DIY online surveys: ten steps to maximising their value

With the plethora of tools to provide direct access to customers asking for their feedback online, do they provide a threat or an opportunity to research professionals?

In 1986, Colin Bates, now MD of Customer Champions, introduced one of the first online interactive research tools. It was called Interview and utilised view-data technology by placing small screens in respondents’ homes and asking them a series of defined questions. Utilising their landline telephone connections the data could be collected that night. The primary use was to access difficult to contact respondents by placing a couple of hundred of these terminals in targeted homes. The innovative company that was the first to spot the opportunity was London Weekend Television (LWT) who were able to sell on this approach to their advertisers.

Today, over two decades later, this pioneering approach now appears very cumbersome when compared with the internet and the many readily available devices with access to it. This easy access for respondents, combined with numerous software packages offering anyone the opportunity to create a questionnaire and put it in front of customers, enables employees in many companies the opportunity to conduct customer research for themselves. When you combine this with the corporate vision of being customer focused, what can possibly go wrong?

When we talk about this to the many market research professionals we come into contact with on both sides of the client/agency divide, we continually hear the following concerns:

Costly Waste

One of the most important things a research professional will know is to have a clear idea of what you want out of any research.  Being able to design a questionnaire is an unsung skill – it looks easy but it is where many projects come unstuck. When required outputs are not clearly thought through the questions posed can’t possibly be. This will result in dangerously misleading data – a costly mistake. One does also wonder how inappropriately forced options and exhausting banks of attribute-rating will make responding customers feel about your company?

When there is no senior ownership for the findings little to no action takes place as a result due to lack of resource and awareness. Spending money and resource on research and then not acting on the findings is the kind of waste we unfortunately see only too often. The plethora of readily available DIY online survey tools makes the situation increasingly common, and the need for the market research professionals’ guiding hand even more critical.

Even in organisations which have an Insight or Market Research department, DIY surveys are conducted by other departments without the knowledge and input from the very people the business has put in place to manage such programmes. This leads also to surveys undertaken when data is already available and customers being overwhelmed with these kinds of DIY research which impacts their willingness to participate in more formal research programmes.

Reputation Damage

Poorly handled online surveys are damaging for both the Market Research profession and your Corporate Brand.

Many users of DIY online research do not have clear objectives for the research and therefore the questions may not be thought through – you’ve seen them – spelling mistakes and poor grammar – what does this say about your organisation?  It would be surprising to see other customer communications handled in such a cavalier fashion.

The other casualty is the market research profession itself which is devalued as it is perceived that research can be done immediately and for free on the internet – why do we need to pay professionals, and why do they need a budget? In other words what is the added value they bring?

Threat Becomes Opportunity

Our view is that the way to tackle these issues is not as some companies do and attempt to ban or restrict the access to particular tools, but to look how the research professionals can add value. It is surely a positive thing that employees want to understand their customers more, the market research team simply need to facilitate a process that delivers appropriate results for them, and ultimately a better experience for the customer.

Here are ten things research professionals can do to improve the situation:

  1. Raise the profile of the MR department – make sure all employees are aware there is a professional resource available to call upon
  2. Audit employees on what information they would like to know about customers
  3. Communicate effectively what data is currently captured
  4. Outline planned research and offer the opportunity to input into this
  5. Provide training on questionnaire design
  6. Provide a testing facility of the questionnaire
  7. Ask that all research is at least registered with the research team with an owner who will both share findings and associated actions
  8. Recommend when online surveys are appropriate and when other tools would be more effective
  9. Provide an approved list of online questionnaire tools, and a process for their use, including what support is available
  10. Identify what value can be added to the data through customer insight

And remember…

D Don’t treat online survey tools as a threat but as a cost-effective resource
I Inject market research skills and principles and these tools can be added to the tool-kit
Y Your colleagues will benefit if you work with them in helping to understand customer needs

Take the next step

If you would like to discuss how to maximise the value of DIY online surveys within your own organisation, please do get in touch.

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