With almost anything can be achieved with the help of the Internet, are mail surveys still useful? While online surveys are just around the corner, mail surveys can be an efficient means of collecting data depending on your goals and objectives. For instance, there are some businesses and organizations that still employ mail surveys in measuring employee and/or customer satisfaction.
What is a Mail Survey?
A quantitative data collection method, mail survey is the pioneer of self-administered questionnaires. In this approach, the researcher sends the questionnaires enclosed with postage-paid envelope through the postal system. Meanwhile, the participants will be asked to answer questions that are written on a paper. After completing the questionnaire, the respondents will send it back through mail.
Mail surveys are often described to be straightforward, comprehensible, and having few open-end questions. Compared with telephone surveys, the cost in conducting a mail survey is typically lower. To make the most out of it, mail surveys should be used when the researcher wishes to know if there are changes on the product or service that the consumer would want, the consumers’ opinion regarding the company’s eventual plans, or time-sensitive matters.
Applicability of Mail Surveys
Mail surveys can be employed in collecting data only if it satisfy any of these:
- You know or have access to the complete name and home address of the members of your target population.
- Since it is more challenging to complete a written survey than a verbal survey, your respondents must be able to read and write well. It is also ideal if their educational level is above average.
- The survey’s participants are likely to be concerned or interested in the goals of the research, e.g. improving the quality of the brand.
- The survey does not have time constraints. Sending and receiving a mail survey can be a month-long process.
- Instructions in the questionnaire can be easily followed and the questions are simple and can be understood without difficulty.
Advantages of a Mail Survey
- Cost– Mail surveys need not much of manpower. A man alone can administer the entire survey process. Compared with telephone surveys and face-to-face interviews, the cost in conducting a mail survey is relatively cheaper. This type of survey is optimal of there are large sample size involved. Let us say that the participants are around 40,000. Mailing them is cost-effective than calling them one by one. On estimate, a typical medium-scale mail survey can cost at least $5,000. On the contrary, a telephone survey or a face-to-face interview requires double or triple of your budget for a mail survey.
- Geographical stratification– A mail survey can specifically target different segments of the population.
- Honesty– Research shows that participants of a survey give more honest answers compared with other data collection methods. This is because respondents are more comfortable giving their views or opinions through writing.
- Convenience– Mail surveys provide convenience to respondents for they can answer the questionnaires at their own pace. Survey participants have the liberty to use as much time needed when answering the survey, which will result to more comprehensive and thorough responses. They can also answer the questionnaire anywhere they want to, as long as they have survey instrument.
- Administration– For those who will administer and supervise the mail survey, not much of an experience are needed. This type of survey does not oblige the authority to make decisions during high-pressure scenarios. For researchers, they are permitted to curtail sampling errors. They also have the jurisdiction of what the respondents can see on the questionnaire, unlike online surveys where software compatibilities and technical issues are factors on how the survey will be displayed.
Other strengths of a mail survey include being able to contain lengthy and complex questions and visuals that will aid respondents in answering certain questions can be incorporated, and can ensure confidentiality and anonymity.
Disadvantages of a Mail Survey
- Coverage errors and Response Rates– A mail survey usually generates 3-15% response rate. Having said that, it is not the primary drawback of engaging in this type of survey. The real problem is how to obtain a reliable and complete list of participants from the target population. When failed to do so, this will result to coverage errors. Examples are incomplete mailing lists e.g. excluding members of the family that are temporarily away like college students. Biased results and outdated information are also included in coverage errors.
- Questionnaire design– Since mail surveys do not offer the opportunity for follow-ups, the questionnaire design can make or break the survey. Questions must be brief, straightforward and accurate.
- Respondents– Mail surveys are unseemly ineffectual for very young children, disabled or sick persons, to those with language barriers, and marginally literate or illiterate.
- Administration– Researchers have no control as to whether or not the survey has been completely answered or what will happen to the questionnaire after being mailed.
Designing the Mail Survey
The manner by which you present your mail survey will greatly influence the survey’s response rate. A poorly written questionnaire with confusing instructions and questions is one of the may reasons why respondents often neglect or do not bother to engage in the mail survey. To avoid this, it is suggested that surveyors have to create and design questions that will yield the response they are looking for. If the survey’s goal is to evaluate customer satisfaction, directly asking whether the respondents are satisfied with the company’s product or service will not suffice. Always include follow-up questions like “Why are you unhappy with the company’s brand?” In addition, avoid open-ended questions and leading questions. Lastly, the entire survey must be simple, direct, and coherent.
Steps in Ensuring a Successful Survey
- Establish your goal and the survey’s objectives.
- As much as possible, make sure that the survey is designed to be biased-proof.
- Inform the respondents that they will be a part of the mail survey and don’t forget the time estimate when they will receive the survey.
- Fasten a signed cover letter and enclose a stamped return envelope.
- Mail the survey. Remind those who did not respond while mail a thank you note to those who responded.