Congratulations to Marissa Glowac, who has been promoted from Senior Research Manager to Vice President of Insights! Thank you for your great work, and for the calm and thoughtful presence you’ve brought to CSR and our clients over the past nine years! You go, girl!
The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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As most of you know, our esteemed colleague, EVP and co-owner of CSR Mark Palmerino, passed away last month. Thank you so much for all of your wonderful support and generous tributes to him. Mark will be missed very much.
What follows is the newsletter, written by Mark, that we were going to publish last month. We release it today because it perfectly captures how much Mark cared about our work, and about all of the thoughtful, generous research participants who make it all possible. It’s also vintage Palmerino, in that it manages to be both sharply intellectual and compassionate at the same time.
Enjoy reading this month’s edition of Research with a Twist, “Have You Hugged Your Respondents Today?”, and let’s raise all of our proverbial glasses to our one-of-a-kind friend and colleague!
Have You Hugged Your Respondents Today?
We’ve made a similar query before, and it’s a strange question, partially because the word “respondent” is objective and formal – who would want to hug the research equivalent of a steel post? So, why do we call the people who answer our critical questions, “respondents”? Where did that terminology come from?
In fact, B.F. Skinner, the American psychologist and social philosopher, was one of the first to popularize the term. He used it to describe the pigeons in his experiments who could be made to “respond” to things, like mild electric shocks, and ping pong balls.
At first “respondents” referred to animal test subjects. The term was appropriated later to describe the college students who participated in experiments, thereby lumping them into the same category as pigeons.
Maybe some of us don’t see a difference between college students and pigeons – they both travel in flocks, and make a mess in the streets. But we think they are very different, and in fact, believe we need to rethink how to treat all of the wise, wonderful people whose opinions we seek. Here’s why:
1. We Tend to Be Kind of Mean to Respondents
Do we treat the people whose thoughts we covet with the respect and the honor they deserve? You be the judge:
We invite them to take a survey and then very often, as little as 30 seconds later, tell them they don’t qualify.
Often, we tell them a survey takes 15 minutes, when it takes many (about half of the group) longer.
We ask them to take mind-numbing surveys, with grids so obtuse that even most of us researchers hate testing them.
We often don’t pay them at a rate commensurate with what their time is worth, particularly “High Value Audiences” such as professionals.
Professionals, in particular, value information and insights, so we offer them reports based on the results of the study. But, how often do we water those reports down because we’re afraid of revealing something important to us?
OK, maybe not so mean that Taylor Swift would write a song about it, but pretty mean given that our entire industry is based on understanding these folks.
2. The “I’m Rubber, You’re Glue” Principle
Psychological theory (e.g., “situational attribution of behavior“) tells us that we get from those we interact with a level of information that is “forced” by our stance towards them. In other words, if we treat people like “respondents,” they will act that way in return. Reminds me of that saying on the playground, “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!”
I notice this, for example, when I speak with a salesperson. When she starts telling me what to buy without asking me what I need, I start answering robotically, with yes or no responses. This is a sure sign that I will be buying nothing from this person. My goal is to end the conversation as quickly as possible.
On the other hand, if the sales representative asks me questions and gets to know me, I relax and start talking more freely about the pluses and minuses of the purchase. She treats me like a person, and I do the same.
3. Getting From Research “Respondent” to “Participant”
So, how should we interact with the people of whom we ask our critical research questions? If we don’t want them simply to “respond,” what should define the relationship?
At CSR, we use the word “participant.” This indicates that these individuals are taking part in the research with us. They aren’t merely responding to questions, they are sharing in our quest to understand their needs, or the market, better. When participants take part in an activity, they are more likely to open up.
As in my example with the salesperson, in order truly to understand what our customers and prospects think, we have to engage them in thoughtful and respectful ways. Otherwise, we risk getting the type of answers intended to get rid of us as soon as possible rather than insight into improving our businesses.
Here’s the Twist:
We think it’s important to value the people whose opinions are so central to the work we do in market research. As a first step toward this goal, we recommend interacting with them as participants rather than respondents, i.e., working with them in ways that we ourselves like to collaborate. In this way, we become partners in seeking knowledge – not pigeons playing ping pong with one another.
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
To take the treatment of our participants even farther into the realm of insightful engagement, we have a few practical suggestions:
Use alternatives to the typical screener questions. For example, can you find ways to identify ideal participants and ‘let them in’ to the study, rather than screening people out? By recruiting in this way, when a participant agrees to speak with you, they won’t be disqualified during the first 30 seconds of the interaction.
If, for some reason, your find during the research interaction that the participant does not fit the profile of the person with whom you’d like to speak, let them participate anyway. Especially with regard to surveys, including “extra” participants is not typically costly, and the good will it generates, or rather, the lack of bad will, is never a bad thing.
Do more qualitative research. We spend too much time asking people to fill out surveys online and not enough time actually having a meaningful conversation with them. If we are honest about the true value of the information derived from online surveys versus actual conversations, we believe that the balance of research budgets would be 10% surveys versus 90% in-depth interviews.
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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