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
Image source: Vantage Circle

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.

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