Posts Tagged ‘survey research’

Marketing Research in Practice

October 12, 2010

Most of the topics I have written about discuss the concepts of marketing research in theory. Today, I want to give you an overview of how marketing research works in practice. Marketing research from a practical standpoint should be discussed periodically because the realities of business are constantly changing and the ideal approach to research and the feasible approach can be very far apart.

Recently, I submitted a bid to a prospective client, who was looking to conduct a survey from a population that was difficult to reach. My bid came up higher than was expected. The department who was to execute the findings of this survey was on a tight budget. Yet, I had to explain the largest cost driver was hiring a marketing research firm to provide the sample. One faction within the company wanted to move ahead at the price I quoted; another wanted to look for ways to reduce the scope of the study and hence the cost. The tradeoff between cost and scope is often the first issue that emerges in the practice of marketing research.

Much of the practice of marketing research parallels what economists have long referred to as “the basic economic problem:” limited resources against unlimited wants. Thanks to the push for company departments to work cross-functionally, there have never been more stakeholders in the outcome of marketing research, with each function having its own agenda from the outcomes of the research. The scope of the study can expand greatly because of the many stakeholders involved; yet the time and money available for the study are often finite.

Another issue that comes up is the selection of the marketing research vendor. Ideally, a company should retain a vendor who is strong in the type of research methodology that needs to be done. In reality, however, this isn’t always possible. Many marketers don’t deal enough with marketing research vendors in order to know their areas of expertise; many believe that every vendor is the same. That’s hardly the case. Before I started Analysights, I worked for a membership association. The association had conducted an employee satisfaction survey and retained a firm that had conducted several. As part of the project, the employee research firm would compare the ratings to those of other companies’ employees who took a similar survey. However, most of the employers who called on this firm to conduct surveys were financial institutions – banks in particular – and their ratings were not comparable to those of the association. As a result, the peer comparison was useless.

Moreover, picking a vendor who is well-versed in a particular methodology may not be possible because they do it so well, that they charge a premium for the service. Hence, clients are often required to develop second-best solutions.

There are many other political issues that come up in the practice of marketing research, too numerous to list here. The key to remember is that marketing research provides information, and information provides power. The department with control of the information has great power in the organization, which results in less than ideal marketing research outcomes.

To ensure that your marketing research outcomes come as close to ideal, it is necessary to take a series of proactive steps. First, get all the stakeholders together. Without concern for money and time, the stakeholders as a group should determine the objectives of the study. Once the objectives are set, the group needs to think through the information they need for those objectives. Collectively, they should distinguish between the “need to know” and the “nice to know,” information and first go with the former. Generally, about 20% of the findings you generate will provide nearly 80% of the actionable information you need. It’s always best to start with a study design whose results provide the greatest amount of relevant, actionable information at the smallest scope possible.

Once the stakeholders are on board for the objectives and the information they must obtain for the objectives, then there should be some agreement on the tradeoffs between the cost of executing the research, the sophistication of the approach, and the data to be collected. Then timeframe and money should be considered. Once the tradeoffs have been agreed to, the study scope can be adjusted to meet the time allotted for the study and the budget.

Marketing research, in theory, focuses on the approaches and tools for doing marketing research. In practice, however, the marketing research encompasses much more: office politics and culture; time and budget constraints; dealing with organizational power and conflict; and identifying the appropriate political and resource balance for conducting the study.

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Rankings – not Ratings – Matter in Customer Satisfaction Research

October 5, 2010

Companies spend countless dollars each year trying to measure and improve customer satisfaction. Much research has indicated that improved customer satisfaction brings about improved sales and share of wallet. Yet, the relationship is a weak one. Despite how satisfied customers say they are in customer satisfaction surveys, nearly 80% of their spending doesn’t relate to their stated satisfaction. Why is that?

In the Fall 2010 issue of Marketing Research, Jan Hofmeyr and Ged Parton of Synovate offer two reasons for this weak relationship between business results and satisfaction: companies don’t measure how their customers feel about competitors, nor do they recognize that they should be concerning themselves with the company’s rank, not its rating. For these reasons, the authors argue, models of what drives customer share of wallet offer little confidence.

Hofmeyr and Parton suggest some ways companies can make these improvements. Companies can start by getting ratings of the competition from the same respondent. If, for example, you are asking your customers to rate your company on a set of attributes that you believe are part of their customer satisfaction experience, if one customer gives a rating of “9” on a 10-point satisfaction scale, and another gives a rating of “8,” you are naturally inclined to treat the first customer as more likely to return and do business with you in the future. But that is only one piece of the puzzle, the authors say. What if you ask your customers to also rate your competition on those same attributes? What if the first customer assigns a competitor a “10” and the second customer a “7”? Basically what happens is that the first customer is very satisfied with your company, but even more satisfied with your competitor; the second customer may not be as satisfied with your company as the first customer, but he/she is most satisfied with your company over the competition. You’d probably want to spend more time with the one who gave the “8” rating.

In this example, the authors are essentially turning ratings into rankings. The ranking, not the rating, the author’s say, is the key to increased share of wallet. Hofmeyr and Parton’s research showed that if a customer shopped predominantly at two retailers, regardless of rating, as long as a customer rated one retailer higher than the other, then the top ranked retailer got an average of between 59% and 68% share of the customer’s wallet, while the lower ranked retailer got just 32% on average. If a customer shopped at three retailers, the pattern was similar: the top-ranked retailer got as much as a 58% share of the customer’s wallet; the second-place retailer, 25%, and the lowest ranked, 17%.

While it is important to have customers rate your company on satisfaction, it is just as important to have them rate your competition on the same evoked set and then order and rescale the ratings so that you can see where your company stands. By ranking your company with respect to your competition, you can much more easily determine gaps between satisfaction expectations and delivery so that you can increase share of wallet.

Too Many Cooks Can Even Spoil the Marketing Research Broth

August 11, 2010

In yesterday’s blog post, we discussed the importance of sharing research findings with other stakeholders in your organization. Today, we’re going to discuss how that can go too far, by trying to accommodate too many constituencies within the organization in the design of our survey. It is very easy to fall into the “too many cooks” problem of marketing research. Sometimes we have budget constraints and need to gather as much information from a survey to satisfy all the stakeholders involved. Other times, the department commissioning the survey is not the same as the department funding it, so the head of the latter department will see to it that the survey also serves some of his or her objectives.

The problem with involving too many departments in the planning and design of a survey is that it will create considerable infighting and result in a “satisficing” survey, that asks several questions, some tailored to each of the company’s internal constituents. As a result, the surveys are overly long, cumbersome, and lack a coherent focus. Quite often, these surveys result in respondent fatigue, unreliable responses, and biased results.

When your company is faced with several departments needing to share a survey for information, the best thing to do would be to first understand the company’s overall objectives for a survey. Then talk with the different departments about those objectives and understand what their needs are. Get them to prioritize their needs. Then once you understand the importance of each topic or issue to each department, try to match the most important ones back with the general objectives of the survey. Then talk with all departments together and prioritize those information needs that are most in need to match the company’s general objectives. It helps to have senior management providing top-down support for this collaboration. Stress to each department that you may not be able to get all the information they desire right away, but the quality and usefulness of the data you collect is more important than the quantity.

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Research Findings are Like Manure: They Work Better When You Spread Them Around

August 10, 2010

One of the biggest mistakes companies do when conducting marketing research is conducting it in a vacuum. At many companies, the marketing department will often execute a marketing research study for either its own information, or upon request from another department. The findings of the research may also be beneficial to other parts of the company, but rarely do departments share the information. This concentration of information often leads to silos and exacerbates organizational politics. Marketing research expert Larry Kilbourne considers this data myopia – the failure to share survey findings – one of “Seven Survey Sins,” referring to it as the “Mr. Magoo Syndrome.”

Repurposing research and sharing it within the organization produces immense benefits. The sharing of the information facilitates better planning, creates buy-in from and fosters consensus among cross-functional groups, creates accountability, avoids duplication, fosters a shared purpose, and enhances the company’s agility in responding to problems and opportunities. Imagine that an insurance company with a captive sales force wanted to conduct a survey of its sales office managers. Specifically, the insurance company’s marketing department wants to know how the company stacks up against the competition in various territories.

Specifically, the marketing department would like to know who each branch sales manager considers to be the three main competitors in his/her agency’s territory, the policy features that are most important to customers and prospects in that territory, an estimate of how many potential policy sales are lost to the competition in those territories, and where they feel their main competition is beating them in terms of product features and benefits. The marketing department conducts the survey and uncovers a wealth of information. Who can benefit from it besides the top executives who commissioned the research?

Each branch agency

The marketing department should start with each branch sales manager. The sales manager might want to know whether his/her problem with a specific competitor is unique to his/her office or common to several others. Moreover, the manager might want to know where his/her office stands with respect to the rest of his region or the entire company. The findings can also help the manager plan for improvement.

Actuarial and Underwriting

The insurance company’s actuaries can also benefit from the findings. If branch sales managers in the company’s Pacific Northwest territory complain of losing too many long-term care insurance policy sales to Insurer X on the basis of price or ease of acceptance, the actuaries can review the underwriting criteria and assess whether the company is being too risk averse in that territory, or whether Insurer X is being too aggressive.

Advertising

If the insurance company faces aggressive competition in certain areas, the Advertising department can benefit from changing its strategy in those areas. It might try advertising in different newspapers, utilize direct mail or email marketing, etc.

Human Resources, Training, and Recruitment

Sharing the findings of research can also shape a dialogue between branch managers and the home office to understand what is needed to increase sales. This can often result in a refinement in training and recruiting needs for various territories. For example, if the company is losing to Insurer X in the Seattle market, it may well be due to the experience of Insurer X’s agent force, which could be experienced insurance sales professionals, professionals with a successful track record in sales careers in any industry, or naturally extroverted people with a knack for selling. If this is the case, the insurance company’s HR department could start recruiting agents with similar characteristics. It may also identify ways to change performance requirements so that the company can get rid of underperforming agents. The company can also devise new training programs to increase agent performance, and create new incentive plans.

The list of groups within the organization with whom the marketing department could share the findings is far from comprehensive. Marketing research should never be conducted in isolation, but should be used for the greater good of the organization. Whenever a company conducts marketing research, it should always have a predetermined plan for what to do with the information, the departments that could benefit from it, and ideas on how to act on the findings, whether good or bad.

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Help! Customer Satisfaction is High But Sales are Down!

July 28, 2010

Customer satisfaction measurement has been of great interest to service organizations for some years now. Nearly every industry that is both highly competitive and heavily customer-facing – like restaurants, hotels, and banks – know that a poor customer experience can result in lost future sales to the competition. As a result, these service-oriented businesses make every effort to keep their ear open to the voice of the customer. Indeed, customer satisfaction surveys proliferate – I once received five in a single week – as company after company strives to hear that customer voice.

And the effort may be futile. This isn’t to say that measuring customer satisfaction isn’t important – most certainly it is. But many companies may be overdoing it. In fact, some companies are seeing negative correlations between customer satisfaction and repeat business! Is this happening to you?

Reasons Why Satisfaction Scores and Sales Don’t Sync

If your customers are praising you in satisfaction surveys but you’re seeing no improvement in sales and repeat business, it could be for one or more of the following reasons:

You’re not Asking the Question Right

Often, a disparity between survey results and actual business results can be attributed to the two measuring different things. If you simply ask, “Overall, how satisfied were you with your stay at XYZ Hotel,” it only tells you about their current experience. If 80 percent of your respondents indicate “Satisfied” or “Very Satisfied,” you only get information about their attitudes. Then you compare satisfaction scores to either total sales or repeat sales from quarter to quarter. And you find either no correlation or a negative correlation. Why? Because the survey question measured only their perceived satisfaction, while the business results measured sales.

On the other hand, if you were to ask the question: “How likely are you to return to XYZ Hotel,” or “How likely are you to recommend XYZ Hotel to a friend or relative,” you might get a better match between responses and business outcomes.

Only Your Happiest Customers Are Responding

Another reason satisfaction scores may be high while sales are declining is because only your most loyal customers are taking the time to complete your survey. Your most loyal customers might have been trained to complete these surveys because they have been spoiled with special incentives because of their frequent patronage, and hence get better treatment than most customers.

Another, more dangerous, reason your happiest customers may be the only respondents is because the distribution of the survey is “managed,” being sent only to the people most likely to give high scores. There is a great risk of this bias in organizations where top executives’ compensation is tied to customer satisfaction scores.

Respondents Aren’t Telling the Truth

As much as we hate to admit, we’re not as honest as we claim to be. This is especially true in surveys. Entire books could be written on respondent honesty (or lack thereof). There are several reasons respondents don’t give truthful answers about their satisfaction. One obvious reason is courtesy; some just don’t like to give negative feedback. Still, even with the promise of confidentiality, respondents worry that if they give a poor rating, they’ll receive a phone call from the business’ representative, which they aren’t comfortable taking.

Survey incentives – if not carefully structured – can also lead to untruthful respondents. If you offer respondents a chance to win a drawing in exchange for completing your customer satisfaction survey, they may lie and say positive things about their experience, in the hopes that it would increase their odds of winning the prize.

You’re Hearing Your Customer but Not Really Listening

In many cases, your customers might say one thing, but really mean another. The customer could be quite satisfied on the whole, but there might be one or two smaller things, that if unchecked, can reduce the customer’s likelihood of repeat business. For example, if you sell clothing online, but not shoes, and your customer doesn’t find out until after loading everything else into the online shopping cart, assuming he/she doesn’t abandon the cart, the customer completes the order for the clothes he or she wants. When the customer gets the survey, he or she might indicate being very satisfied with the order he/she executed. But deep down, that same customer might not have liked that your online store doesn’t sell shoes. Whether or not the customer indicates the issue about the shoes, the next time he/she wants to buy clothes online, the customer may remember that you don’t sell shoes and choose to place the entire order with a competitor who does.

How Can We Remedy This Disparity?

There are a few ways we can remedy these situations. First, make sure the questions you ask reflect your business goals. If you want satisfied customers to return, be sure to ask how likely they are to return. Then measure the scores against actual repeat business. If you want satisfied customers to recommend your business to a friend, make sure you ask how likely they are to do so and then measure that against referrals. Compare apples to apples.

Second, reduce incentives for bias. Ideally, no executive’s compensation should be tied to survey ratings. Instead, tie compensation to actual results. If compensation must be tied to survey results, then by all means make sure the survey is administered by employees with no vested interest in the outcome of the survey. Also, make sure that your entire list of people to survey comes from similarly disinterested employees of the organization.

Third, encourage non-loyal customers to participate. You might create a separate survey for your most loyal customers. For the non-loyal customers, make sure you have ways to encourage them to respond. Whether it’s through an appropriate incentive (say a coupon for a future visit), or through friendly requests, let your non-loyal customers know you still care about their feedback.

Fourth, place reliability checks in your survey. Ask the same question in two ways (positive and negative) or phrase it slightly differently and compare the results. In the former example, you would expect the answers to be on opposite ends of the rating scale. In the latter, you would expect consistency of responses on the same end of the scale. This helps you determine whether respondents are being truthful.

Finally, be proactive. In the example of your online clothing store, you might have the foresight to realize that your decision not to sell shoes may impact satisfaction and future business. So you might be upfront about it, but at the same time, offer a link to a cooperating online retailer who does sell shoes, and allow the customer to order shoes from that retailer using the same shopping cart. That may keep the customer’s satisfaction high and increase his/her likelihood of future business.


 

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