Revealing the True Unfiltered Voice of the Customer with One Question
Why This Matters: Market research is a science. It is about collecting qualitative and quantitative data about consumers in order to understand their needs. Done correctly, market research helps businesses look past their own ideas about what is needed in the marketplace and instead gives them direct access into the mind of the consumer. Although the attainment of these insights may be relatively straightforward, their interpretation is far more challenging. As individuals, we are all driven by our own beliefs about the marketplace and the world more generally. When information about the marketplace or world bumps up against our established beliefs, we tend to reject this information and instead turn to insights that are more familiar or expected.
This tendency is ingrained in our human DNA. It’s safer to stick with what makes sense than to take a risk on something novel, unexpected, or contradictory to reason. It is this deep-seated tendency that aspiring change-agents must reject if we want to truly revolutionize market research and customer experience management.
Key Take Aways: If market researchers are not prepared to discard their theories or hypotheses when they encounter unexpected findings, then they aren’t real change-agents. In Decooda’s world, the data often tells us something we don’t really want to hear. That is, we make educated guesses about how modern consumers feel about business, brands, or products, and the data reveals something totally contradictory to our expectations. We have made a commitment to give the data a voice – to let it speak its own truth without imposing our preconceived notions upon it. We don’t allow our CEO, our CMO, or our Ph.D.’s to be the loudest voice in the room when it comes to deriving insights. The loudest voice in the room will always be the data. So, when the data tells us something that bumps against our scientific and marketing sensibilities, we don’t try to make the data fit our expectations. Instead, we take the opportunity to let the data reshape our expectations.
At Decooda, we see ourselves as change-agents. We seek out other change-agents who share our vision of disrupting the marketplace by exposing the unfiltered voice of the customer. Which is why we partnered with change-agent Terry Barber from Performance Inspired, to identify the Top 20 Most Inspiring Companies in 2014. When we tabulated our results, and constructed the final Top 20 list, there were several unexpected findings. Some businesses who have consistently made the Top 20 list in years past did not make the list at all this year (most notably Wal-Mart). There were some companies on the list who have encountered some serious setbacks in the last few years, which made their presence on the list a little surprising. Perhaps most unexpected was the finding that the #1 most inspirational company, Tesla, made its debut to the list this year and beat out veterans to the list such as Google, Apple, and Coca-Cola.
We were a little surprised by these findings ourselves. Why did Target, who faced one of the biggest electronic security breaches in history, beat out top companies like Amazon or Google who have largely avoided such issues? How did Chick-Fil-A rank 7th on the list even after the controversy related to its stance on traditional marriage? These were questions that unsettled us. The scientist’s first reaction is always to wonder whether an error or unintentional bias was introduced. Our team even joked about possibly having introduced a T-bias since the top 4 companies on the list all began with the letter T. Once we confirmed that there was, indeed, no T-bias or any other kind of identifiable error, we committed ourselves to understanding the how and the why of these unexpected findings.
A closer look at the data revealed that the unexpected findings really aren’t that surprising if we’re willing to suspend our own market-driven notions of what makes a company inspirational. We found that the most inspirational companies – at least in the eyes of the consumer – are not always the most popular, exotic, or lucrative companies. Indeed, inspirational companies in 2014 appeared to be those that either (a) got back on their feet following a significant set-back this year, (2) rose above obstacles that might have stymied their success, (3) stood up for their values or beliefs in spite of the effect it might have on their bottom line, or (4) chose to put the needs of their consumers (or humanity in general) above their need for revenue.
A uniting theme of all companies that made the list is their resonance with the “every-man.” Companies who specialize in high-priced luxury items that may be out of reach for many American consumers were noticeably absent from this year’s list. Rather, companies who made the list were applauded for their commitment to low prices (e.g., Goodwill, Kohls, Target), desire to help Americans be more healthy (e.g., Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Nike), convenient and helpful service (e.g., Amazon, McDonalds, Apple), involvement in environmental or humanitarian issues (e.g., Tesla, Starbucks, Tom’s Shoes), commitment to helping busy Americans be more efficient in their daily lives (e.g., Apple, Google, Microsoft), and helping Americans enjoy life when they have the chance to relax (Disney). Many Americans today feel as though they are overworked, underpaid, too busy to care for their health and too overwhelmed by their responsibilities to enjoy life. From our perspective, it makes sense that consumers would be inspired by companies who exhibit a desire to ease these burdens, even if only slightly.
We pride ourselves for tapping into insights that push back on commonly held beliefs in the marketplace today. As technology and media make the voice of the customer ever more accessible, marketers need to be ready to discard their established belief systems and listen instead to the sentiment and beliefs of the crowd. Consumers flock to social media and other online outlets to voice their opinion. They
want to be heard! It’s time to climb out of the ivory tower of market experience and instead listen to – and act upon –what consumers have say. So, here are our suggestions for how today’s change-agents can innovate credible, reliable insights that shake up the marketplace:
Start with a research question that is timely and relevant.
Every good scientific endeavor starts with a really great research question. The best research questions challenge individuals to gain a new perspective on relevant issues and learn something new. Market researchers should begin to form research questions by contemplating their personal experiences in the marketplace. What are the aspects of the research space that are unwieldy or problematic? What are the behaviors of consumers that don’t make sense? Identify a problem that most market researchers seem to be stumped by and create a research question that aims at understanding the problem better. Finding a solution might not be feasible given the complexity, ambiguity, or pervasiveness of the problem. Rather, the goal should be to chip away at the problem in a novel and innovative way and invite others to do the same.
Create testable hypotheses based on experience and prior knowledge.
We are fans of deriving novel insights that defy commonly held beliefs. However, we acknowledge that experience and prior knowledge (which give rise to such beliefs) are of tremendous value, especially in terms of creating hypotheses. Hypotheses are a priori, declarative statements about the expected answer to the research question. Hypotheses provide a theoretical framework for the research and are useful for explaining the outcomes. Prior knowledge and experience help to inform researchers of what kinds of outcomes are reasonable, given what is already known. If the outcomes don’t match the hypothesis, the researcher must decide if the unexpected findings are reasonable, in spite of what was already known. If the hypothesis is wrong but there is a reasonable explanation for the unexpected findings, then a novel insight has been discovered.
Blend traditional and exploratory methodologies.
Traditional methodologies such as panels, focus groups, and quantitative surveys are staples of market research because they work. Even the boldest change-agents use these methods when appropriate because they are often standardized and give insights that are relatively straightforward. However, today’s best innovators are always seeking exploratory methodologies that will move the needle even further. Researchers shouldn’t forsake the tried and true methodologies of the past, but should instead focus on blending exploratory methodologies with their favorite traditional methods. Decooda started doing this several years ago when we began experimenting with different ways to ask survey questions. We had learned that asking consumers to respond to open-ended questions about what they like and dislike about a product led to dull, lifeless responses and a low response rate. We replaced open-ended questions about likes and dislikes with questions like, “Pretend that you are trying to convince your best friend to buy (or not to buy) this product. What would you say to persuade this friend?” and “Imagine that you are the CEO of Company X. You’ve been given a limitless budget and unlimited resources in order to do one major overhaul to this company. What would you do?” We found that asking such imaginative questions led to emotionally-charged, detailed, and descriptive responses. These questions also increased response rates by 300%. Of course, consumers’ ability to answer these kinds of questions depends largely on their capacity for creative thinking, which varies from person to person. To that end, we did not discard our traditional likes and dislikes questions. Instead, we converted those open-ended questions to scaled questions (e.g., Rate how well you liked this product on a scale of 0-10) and put them in our surveys along with our imaginative questions. Using this blended approach, we capitalized on the known benefits of asking questions about likes and dislikes, and integrated provocative open-ends that engaged consumers in a more intimate way.
Automate what you can.
It’s hard to be innovative when everyone on the research team is working over capacity. Tedious, boring work kills creativity. Is there anything more taxing, monotonous, or boring than a team of people hand-coding verbatims and open-ends? The majority of market researchers we know are frustrated over the tedium of hand-coding and other labor-intensive tasks. We have found that the best way to engender the creative spark is to automate such tasks so that valuable cognitive resources are freed up for innovative thinking. We have spent the last three years developing a platform that fully automates the task of hand-coding structured and unstructured data for broad sentiment, fine-grained emotions, personas, cognitive states, and attributes (or topics of conversation). Our platform has been externally validated and boasts precision rates of 95-98% and above 70% recall. With the time saved as a result of automating our coding process, members of our team focus on crafting novel and innovative research.
Use statistical modeling when possible.
Market researchers who deliver novel or unexpected insights will often be subject to skepticism from others who believe that their personal experiences constitute the truth. Advanced statistical modeling techniques can often silence critics by eliminating the chance for bias. It’s easy for critics to argue with another person’s speculation about their findings. It’s much more challenging to argue with empirically derived, statistically quantified insights.
Be willing to prove your hypotheses wrong.
Finally, if market researchers are not prepared to discard their theories or hypotheses when they encounter unexpected findings, then they aren’t real change-agents. In Decooda’s world, the data often tells us something we don’t really want to hear. That is, we make educated guesses about how modern consumers feel about business, brands, or products, and the data reveals something totally contradictory to our expectations. We have made a commitment to give the data a voice – to let it speak its own truth without imposing our preconceived notions upon it. We don’t allow our CEO, our CMO, or our Ph.D.’s to be the loudest voice in the room when it comes to deriving insights. The loudest voice in the room will always be the data. So, when the data tells us something that bumps against our scientific and marketing sensibilities, we don’t try to make the data fit our expectations. Instead, we take the opportunity to let the data reshape our expectations.
© 2017 Decooda International Inc. All rights reserved. Decooda®, the Decooda logo, and the names and marks associated with Decooda’s products are trademarks of Decooda and / or its affiliates. Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld, and Satmetrix Systems, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective companies.
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