Customer Research Hits a Speed Bump

When Businesses Can’t Stop Asking, ‘How Am I Doing?’ (New York Times)

For anyone who has spent time looking at the KnowThis.com website, you have undoubtedly noticed that marketing research is viewed as one of the most (if not the most) important tasks for nearly any organization. In fact, we emphasize this in our Marketing Research tutorial by noting: “Just as a well-built house requires a strong foundation to remain sturdy, marketing decisions need the support of research in order to be viewed favorably by customers and to stand up to competition and other external pressures.”

As part of this key marketing process, research directed at understanding customers should be at the top of the list as this information can help guide most marketing decisions.  This need for understanding customers is something that most organizations now take very seriously.  In fact, thanks to the Internet, it is safe to say that communicating with customers, such as having customers participate in surveys, is becoming somewhat routine.

The increase in the use of customer research applies to organizations in both the online and offline world.  For instance, online sellers likely have an easy opportunity to gain feedback as they already have customers’ email addresses and can easily send requests to participate in surveys.  Offline marketers, such as store-based retailers, also try to entice customers to complete surveys by placing the survey information on sales receipts.  The attempt to get customers to offer their opinions is one of the main reasons (along with special promotions) why the length of receipts has increased dramatically over the last 10 years.

However, while most marketers clearly understand the importance of customer response, the reliability of this input may be in question.  At noted in this story, the problem is that customers are being overwhelmed with requests to participate in surveys and other research tasks.  When you consider the average consumer purchases hundreds of different products each year, it is easy to see why they may not be motivated to complete a survey.  And, as pointed out in the story, the enormous number of requests made to customers is leading many customers to ignore the request.

Yet declining participation in survey research is just one problem with the growth of customer research.  Marketers also need to be careful evaluating the data from those who do take part.  Primarily, marketers must consider whether customers’ motivation for filling out a survey affects the reliability of the information they provide.  For instance, are respondents spending time completing the survey because they genuinely want to help out the company by offering useful, honest feedback, or are they not taking it seriously and instead are just completing it in order to get an incentive, such as receiving a coupon?

For marketers looking to gather reliable information, it is likely customer research is becoming much more challenging and more expensive.

On the telephone, in the mail, on their computers, smartphones and iPads, American consumers are being solicited as never before to express their feelings about coffeemakers, hand creams, triple-bypass operations, veterinarians, dry cleaners and insurance agents.

What precautions should marketers take to ensure the information being provided by customers is reliable?

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