This past June, we co-presented, with one of our clients, “Are You (Customer) Experienced? An Experience-Based Approach to Gathering New Insights” at LIMRA’s Marketing Conference. This presentation provided more details behind, and benefits generated by, the qualitative panels we champion in this issue. As part of this session, we shared the video on the home page of our web site, which displays CSR’s approach to content analysis (Transform Your Research: Make it Sing). If you haven’t seen this yet, we hope you will download it, and share it with colleagues.
The task is… not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.
– Erwin Schr — dinger, founder of quantum theory
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Hope everyone is having a great summer! Please enjoy this month’s edition of CSR’s slightly Spanish newsletter, “Until you’ve walked in someone else’s zapatos…”.
Until you’ve walked in someone else’s zapatos…
Last month, my family and I vacationed in Spain for a couple of weeks. While the experience was muy, muy bueno, I’d recommend that anyone considering traveling to Spain in July stick to the coasts. In Madrid, which is in the center of the country, there was a searing heat wave. For several hours in the afternoons, the temperature was 105 degrees. Muy caliente, which made walking in Madrid muy dificil, and pretty much un-fun.
So, what does a resourceful mother, who wants to sightsee, but has lazy, listless children do? Take a Segway tour. Riding Segways through Madrid was a fun, non-exhausting way to cover a lot of ground, and after a brief learning period, we were zipping in and out of foot traffic like masters-level Segway drivers. Being on a Segway, a foot and a half taller than the tallest pedestrians, and about ten times faster, gave us an unusual perspective from which to view Madrid. Like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society (“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way”), we felt energized by the alternate point of view. This, of course, made me think of market research – we can learn so much by (metaphorically) trying to walk in our customers’ zapatos (shoes).
Our B2B customer experience panels are an incredibly helpful tool in this regard. These panels usually comprise 100 or more professionals (brokers, benefit administrators, or executives, for example). Each member agrees to participate for a year, typically for a commitment of 10-12 short email surveys and 4-5 in-depth phone interviews. The following are a few examples of insights we’ve gained by getting to know these professionals over the course of the relationship we build with them throughout the year:
Innovation is super-important, according to just about every business book we see (here are some solid recommendations) or conference we attend. It seems as though every company feels pressure to innovate in order to maintain or grow market share.
One of our clients, an insurance carrier, is exploring ways that the company can bring more innovation to its customer experience. We support a broker panel for this client, and so conducted “top of the funnel” research to understand where our client might focus its efforts in its quest to be innovative. While some of the brokers observed gaps in products and services, and provided ideas for closing those gaps, others expressed little interest in any new, improved or unusual offerings, instead saying: “Just do what you say you’ll do. Do it well. Invest in doing better, not in ‘doing new’.” So much for the need for innovation among this segment of customers.
Good to know! And much easier to get this type of information from brokers when they feel comfortable “shooting from the hip,” which is the atmosphere we cultivate on this largely qualitative panel. Turns out when you walk a mile in a broker’s loafers, you see how pragmatic and service-oriented these professionals can be.
The problem of employee turnover
CSR also supports multiple benefit administrator panels. Because the focus of these panels is on the administrative relationship with providers, we don’t normally ask members about job satisfaction, or their intent to look for another job. However, because members let us know when they are changing jobs and can no longer participate in a panel, we’ve learned quite a bit over the years about attrition among this group of workers. We were interested to learn that turnover rates are quite high.
This turnover is having a moderate to significant effect on the administration of employee benefits in organizations where benefit administrators change jobs. Employee benefits education, maintaining employee data, billing processes, understanding the status of claims, and understanding the actual contracted benefits and terms, are all impacted by attrition, which suggests an entire avenue of consideration for providers when communicating with benefit administrators.
Turns out a lot of these administrators have one zapato out the door! While we might have eventually learned this key piece of information at some point, the ongoing relationship we have built with these employees has helped us identify turnover-related issues and discuss them with our clients more proactively.
Birds of a feather
CSR has extensive experience with maintaining panels among C-level executives, such as Chief Financial Officers and Chief Operating Officers. For our management consulting firm clients, who often sell their services directly to these senior leaders, learning more about what’s important to these titans of industry is gold.
Among the most important insights we’ve gained from this experience is that C-level executives value (in addition to innovation and low turnover!) opportunities to network and connect with each other. This makes offering incentives easy – just give them an occasion to be in a room together (literally [in person] or virtually [phone or online]), and they will often jump at a chance to actively participate with their peers. In terms of shoes, it turns out that Gucci wingtips are drawn to other Gucci wingtips!
Here’s the Twist: Seeing things from a different point of view, and in particular, from your customer’s perspective, is central to the market research mission. Getting to know customers over time (as opposed to “one and done” research) is a great way to accomplish this. Some of the best insights we’ve gained for our clients have come as a result of B2B customer experience panels. We suggest you give this type of panel a try. And if the shoe fits, by all means, wear it!
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
If your organization is considering creating a B2B customer experience panel, here are some practical tips for getting started:
When budgeting, note that customer experience panels can dramatically reduce the cost of ad hoc research initiatives: This voluntary, captive audience is easily and quickly accessed for surveys or phone interviews throughout the period for which they’ve signed up, which is usually a year or more.
Account for attrition at the beginning: As noted, in some B2B roles, turnover can be high. Recruit, therefore, more members than you ultimately want, so that at the end of the year, you have the robust amount of feedback that you need in terms of base sizes, and a large enough group from which to draw participants for ad hoc research without exhausting the panel.
Build in qualitative interactions: Engagement increases with personal interaction – customers deeply appreciate when their literal voices are heard, by phone. Deepen the customer relationship by offering plenty of opportunities for open-ended discussions.
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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