By Sinead Assenti, Research Director, Perceptive Communicators
Most savvy businesses want to know how they and their products and services are perceived by their customers, stakeholders and employees. Most businesses can predict these perceptions with 70-80% accuracy, but it is the magic remaining 20-30% that makes all the difference.
This could be underestimating the impact of certain influences on your target audiences, which means precious marketing spend is being wasted. Or it could be missing a key issue amongst employees which impacts on performance, productivity and retention.
Many businesses turn to online survey software, such as Survey Monkey, to carry out their own research to inform their business strategy, and I can see the attraction. After all, it is freely available and makes it possible for you to create your own questionnaires cost effectively and with relative ease. But before you think about your next piece of do-it-yourself research, I’d like to give you a few things to think about.
Often, businesses turn to online surveys because they are quick, easy and cheap – but not every research question can be answered by a simple survey. If your research needs are complex, you have a small audience, or your questions are not suited to tick boxes, then you might want to ask an expert for advice.
My first concern with online surveys is the response rate, which can often be as low as 2%. The people who do reply to these surveys tend to have strong opinions, whether they be negative or positive. Because the respondents are self-selecting, they may not be representative of your audience, and consequently the findings of your research may not be meaningful. There’s also the fact that no matter how hard you try, in house research can never be truly anonymous, confidential or objective.
Free software is not very sophisticated when compared with the industry software used by professional researchers. Let’s face it, if it could do the job to a high enough standard, we’d all be using it too rather than paying expensive annual fees. I am often asked to produce reports on online data gathered by in-house surveys because the data they produce is sometimes difficult to understand or use. They also often lead to incomplete data, because participants miss out questions that they have to think about too much or don’t want to answer, or can abandon questionnaires halfway through, especially if they are badly designed.
Some businesses over-use research, firing out an online questionnaire every time they are not sure what direction to take. This can lead to “survey fatigue”. Over-reliance on surveys can also appear to your customers and stakeholders as though you lack confidence in decision-making.
While everyone thinks they can write a questionnaire, it is actually a skill. Some rookie errors that inexperienced survey-writers can make include creating leading or biased questions, asking several things in one question, or making incorrect assumptions. Sensitive topics should be tackled near the end of a survey and spontaneous perceptions should always be gathered before any prompting.
A tip I would give is to encourage participation by offering an incentive, like entry into a prize draw or a copy of the report, and also by streamlining your questionnaire so it is more user friendly – and therefore more likely that the respondent will complete the survey without running out of time or patience.
There is definitely a time and place for the DIY online survey, but for accurate and independent research that will help deliver future business activities with more success, it’s worth considering independent research such as focus groups, in-depth stakeholder interviews, telephone surveys or even mystery shopping.
The findings from this research can help businesses accurately understand how they are perceived by target audiences and employees, so improving return on investment for any new or current initiatives. In itself, carrying out independent research demonstrates an organisation’s commitment to excellence to its internal and external stakeholders and customers.
This article originally appeared on www.scotsman.com