How to get more people to agree to help you

Make them feel like an expert.

If you want more people to reply to your survey, email, podcast request, etc., then you need to make them feel like an expert.

This was a strategy I picked up from Cindy Alvarez, Principal Design Researcher at Microsoft. She discovered that people are much more likely to help you if you make them feel like they’re needed and special in some way:

“A multimillion dollar widget-making company does not want to hear from you that they’re making widgets wrong. Be humble. Showing off or trying to pull rank will fail. Acknowledge that the customer is the expert, and you’re the one trying to understand. (Note: this is always good advice.)”

You can do this in a few very simple ways:

  • Outright tell them they’re the expert: “You’re the expert here!”
  • Tell them what you’re going to do with their knowledge: “You’ll help me fix this problem I think you experience.”
  • Admit your own lack of knowledge (people like helping human beings, not surveys): “I don’t know as much about this as I’d like to and really need your help to learn more.”

You can certainly throw prizes and reimbursements towards people to entice them to reply, but nothing beats saying to someone, “Hey, you know a lot about this thing that I don’t. You’re the expert. Can I ask a few questions to learn from you?” It makes them feel useful, which is a great feeling. Let them know that if they don’t help you, then you may never learn anything about whatever it is they’re an expert in.

I also recommend not pushing a survey (or any research-related request really) too hard. If no one is willing to help you, it may mean that the underlying premise of your survey isn’t true. For example, if you ask thirty mechanics to take a survey about the hardest part about scheduling maintenance and none of them reply, then maybe there’s not much of a struggle happening there in the first place.

An underwhelming response to a survey isn’t automatically a failure. It can help you learn something, too.