Research and Consumer Insights

Q&A: Get to Know Terry Dolan, Managing Research Director of Research Operations at Integrated Insight

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This article tells the stories of Terry Dolan, a seasoned research professional and Managing Research Director at Integrated Insight. With a breadth of knowledge and interesting anecdotes dating back to his time at Disney, Terry shares his successes, challenges, and ironies of a career in research.

1. What made you decide on a career in market research and more specifically research operations? 

Interestingly, my career path to research operations happened quite by chance. Back in the late 80s as I was beginning my career, I was fortunate to land a role at Walt Disney World. After working for about a year in Epcot park operations (by far my favorite Disney theme park!), I learned from a friend about a position in the “Research and Statistics” department—still sounds very intimidating to this day! At the time, the department was very small consisting of less than ten people. What I didn’t know at the time and would quickly learn is that the fledgling department would see exponential growth during my 27-year career in research at Disney.

To provide some perspective on how much growth, when I left Disney nearly 6 years ago, the team I lead alone consisted of nearly 150 data collectors, coders, survey programmers, and account service managers supporting worldwide theme parks and resorts, Disney Cruise Line, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Online.

2. Ok, so everyone who’s working in an industry for as long as you have had some interesting stories. Do you have one you can/are able to share?

I’ll never forget my VERY first day taking surveys way back in 1988. In the good ole days, we collected surveys on paper, and on this particular day, we were collecting Theme Park Entry surveys among guests entering the park. Nervous and apprehensive about intercepting people, I marched out to the main entrance at Epcot with my clipboard, pencil, and 80 surveys.

I positioned myself as though I was a hungry grizzly in an Alaskan river waiting for the salmon to swim upstream to me, and after only a few moments intercepted my first victim…I mean respondent.

I confidently introduced myself and started the survey. As I completed the first several questions, I prepared to flip the paper over and at that moment, a gust of wind blew through and all 80 surveys blew off of my clipboard scattering all over the main entrance of Epcot. If you are familiar with Epcot you know that the area under Spaceship Earth is a bit of a wind tunnel. At that moment, I recall thinking, I’m not going to make it to the end of the day. I was mortified. I immediately began collecting all of my surveys and it was at this moment, I remember thinking to myself, you’ll never be as bad at this as you are at this moment.

3. What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of?

Wow, this is a difficult question for someone who’s worked in one industry as long as I have!

There are several for sure, but here are a few that stand out:

The first would have to be the implementation of a daily survey program in support of the massive Guest Satisfaction Measurement program Disney implemented in the mid-1990s. Before this rollout, we collected ‘snapshot’ surveys–think surveying one week out of the month and that week represented the entire month. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with Joni Newkirk who at the time was the Director of Research at Disney, now CEO at Integrated Insight. I distinctly remember her asking me what it would take to implement and I paused, chuckled nervously, and sort of flippantly said I’d run the staffing numbers, but that it would likely take a 100 Cast Members to make it happen. Joni calmly said, “Do it!” Within two months, we successfully hired and trained a team of Cast Members and successfully implemented a survey program that would quickly grow to over 500K in-person surveys per year.

Another accomplishment that I am incredibly proud of is the behind the scenes work we did as a leadership team while I was at Disney to put in place the ‘on-boarding’ and training infrastructure to support the rapidly growing operation we were building.

With our rapid growth, we quickly realized that our turnover was very high. It became evident that we needed to identify and develop ‘right fit’ talent for data collector roles. As a result, we worked with partners in Disney Casting to help them understand and hone in on the attributes that make data collectors successful. Things such as an outgoing personality as well as the ability to work well independently in a quota-driven environment to name a few. We then began working with Human Resources partners to build a thorough two-week training program that consisted of both hands-on as well as classroom learning opportunities.

Once we implemented these strategies, we saw our turnover plummet. In addition, we saw our Cast Excellence survey results (an annual survey Disney conducted among employees) increase dramatically.

Lastly, there is a more recent accomplishment I am particularly proud of and that is the work we did to safely and successfully re-launch in-person surveys for our LaGuardia Airport partner a few months back. For a few years we have been fielding ongoing passenger satisfaction surveys at LGA using iPad devices however, as a result of the pandemic, we paused data collection in mid-March of this year. Timing being what it was the beautiful new terminal opened in June and our LGA client wanted to safely re-launch ongoing data collection and more specifically, needed to obtain passenger feedback on a daily basis for a two-week period immediately after opening to understand perceptions of the new terminal.

After several conversations, we developed a plan that would enable us to safely re-launch with some significant changes to our intercept approach. First, we purchased a URL and we created a QR code. This enabled us to move away from using our iPad devices and enabled passengers to complete the survey using their device; thus avoiding the need to repeatedly clean our devices. We also needed to create a way for our data collectors to remain a safe distance from passengers. To aid with this we created large card stock images of the QR code and URL to enable our data collectors to hold up the image while maintaining a safe social distance.

With our new approach, we’ve actually been able to increase the number of surveys we complete each day, even with lower passenger volume due to COVID-19. So, it’s been a win-win for passengers and our partners at LGA.

4. Tell me about a particularly challenging project you have been a part of. What made it challenging and how were you able to successfully complete it? 

Geez, another hard one!

Again, there are several I could mention, but one that stands out is a combined quant/qual study we conducted for a major cruise line client a little over a year ago.

Our client was interested in understanding some complex pricing as well as passenger perceptions around some potential products they were considering offering across a variety of ships.

With this in mind, we knew going in communication and flexibility would be key to our success and we’d need to be prepared to make changes to our sampling plan at a moment’s notice on a ship in the middle of the ocean.

I’m proud to say that by listening to our client to deeply understand specific needs, we were able to make all of the required adjustments and we successfully delivered on the project.
 

5. Over your 30+ years in research operations what are some of the most significant changes you’ve observed and how have you been able to adjust?

By far the most significant change I’ve observed over my thirty plus years in the field has been the overwhelming influence technology has had on our industry. As I noted earlier, when I started my career in-person surveys were collected on paper and online surveys were unheard of.

Technology has had numerous positive impacts on data collection from improvements in the quality of data collected to dramatically improved efficiency with online and SMS surveys.

There aren’t many firms today that are successful in both worlds – leveraging the latest in technology-based and online methodologies, while also staying grounded in high quality in-person research. I’m excited to see more of our partners planning for a post-pandemic world, and I’m looking forward to working with them to meet their evolving research needs.

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Q&A: Get to Know Terry Dolan, Managing Research Director of Research Operations at Integrated Insight

With over 30 years of experience in research operations, Terry Dolan, Director at Integrated Insight, has a lot of stories to share.

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Let’s take a look at the myths held on to by market researchers to understand why now is a good time to implement in-person research.

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Let’s Get Personal: Getting the Most out of B2B Survey Invitations

by John Page, VP, Integrated Insight

Published June, 2020

“Please take a moment to provide your feedba…” (clicks “delete”).

Does this sound familiar? We do it every day, sending survey invites into the virtual wastebin with little thought as we weed through more emails than we could possibly ever hope to read. It’s especially true of our work emails, where we may feel even less connection with the sender than invitations sent to our personal accounts.

So, we increase incentives and send more reminders, simultaneously increasing our costs while annoying the recipients. We try even more dramatic subject lines (“Only one day left!”) hoping to fill out the minimum we need to report out our findings. And, when the generous few respond, we fail to acknowldge them, disincentivizing their response to future invitations.

A Better Way

We don’t have to live in this cycle, particularly with B2B surveys. We have options and best practices to make the most out of our invitations, leading to happier respondents and better research.

  1. Rule #1: Don't avoid surveying your customers.
  2. Rule #2: Make it personal.
  3. Rule #3: Promise to keep it short...and keep it short.
  4. Rule #4: Your thanks can mean more than an incentive.

 

Don't avoid surveying your customers.

It can be tempting to trust your gut and the feedback you get from your team on what your customers want. Past survey attempts that didn’t succeed might serve to rationalize a lack of need. Don’t fall into this trap!

Soliticing feedback from your customers in the right way shows that you care about growing and evolving in meeting their needs. It’s a win-win when done right.

Make it personal.

Think about your own email habits – are you more likely to open an email from a business contact you know or an email from one of their generic corporate addresses? The same goes for survey invitations, which, if at all possible, should come from someone they know.

Recently, we programmed and fielded a survey for a client in which they contacted their business customers, asking for feedback on recent interactions. The invitation was relatively standard, and looked like many you likely receive on a regular basis. Of the 2,300+ invitations sent in two waves, only 19 completed the survey.

After reassessing with the client, we negotiated having each of their internal contacts for the businesses reach out with personal email invitations. We provided standard invitation language to draw from, but entrusted the internal contacts to send out the invites. This time, of 750 invitations sent, 130 completed the survey. That’s a 17% completion rate compared with fewer than 1% for the original invitations!

Promise to Keep it Short…and Keep it Short.

It’s always tempting to leave in that extra question, wondering “what if” if it’s not captured. Keep in mind that it’s better to get a completed survey covering most of the content you want than a high dropout rate on a survey that has everything. In the example above, the initial average survey length was nearly 12 minutes. The second version, which saw the dramatically increased completion rate, was only 5 minutes.

It’s tempting as researchers to think that there’s little difference between 5 minutes and 12 minutes, but for B2B surveys that extra length can break your best laid plans. Keep your survey length manageable, and be sure to note a 5 minute length in the invitation if accurate. It can make all of the difference in a response if your customers feel they can complete the survey in between everything else going on in their day vs. having to plan to spend the equivalent of “half a meeting” responding.

Your Thanks Can Mean More Than an Incentive.

Incentives are tricky, particularly for B2B surveys. Navigating corporate and government policies is difficult, as potentially appealing incentives or sweepstakes might land your customers in hot water with their legal departments.

Rather, build in a plan to thank those who complete the survey. It can go a long way toward building the relationship and will help a great deal with future response rates. Of course, sharing information on what you’ve learned in the recent survey is always helpful, but may not always be realistic.

Taking these steps can go a long way toward building more efficient, less expensive and generally better research. It can take more time and coordination to “get personal,” but it’s worth the effort!

 

in person research interviews coronavirus

Myth-Busting In-Person Research in a Socially Distanced World

by Terry Dolan, Director, Integrated Insight

Published May 5, 2020

As we begin the slow process of re-opening parts of the economy, market researchers, like so many in other industries, are closely examining how to uncover meaningful and actionable insights in a post COVID-19 world.

With safety at the forefront and increasing scrutiny on budgets, researchers are being asked to make difficult business decisions, often involving tradeoffs between mission-critical insights and what a tightening budget will allow.

I’m reminded of a conversation I recently had with a market researcher from a destination marketing organization (DMO) in a large city.  She shared with me that she is often asked to profile visitors to her destination, however she doesn’t have a single source she’s able to turn to that includes all of the answers.  As a result, she cobbles together bits and pieces of data from several sources as best she can.

But, in-person research? Now? The answer for many is an emphatic “YES.” However, we must address several myths to understand why:

Myth #1: In-Person Research Is Too Expensive
Myth #2: My Database Is Just As Representative
Myth #3: It's Not Safe Given COVID-19
Myth #4: It's Too Difficult To Start Up

Let's take a look at each of these myths to understand why right now is a good time to implement in-person research.

Myth #1: In-Person Research Is Too Expensive

Understanding the costs of conducting market research is always a key consideration.  However, when weighing costs for tangible things such as labor and technology against outlays for secondary sources of data, factor in the benefit of having total control over the effort.  Mobile phones and tablets are becoming less expensive and more durable and there are many survey software platforms that do not require a hard-core IT professional to program a survey.

Having the ability to design a survey instrument and sample plan that is targeted toward your customer will reduce or eliminate reliance on secondary sources. It puts you in the driver’s seat to answer questions about YOUR customer. If fielding longer surveys in-person is cost prohibitive, consider simply capturing customer contact information for a post-visit survey. There is also an opportunity to move from 1:1 surveying to a one-to-many approach by smartly leveraging multiple devices.  High participation rates can be achieved simply by asking customers to participate in person, even without an incentive. If a consumer has a relationship of any kind with a brand or destination, they are more willing to help than you think!

Myth #2: Other Data Sources Are Just As Representative

It is tempting to simply send survey invitation emails to customer databases. It’s an inexpensive and easy way to conduct consumer research. However, that simplicity comes at an intangible price, as survey respondents from databases don’t often reflect the full customer base. Those in your database are likely your most engaged customers. Email surveys often only capture one person in the household. Those who are willing to respond to an unprompted survey are likely even more skewed and may only represent a small fraction of your total customer base.

There are also some companies (airports, destination marketing organizations, and attractions, for example), that have a mostly anonymous customer base and do not have a list.  For them, conducting market research in person is really the only approach to do it efficiently. In-person research allows for more structured sampling. It also aids in calibrating other data sources, including secondary sources and online research.

Myth #3: It's Not Safe Given COVID-19

Now more than ever, the safety of your customers, employees and data collectors is paramount given the conditions of COVID-19.  However, it’s still possible to safely conduct in-person research. As with any interaction, social distancing, mask usage and device cleanliness are key.  It is also important to think creatively about how in-person data might be collected.  For example, data collectors might intercept respondents and provide a vanity URL that the respondent could enter into his or her own device in order to complete the survey versus stopping to do it in that location. Use good judgment about where and when to place interviewers and make sure they are always aware of their surroundings.

Myth #4: It's Too Difficult To Start Up

At Integrated Insight, we have many years of experience in leading in-person collection teams for a variety of clients. Organizations wishing to dive into in-person research should know it’s critical to identify ‘right fit’ talent who possess both the ability as well as the willingness to conduct the research.  A good data collector is someone who is self-motivated, outgoing, and works well independently in a quota driven environment. They also need to genuinely like people. You might already have some of these people in your organization whose roles could be re-purposed given the changes happening to businesses today. Once hired, put measurements in place and coach them regularly to reinforce positive behaviors and identify performance issues.

Also, don’t be afraid to leverage your data collectors’ expertise as the ‘voice of your customer.’ Remember, they are regularly interacting with your customers and are hearing more unsolicited feedback than could ever be captured in a structured questionnaire.

Standing up an in-person data collection team can be a daunting task even during the best of times, but the insights you will gain coupled with the control over the process, will pay dividends.

For more information on market research and how we partner with brands across the globe, please contact us at info@integratedinsight.com

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