CSR is once again appearing at The Market Research Event in Orlando this coming October. We will share ideas with Mutual of Omaha about how to better leverage research investments on the morning of Tuesday 10/18, in our presentation “Research Resources: Gone In 60 Seconds.”
Teach me how to say goodbye.
– Lin-Manuel Miranda, in the role of Alexander Hamilton, and Christopher Jackson, in the role of George Washington, Hamilton, An American Musical
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In drafting this summer issue, we considered how July is the month when we celebrate saying Cheerio! to Britain. Read this month’s edition of CSR’s newsletter, Research with a Twist, entitled “Teach Them How To Say Goodbye,” to see what this has to do with research!
Teach Them How to Say Goodbye
As you may remember from a recent newsletter, I became a Hamilton fanatic this past winter, after being among the fortunate who have experienced this masterpiece.
The brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda left the cast last month in an astonishingly humble way, exiting stage left after just two and a half minutes of applause. The audience was poised to clap all night (I know I would have, had I been lucky enough to be there), and many fans waited outside the theatre door in the rain in another effort to extend the farewell, but Miranda simply waved at them from a balcony, and disappeared into the night.
This very human reluctance on the part of Miranda’s fans, to embrace the sad reality of his farewell, is one of the reasons our jobs as researchers is so important. Recent events across the pond reinforce this theme, which we (of course!) believe says volumes about the critical role research plays, in organizations, politics, and yes, even life in general!
Brexit Schmexit: Why we should have believed poll results
One of the key story lines of Hamilton, of course, is the aftermath of the original “Brexit” (or perhaps more to the point, “Amerexit”); the June 23rd decision is the most recent example of a challenging geopolitical split.
Right up to the vote, most polls indicated a dead heat among voters with regard to whether Britain would stay in the European Union. While some did report that the exit outcome had a slight favor as decision day neared, almost all of the world’s leaders, from David Cameron to President Obama, were saying that of course Britain would not leave the EU; “it wouldn’t make any sense.” Much of the media amplified the opinions of the leaders, not those who would actually be doing the voting.
As researchers, we believe the phenomenon of the modern world’s original superpower being caught unprepared to implement a critical decision regarding its future is due at least in part to pollster/ reporter/ interpreter bias. Poll results that (correctly) forecast a positive outcome to the exit vote were belittled, with reporters and interpreters remarking that pro-Brexit voters were “poorly educated”, “racist”, and ‘jingoist”. These pro-exit voters, believed to be not of the same background as many of the interpreters, would be “unlikely to turn out”, and thus, even if there were more pro-exit believers throughout the country, world leaders and media talking heads expected them to vote in lower proportions than “stay” voters.
This experience reminds us of the times that research methods and results have been similarly maligned in corporate settings. From assertions that “Those results are skewed because of the participating audience” (we’ve addressed this in at least two recent issues: Un-Friendly Fire and A HiPPO Ate My Research Project) to “They must have misunderstood the question” (or the terminology: “we should have defined it differently”), we’ve seen this kind of interpreter bias frequently undermine the reliability and validity of research results.
Seek first to be understood: With apologies to Dr. Stephen Covey, who famously advised “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”, a critical vote on a country’s future should not have relied on voters’ ability to understand the vote’s implications on future financial and political policy. Many observers have detailed the ways that Brexit voters misunderstood the purpose of the vote and its aftermath.
Again, we are reminded of how research, conducted with the proper methods and under the right circumstances, could have played a much-needed role in this contest, by helping Britain’s leaders better appreciate voters’ lack of awareness and familiarity with Brexit implications. One-on-one in-depth interviews focused on identifying gaps between what voters thought they understood and the true ramifications of the decision might have uncovered more education and communication opportunities among voters. Focus groups, a research method popular among political campaigns, are not a good forum for understanding voter comprehension, as participants want to make a good impression and don’t want their ignorance on display. By focusing on focus group and poll results, leaders throughout the world, like Hamilton’s King George, were left both confused and likely to predict that Great Britain’s government will find a way to return to / stay in the EU.
Brexit at our doors: When customers leave
There is at least one more implication in this scenario for market research. Researchers are meant to express the “voice of the customer,” whether we agree with it or not – most especially when the voice is indicating that customers may leave.
This is one place in which politics and business diverge. In the Brexit case, the majority of voters decided for everyone (we could argue here that a decision this consequential should have been made based on higher standards, for example, the two-thirds vote needed in both Houses of Congress to pass Constitutional amendments in the US). In business, one customer leaving may be acceptable, but half of them doing so would spell the end of the business.
And, not to be flippant, but we definitely don’t want our clients to lose Hamiltons (or Benjamins, or any other denominations, for that matter) from their customers! Where we as researchers can make a difference is in our ability to listen. We can really understand what customers need from our organizations, and whether they are getting it. If we listen closely enough, maybe we won’t have to hear our customers declare their independence from us!
Here’s the Twist: July is when we in the US celebrate independence from our British friends. While the “Amerexit” of the 1700s largely seems to have worked out, it seems that it’s generally a good idea to find ways to avoid the need to teach anyone how to say goodbye! I will have to face the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda has said “Goodbye” to Hamilton, and Britain will have to come to terms with life outside the EU. If we want not to grapple with grief over the loss of customers, we should do what we do best – Listen. As a result, instead of declaring independence from us, more customers will vote “stay.”
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
The following are three of the many ways CSR suggests that clients listen to and strengthen relationships with customers:
Longitudinal qualitative research: Identify a key group of customers and/ or distributors and ask about their relationship with your company over time. What better way to identify not just the early indicators of a desire to exit, but the reasons why?
“Wins and Losses” studies: Ask customers and distributors why you won. Ask those who did not choose your company why they didn’t. It’s a great way to learn what matters most to those who matter most!
Product development research: Thinking of offering a new or improved product or service? Ask customers and prospects what they think early enough in the process to shape development and make a real difference!
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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