Effective mail surveys are typically planned and executed like a well-choreographed dance routine that must have all dancers hitting their mark at the right place and the right time. Every step in the sequence – from printing and mailing to fulfillment and data collection services – must be optimized for a streamlined performance.

One step that requires particular attention is the timing and management of survey returns. Survey return management depends on factors outside your control, including the timing of respondents’ completing the surveys and the postal service delivering the returns. This relative blind spot also creates challenges in staffing. You can imagine the wasted cost in staffing a team to process more than 10,000 returns while facing unexpected survey return delays.

As a leading provider of mail surveys, we help researchers plan for and anticipate potential risks and/or delays before they happen. Here is what we found are the best ways to streamline your survey return schedule:


1. Set an Appropriate Response Time Window

Survey response time is driven by several factors:

  • Interest Level A high-interest topic and a short survey could see returns in as little as a few days, whereas others can take as many as one to two weeks. Being mindful of this will help you set reasonable timeline expectations. 
  • In-home Date Depending on your mail delivery method (standard vs. express), your respondents may receive the survey in-home in as little as a few days or as long as 1 week or more. Consider in-home receipt as part of your timeline window.
  • Return By Date A clearly communicated “complete/return by” date should be printed on the survey materials so that respondents have a deadline.
  • Holidays – Holiday mail takes longer to be both delivered and returned. Respondents also tend to put off completing their surveys during holidays as distractions abound. If you must send out your surveys during a holiday, allow extra time for returns. We typically recommend a 3-4 week return window for most surveys, and 5-6 weeks during holidays, to ensure participants have enough time to consider and complete their surveys.


Survey Return Schedule

Survey Return Schedule

(3 mailings, $2 pre-incentive, $40 promised incentive)


2. Don’t Jump the Gun on Subsequent Mailings

During your response window, you will notice that the number of responses starts to taper off. While you may be eager to move on to your next mailing, we recommend waiting for any late responses because of the impact it will have on subsequent mailings. As you can see from the 2nd graph above, the 2nd mailing was sent when the response rate reached its lowest. This is to provide the follow-up mailings a revised file of respondent names and addresses before going into production – which can take up to a week or more (depending on the level of printing and assembly required). In so doing you can account for people’s replies from the first mailing and avoid sending them follow-up mailings for a survey they just completed!


3. Minimize Post Office Delay

There are specific steps you can take before the returns come in that will help you streamline and expedite the process: 

  • Make sure there is enough money in your business reply account – If you overlook this step, you likely won’t hear about it until after the envelopes have piled up at the post office, and someone gets around to contacting you, costing you valuable time and energy.
  • Make sure your dedicated postal worker is not on vacation – It happens more often than you would think. Postal workers are given various assignments, and there is typically an employee dedicated to handling your company’s reply mail. We recommend you call the post office to ensure that a dedicated staff member will indeed be working on your assignment during your response window.

Survey response mail is among the most exciting yet uncertain parts of survey management. By following these tips, you’ll be better able to estimate your timeline, minimize risk, and account for all of your survey responses.

For more information on survey fulfillment services or any aspect of mail survey management, contact us today!