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“It is so much easier to be nice, to be respectful, to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and try to understand how you might help them before they ask for help, than it is to try to mend a broken customer relationship.”
– Mark Cuban
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Unbelievably, we’re nearing the end of summer! For many of us, tracking studies (a.k.a “trackers), are the only research initiatives in field during the summer’s “dog days”, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to share our experience with brightening up these often tedious and uninspiring studies. Read on for this edition of Research with a Twist, titled, “The Track(er)s of My Tears.”
Julie Brown President
Mark Palmerino Executive Vice President
The Track(er)s of My Tears
I was in an elevator the other day, on my way to consult with a client about strategies for sprucing up her company’s tracking study. I heard a few notes of an elevator-ified song (Muzak!), and was confident that I knew the song very well, but for the life of me, couldn’t figure out what it was.
Tracking studies are very often like elevator music – the tune is vaguely recognizable, but there’s no percussion, and no depth to the song. It’s flat and un-provocative. A lot of times in tracking study reports, there are so many de-contextualized data points, that the meaning of the information is a mystery, like the identity of the song I heard in the elevator.
How do we put some good, old-fashioned soul into the information we track over time? In other words, how do we make the data sing, instead of drone on annoyingly in the background?
Well, as you might guess, we at CSR believe that the answer has to do with “turning up the volume” on the qualitative component of our currently soul-less trackers!
Given CSR’s expertise in turning the answers to open-ended questions into reliable, valid, quantitative data, we have the unique ability to conduct and content-code large numbers of qualitative interviews, and show statistically significant differences in responses over time. We call this approach “Longitudinal Qualitative“, and know from experience that it can help companies get to know their customers and prospects and their changing needs better. Here are some of the reasons that Longitudinal Qualitative is effective:
Greater depth of insight
The questions that most companies track over time are the ones that can be reduced to a numeric scale. There’s often nothing wrong with “likely to recommend,” (the basis of Net Promoter Scores), or “level of satisfaction” questions, but then again, are things ever really so simple that they can be boiled down to a single number?
At the very least, following up these closed-ended, numerical scale questions with an open-ended “Why do you say that?,” without a pre-listed set of potential answers, is critical to adding depth to tracking research results. For example, if the main reason that a mutual fund company’s clients are highly satisfied is because their returns on a particular fund have been high the past two quarters, they may be less likely to stay when results are less positive. But if they are highly satisfied because of the advice they receive from the company’s advisors, then they might be less likely to switch providers when the market shifts.
Being able to track those two kinds of reasons for satisfaction (and any others important to customers and prospects) over time can also provide greater predictive ability. If the reasons for satisfaction or brand affinity are changing over time, that’s a leading indicator that customers or prospects might be considering a change in their relationship with your company.
Broader context for understanding customers and prospects
If you really want to know what customers or prospects are thinking about doing next, you have to ask really open-ended questions. In addition to asking, “Why do you say that?” in association with the questions your company wants to quantify (satisfaction, brand affinity, etc.), try questions that get to the broader relationship or product category, or even the client’s entire lifestyle.
For example, an insurance company could track answers to the open-ended question, “What’s missing from your financial life?” and content-code the responses. If the answer “I need better advice about planning for retirement” grows from 5% to 10% to 20% over the course of the year, that could represent an important opportunity to offer new products, such as annuities, or new services, such as financial planning.
Better experience for research participants
Whenever I take a quantitative survey, I always feel like my opinion is being reduced to a number. Because it is. It’s annoying that I have to assign a number to my evaluation of customer service or to how I feel about a particular product because I don’t think about these things numerically, but in terms of words or feelings or concepts.
When a broker helps me figure out what the best life insurance policy to meet my needs is, I don’t get off the phone and think “9.” I think, “What a relief. That person was so helpful to me, even though she put me on hold for five minutes at the beginning of the call.” When I have to rate an interaction on a scale from 1-10, I leave the survey experience, therefore, feeling kind of dissatisfied, which makes me annoyed with the company sponsoring the survey.
On the other hand, on the handful of occasions when companies or brands whose products I use have asked my opinion in a way that demonstrates that they care about what I have to say, I am energized. In the example mentioned above, I’m happy to talk about how relieved I felt after talking to the broker and the specific ways she helped me, and how that aspect of the overall experience merited a “10” satisfaction rating. But, the five minutes I was on hold felt a minute or two too long for me at the time, which resulted in the downgrade of my rating to a 9. By giving me the space to explain myself, the research sponsor now knows that it’s not the broker that needs attention, it’s the call wait times, so the organization doesn’t spend valuable resources trying to “fix” the “wrong” problem. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, when I feel that an organization listens to me, that can lead me to a greater appreciation for both the company and its brand.
Over time, across multiple phases of a tracking study, this kind of respect for clients can pay off. In addition to building great insights about your clients’ and prospects’ evolving needs, Longitudinal Qualitative also has brand-building benefits. Rather than a Muzak-like tracking survey that lulls your customers and prospects to sleep, you could field a Longitudinal Qualitative study, either in-person, by phone or via on-line chat, that makes them see your organization as the Rock Star that it is!
Here’s the Twist: Tracking studies can be… well, deadly. Results can be flat and uninspiring, and the experience for research participants sleep-inducing. Add some life to these important research studies by adding qualitative elements to them. Doing so will bring your tracking program greater depth and a broader context for understanding changing customer and prospect needs, as well as improve relationships with the folks you are trying to get to know better!
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
Try in-person, phone, or online chat components for your tracking study: Rather than simply adding some open-ended questions to an online survey, which does not allow for moderator or interviewer probing, make the experience as interactive as possible for customers and prospects. You’ll learn more, and they’ll be more engaged in the experience.
Consider a qual-driven approach: While it’s often not fruitful to add open-ended questions to online surveys, it’s quite easy and efficient to ask questions where answers are designed to be provided in numbers or scales in an in-depth interview environment. Therefore, designing your tracking study around qualitative interviews would enable you to ask both open- and closed-ended questions in the same customer interaction.
Conduct at least 30 interviews among each group you want to analyze separately: For a detailed rationale for this “magic number,” our Research Director and statistician, Mark Palmerino’s discussion in our June, 2006 newsletter.
Be aware of lower response frequency when analyzing results of open-ended questions: When research participants are not forced to select a pre-provided answer, responses tend to be more diverse, and therefore frequencies are lower. Whereas 75 or 85% might represent solid support of a particular idea when a list of responses is provided to research participants, 30 to 40% often indicates a high level of agreement to an open-ended question.
Longitudinal Qualitative is also a terrific tool to support executive community programs:Click here for an example of how CSR has successfully designed and executed this type of approach, and the unique insights that this tool enables our client to “mine” from the ongoing community interactions.
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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