy needed to feel comfortable divulging more personal information. This is a great opportunity to switch from CATI to an IVR system, in which respondents can use their phone keypad to answer, and not have a person-to-person conversation.

3. Watch Your Language

Managing a survey should not be treated as a “set it and forget it” endeavor. It is wise to pay close attention to real-time analytics as responses flow in. As such, if a significant drop in responses at a question is noted, alter the question! Reiterate survey anonymity and data security for questions that are low performing, so respondents get some peace of mind.

4. Tweak the Flow

Beyond verbiage, it may also be ideal to verify the logic and flow of the survey if respondents are turned off by sensitive questions. Try moving sensitive questions further into the survey so respondents have time to get acclimated to the process and feel more comfortable. Trigger ease-in question questions for respondents who selected “refuse” on the first sensitive question.

5. Be a Good Host

As being tech-literate becomes more mainstream, the average respondent/consumer is increasingly aware of issues surrounding data privacy. There is a growing number of respondents that prefer to be assured that their data is being stored by the highest possible security. Consider hosting on servers internally rather than in the cloud.

Keep Response Rates High

It’s time to take measures to protect your response rates. In an age of growing concerns over data security, those who do respond to your surveys could drop off if prompted in an uncomfortable way. Even in self-administered surveys, respondents may still provide dishonest information as a result of sensitive questions.

There are a number of ways to use survey technology to your advantage when asking the tough questions!

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