I got an email the other day from a business I last used 6 months ago. It was only a couple of lines and was seeking feedback on their services. It literally said can you tell us what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong. I thought good for them in seeking feedback but it was too open ended. Being the generous soul I am I thought I’d reply and suggest they did a more structured, though short questionnaire to get better feedback. Flippedy flip my reply bounced back as they’d sent it from a no reply email address. How rubbish is that? We want your feedback, or do we? So, again, being generous, I found another email address via their website and told them so.

It made me think about research, the value of it, and making sure you ask the right questions in order to make informed business decisions, and of course get bang for your bucks.

Way back when I was a student we did research projects in small groups in our final year. My group project was for a well known budget hotel chain. It would probably be one of the first three you thought of if asked to name a budget hotel chain. Our research was looking at their existing customers, competitors and who they should be targeting based on the research. Well, the day of the presentation, to the full class plus clients on the front row, and all these years later, I can still remember the clients’ faces as we spoke. They seemed really offended by use of the term budget and our recommendations that they target businesses looking for value for money. Ahem. I’m not sure what they expected but they didn’t like the answers. Luckily our tutor was reassuring in that the work we had done was robust and to brief. It was not the fault of the research or researchers that they didn’t like what they were told.

Just the other day I requested my PAC code from my – at the time – mobile supplier. Boy oh boy do they drag that process out. One of the many things they asked as I impatiently waited, was what was the deal I had got that persuaded me leave – who with and how much. I’m fairly sure they would have offered to match it had I told them and I’m fairly sure they weren’t doing genuine market research – they were just dragging out the process. I did wonder though if anyone actually collates and analyses the information people give them in order to improve their offering and stop people leaving in the first place.

So what do you need to do to ensure you get answers that will inform?

Be clear on what it is you want to find out and create structured questions – woolly, wishy-washy questions won’t give you valuable insights. Use enough to inform but not too many to put people off answering.

A decent sample size. In short, the bigger percentage of your target you include, the more accurate your results. There are formulas you can use if you want to be confident in your findings.

If you are carrying out research on your existing customers you are more likely to get a higher response rate. If you need to buy in data, make sure it’s from a reputable, DMA approved provider. An incentive can help. Put yourself in your customers’/target customers’ shoes and think ‘what’s in it for me?’. A voucher, a free gift, even a free coffee next time they come to your shop, can all help increase your response rate.

Take on board your findings. If you receive any answers that are less than complimentary, don’t take offence. It’s not personal and it’s the best information you have to make improvements to your business.

If you want answers get the prep right and be prepared for the truth and act on it. If you’re thinking about carrying out a piece of research, get in touch and see how we can help you.