Considerations in Designing Your Research Project
This quarter you finally corralled the budget for the major customer research project that you've been trying to push through the executive suite for the past three years. The interviews have been completed, the report has been compiled and now...now what? Now you know what customers who already are buying your products think of your company. So what? What will you do with the results? How will you use them? The biggest mistake companies make in designing a research project is that they fail to answer that "So what?" question, according to Marlene Stone, president and CEO of Intellitrends, an Airfoil partner firm that advises companies on research strategies. "Sometimes questions are asked that are nice to know, but they don't lead to actionable information; they don't lead to improvement," Stone says. Moreover, the group within a company that plans the research usually keeps the process and the results isolated. They think of it as a marketing survey or a new-business research project when, in fact, the findings can help the entire corporation. Stone recommends that stakeholders from a number of units within the company be involved in determining how a research project can influence the way they operate. "If research is designed properly from the beginning, the results can focus the company's marketing efforts, its PR efforts, its customer service, its operations-it can pull them all into alignment to create the optimum fit with customer needs and provide a consistent vision that everyone can work from," Stone explains. Include your competitors' customers Not only should executives broaden the scope of their research base internally, but they need to look beyond their own sphere in considering who should participate in the research. Surveying only your current customers doesn't tell you much about those who have left, why you lost them, or what has changed in the marketplace that influences your business potential. "Companies should be involving their competitors' customers in their research," Stone asserts. "They need to broaden their reach to understand the marketplace as a whole." Often research discovers that what a company perceives to be true about the market is not necessarily so, and what it views as its competitive advantage is not as much of an edge as executives believes it to be. Research must employ a sufficiently broad view to verify a company's value proposition or raise flags that require attention. Instant feedback To get faster, more meaningful results from a wide-ranging market, researchers are using new methods. The post-purchase survey initiated six months after a transaction is being replaced by instant surveys. Consumers are contacted often within 48 hours of a transaction, while the buying process is still fresh in their minds, to gain a more accurate assessment of their
experience. Researchers are looking more closely at what Stone calls "little defining moments" during the time the customer has interfaced with the company-a phone call, a rapid response to a question-to analyze the individual elements of the sales process and discover precisely where the consumer was persuaded or where the process broke down causing defection. Researchers also are doing more observing and less questioning, watching first-hand the habits of customers in stores and malls and tracking consumer behavior online. To obtain the most from a research project, Intellitrends has developed a checklist for designing the research effort. This list focuses on twelve key areas to help ensure that the information the project produces will help regenerate your entire company.
Checklist for Research Design Business Objectives
Why is the research being conducted? How is it going to be used? How and to whom do the results need to be communicated?
What specific information is needed to meet strategic business objectives? How can we most effectively obtain it?
Previously Conducted Research
What was learned from past studies? Are there any findings that should be integrated/tracked in the new process?
Current Internal Measures
What mechanisms currently exist to track performance? What standards for performance are already in place?
Research Design Structure
What areas do we want to measure? Which areas or segments require separate analysis?
Customers and Customer Groups
What geographic area are we covering? Global? National? Regional? Which customers should be surveyed? Who within each customer organization represents the most appropriate contact?
What is an acceptable margin of error? How can the data most effectively be reported?
Timing and Scheduling
When will the baseline results be required? How quickly can customer lists be made available?
Tracking and Monitoring
Will we track customer relationship performance over time? How frequently will we need to update our information base?