The Easiest Market Research Mistake To Avoid

“The minute you start compromising for the sake of massaging somebody’s ego, that’s it, game over.”

– Celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay

A while back I was asked to provide guidance on a readership survey being conducted by a firm to collect feedback on their flagship print publication for clients. I’m a big fan of market research, so I always latch onto new questionnaires and novel response formats that happen to come my way. In this instance, the survey effort hit a rather significant stumbling block.

Pictured: a stumbling block

A multiple, limited choice

The problem that emerged from the short and simple questionnaire hinged on a single question that asked respondents with which frequency they would like to hear from the company about topics judged relevant to them (as judged by the firm). The possible answers were pretty straightforward –weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc– though there was one seemingly slight omission: clients could not choose a ‘none’ or ‘zero communications’ option — meaning that they had to receive something from the company.

Allowing for all possibilities

It may not seem like a big deal that a respondent cannot choose to opt-out of communications, though in most countries this is a minimum legal requirement for marketing communications and in Europe the burden is higher due to requirements that the recipient opt-in for receiving messages. Legal considerations aside, I felt that an overly restrictive set of answers could show the firm’s unwillingness to accept the full, honest client feedback and potentially signal disrespect.

My advice was to add a ‘zero’ (no communications) response option out of courtesy for respondents. This is, incidentally, best practice when producing questionnaires.

Letting ego get in the way

One of the directors at the firm in charge of approving the survey felt that clients would never choose to opt-out of communications and decided to have the zero option removed from the frequency question’s possible answers. He couldn’t accept the fact that some clients want to be left alone. Despite my appeal to reintroduce the zero option, the survey was deployed without it. Two months later at the end of the response period, the response rate was rather poor. This alone might have indicated that there was an issue with the survey design. The actual responses dispelled any doubt, with 10-15 percent of the respondents providing angry or negative comments–most of which focused on the issue of frequency. Out of frustration, a number of clients had taken the liberty of creating their own zero option, heavily underlining it and expressing strong dissatisfaction with rather harsh words. Others more politely asked to opt-out. (Mental note: if your client survey incites anger, it’s time for some serious soul-searching).

Keep an open mind

Soliciting client feedback means preparing yourself to hear it. It’s important to allow your audience to freely and fully express themselves–even if you don’t like what they might have to say. Demonstrating the ability to listen to and fulfill clients’ needs is the basis for successful client relationships.

If you’re interested in the next step following a readership survey, have a look at this story on how to re-launch a print publication.