Thank you, thank you, thank you! So many of you responded to our last newsletter, and expressed concern about my husband’s welfare, that I wanted to share an update and a few more lessons we have drawn as our experience with the health care system continues. Dan’s health progresses nicely, and our gratitude to his doctors and nurses, and all of our friends who wished and prayed for his speedy recovery, is reflected in the title of this month’s issue, which is called (appropriately for this time of year), “Giving Thanks.”
Julie Brown President
As I explained in last month’s newsletter, my husband Dan was struck by a mystery ailment at the beginning of this past summer, one that nearly killed him. While to this day the root cause remains undiagnosed, Dan appears to have returned to his usual good health. Our last hurdle is a series of tests to be taken in a few weeks, and if no lingering effects are detected, Dan’s doctors will lift the travel ban that they put him on as he was being treated. Thankfully, it’s just in time for us to plan an island getaway sometime this winter!
While the crisis seems to have abated, many memories of working with Dan’s talented health care team members linger, and of course, I relate them to the “other” love of my life – market research. Read on for these thankful, research wonk musings!
Open-ended approaches aren’t just best for diagnoses; they build rapport
I mentioned last month how frustrating it was to us that the doctors on medical rounds limited their approaches to closed-ended, primarily yes/no, interrogations. These tactics resulted in little more than our feeling frustrated and ignored.
On the other hand, Dan’s cardiologist, Dr. M., is our hero. Over the years that he has worked with my husband, they have shared travel, family, and local political stories, and have exchanged many fine restaurant and lodging recommendations. Knowing Dan writes for a beer publication, Dr. M. has traded tasting notes on new beers with Dan, who in turn has occasionally brought Dr. M. collectible and unusual beers to try. In short, over the years, they have built a deep rapport and trust, from a foundation of open discourse and understanding of how each lives and works.
While we would never expect to develop the same kind of relationship with doctors on 20-minute rounds as with a specialist we’ve been seeing for half a dozen years, the fact that Dr. M. has made the effort to get to know Dan from the very beginning has greatly helped foster the kind of information exchange that leads to accurate diagnoses and better treatment. And this effort was not built from years of administering closed-ended surveys, but hours of open-ended conversations and unrestrained dialogue. Market research is no different: to elicit the best thinking and insight from study participants, building rapport throughout interviews is critical. Open-ended approaches give the interviewer much more opportunity to prove to the interviewee that s/he is being listened to and appreciated, and that his/her ideas are valued and respected.
We’ve all heard it before: people do business with people they like
As is clear, we like Dr. M. Because we initially called him at the onset of symptoms, as Dan is in an age bracket where heart attacks commonly occur, he was involved from the very beginning of this ordeal. However, as the situation evolved, it became evident that the root cause was not a heart ailment, but that any effects on his heart were only results of that underlying cause. As this unfolded, the pressure by administrators and others to remove Dan’s cardiologist from the primary team became as acute as his initial symptoms. We fought this suggested change with every idea, tactic, and complaint we could think of.
Business psychology and motivational experts from Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziglar to Keith Ferrazzi tell us that people do business with people they like, and medicine is no exception. We see and experience the same thing with our research clients and their customers time and time again. And, like with Dan and Dr. M., the key is open-ended discussion that builds the relationship. For example, here are just two of many observations that study participants shared in a recent “longitudinal qualitative” B2B engagement we conducted on behalf of an insurance company:
I think it’s a great idea for an insurance company to do this. I don’t know if it’s a regular process that they do, it’s the first time I’ve ever been involved in a survey like this.
I’m very impressed. I never worked with [company name] on the group side. I am really impressed with the research that is done and how in tune [company name] is with wanting to improve what they offer all the time. It’s remarkable to me. It’s really commendable… just the attention to us, all this has been really impressive.
When was the last time a closed-ended quant study garnered such praise for your organization?
Results are easily forgotten, but stories linger
As noted, Dan was seen by dozens of doctors, many of whom imparted encouraging but forgettable test results: “We’ve tested for bacteria x, y, and z, and you don’t have any of those.” “We can’t find any evidence of viral infections.” “You don’t have West Nile, lupus, or cancer” (ok, those last two were not so forgettable).
But we’ll never forget one doctor’s story, in response to my frustrated observation that we kept learning what Dan didn’t have, but no one could tell us what he did: were they running the right tests and looking for everything? What about flesh-eating disease, dengue fever, malaria? Weren’t those also insect-borne, like Lyme?
“So,” he explained patiently, “If I ran a test for syphilis in a convent, I can guarantee you I would get some number of positive results among those nuns. But I can reasonably guess that those will prove to be false positives based on everything else we know about the nuns. However, if I run the same test in a brothel, I’ll also get some number of positive results, possibly a higher number. And, based on everything we know about the occupants of that brothel, we’ll assume, again reasonably, that many of those results are not false, but real positives.” We laughed so hard, we forgot about the diagnostic tests for a few minutes!
The way that doctor used a humorous story to make a point accomplished two goals: It helped make his point more memorable, and it diffused tension and anxiety associated with waiting on test results. Leveraging humor and story-telling skills is just as effective in research: it can bring your results alive, and ensure that your audience remembers your key points long after the study is over.
Here’s the Twist: While we continue to hope and pray that Dan’s ordeal is behind him, the lessons that we learned will remain with us for years to come. Remembering those parallels between the practice of good medicine and good market research will help ensure the continued robust health of our studies, results, and new insights!
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
What do we do at CSR to enhance our “practice” of research?
In our interviewer training, we stress the importance of building rapport with study participants, and offer proven strategies that help with this goal. Being friendly, adjusting speaking speed to more closely mirror that of the interviewee’s, using proper intonation, active listening, probing appropriately, and fully understanding the engagement goals so as to keep the interview on track are all skills we help our interviewers develop and maintain.
We explicitly remind ourselves that study participants see us as part of our client’s organization, and act accordingly. We call at appointed times, we document difficulties or issues, we pay honoraria promptly, and if there is urgent or critical feedback that our client needs to hear during the course of a study, we share it right away. Every senior team member at CSR has worked on the “client side” at one point in our lives: we understand how to conduct ourselves like the professional extension of your organization that we are.
While we can’t always use funny stories about brothels to illustrate our key findings, we can, and do, use the many anecdotes and verbatims that we gather through the open-ended conversations we conduct to provide examples of recommendations and conclusions in our presentations and reports, in written, audio, and visual formats where appropriate.
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.
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