Thursday, August 25, 2016

Catch & Release: Elevating the Researcher/Customer Relationship

By: Kevin Lonnie, Founder, KL Communications

I would argue that market research has not lived up to its reciprocal relationship with the customer.  In theory, we are the conduit that allows their voice to be heard so our clients can make better decisions.

But this is a one-way relationship where we hold all the cards.  That’s why we get to ask all the questions.  In fact, the customer is afforded few opportunities to change the nature of the conversation. 

And speaking from years of perspective (oh man, it’s been a bunch of years), we’ve done little to elevate the nature of the relationship.

We still refer to questionnaire input as data capture.  We still fall back on grid questions and often underestimate the length of the primary survey experience.  We still rely on paltry economic incentivizing.  Well into the 21st Century, we continue with our “catch & release” approach to customer feedback.  Of course, over time, the customer has become leery of our “hooks” and passes on future attempts to have their opinions heard.  The net effect is we’re left with the limited, non-representative segment of the population still willing to respond.

OK, what can we do to elevate the nature of the client/customer relationship?  After all, there’s no association or code of conduct that requires researchers to actually make the customer experience “enjoyable”.

To our credit, there has been a decade’s worth of conversation on the need to add gamification and social incentives to our repertoire.  Unfortunately, little progress has been made as this is counterproductive to the budget. 

Elevating the researcher/customer relationship is not going to happen overnight.   Heck, we’ve spent the past 70 years doing our best to wreck it.  Despite all that, I can envision a gradual migration away from traditional data collection tools to customer empowerment tools.   As millennials begin to take on senior positions, I think there will be a natural desire to bring social reciprocity to the world of market research.

As for myself, I think the fundamental questions become;
Do we wish to empower or capture our customers? 
What are the terms of the new marketplace relationship? 
Is it based on mutual empowerment or are we to view customers as acquired goods? 
If we choose the latter, it surely doesn’t promote a common or sustainable purpose. 

The smart organizations will choose an empowered relationship with their customers for the simple reasons that it represents the best value (far greater understanding of unmet needs/new product opportunities) and because it represents the only sustainable option. 
KL Communications is a research agency with a specialty in collaborative online communities. While traditional online communities capture the opinion of crowds, only KLC delivers the wisdom of crowds via our proprietary CrowdWeaving™ platform!


George Kosier said...

Agree, but how do we do it?

Kevin Lonnie said...

Hi George,

Well, that is an excellent question. I think we need to move on from our traditional tools (e.g. surveys, focus groups, etc.). Those are reactive tools that assume we know all the right questions to ask. They are also pretty damn boring for the participant.

If we're going to embrace the idea of the sharing economy, the customer needs greater transparency into the business issue at hand and an opportunity to provide their unique insight into how they would provide a solution.

The expectation is not that the customer would actually solve the issue, but would provide inspiration into new ways of tackling the problem that traditional research would never uncover. In that way, they act as a muse, a source of inspiration for incumbent creatives.

If we allow the customer to join us on this journey and make it an agile, iterative process towards a viable solution, we have elevated the nature of our relationship, closed the customer/client loop and hopefully, made a hell of a lot more money than we would have with our traditional, antiquated methods.

We're almost 20 years into the new millennium and still using the same research tools from the days of Mad Men. A change is long, long overdue.