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A marriage of convenience

Research pathways merge as evolution meets evolution, writes Jason Mallia.

Until now, much of the debate about the disciplines of market research and customer experience has focused on their differences. An element of snobbery about methodologies has caused researchers to consider CX ‘lightweight’, while over-eager CX teams have bombarded customers with surveys for too long.

Insight professionals, whichever side of the fence they sit on, need to address this tension pragmatically as the realities of the modern global economy become increasingly clear. Why? Firstly, because MR and CX are fundamentally the same thing, viewed from different spheres. And secondly, because both face significant challenges that will be best dealt with using a more holistic approach.

What are the challenges?

On the CX front, proving ROI is causing huge issues for many CX teams. A global survey by Confirmit recently found that less than a third of CX professionals were able to prove the ROI of their work – and that number is going backwards year-on-year. When CX fails to prove its worth in hard financial terms, executive teams start to lose interest.

Compounding this is difficulty engaging employees around the business with the work of CX. People need access to insights that drives action. No one is inspired by a Net Promoter Score graph.

The situation facing MR is not dissimilar. What we call ‘research’ is changing. Agencies are asked to run projects that are well beyond the scope of a traditional research project, such as optimising the media mix for a new advertising campaign or running an outsourced CX program. Research underpins these projects, but the skillset required is different.

And MR agencies must do everything faster and more cheaply than ever. Automation helps but getting the balance between speed/cost and quality is paramount. When MR teams provide data that cannot be trusted, we are on a dangerous path.

Underpinning all these issues is data. There is too much of it. It is not in the formats we need it in. It is hard to integrate. And it is an uphill struggle to share it in the right way at the right time with the right people.

Two paths, one destination

If we are all basically trying to wrangle data effectively, what is the right approach? MR has traditionally tackled data collection from the brand’s perspective and has focused on the integrity of well-established methods. It is serious, high-minded stuff.

There has been a solid, if slow, evolution of approaches with new data collection channels, improved UX and better research design added at a steady pace.

CX has come at data collection from the customer’s perspective. CX actively pursues new systems that can deliver a customer’s perspective by, for example, enabling them to give feedback on their terms.

These approaches are not mutually exclusive.

Automation and the rise of AI based MR-specific applications have driven process improvements, time savings and cost reductions across a wide range of MR functions. But CX, with a more customer-centric and marketing-focused attitude, has powered a revolution that is transforming how companies interact with their customer and markets.

The recently released ESOMAR Global Market Research report found traditionally defined market research is growing at a slower pace than data analytics and insights. The traditional sector grew only slightly from US$46bn in 2017 to just over US$47bn in 2018 while its data analytics and insights counterpart expanded at a faster rate than global GDP, at around 10 per cent.

What is the lesson? There is huge opportunity for a ‘Greatest Hits’ approach, taking a more flexible, respondent/ customer-focused view to established methodologies. An innovative approach to research design that puts people at the head of the process will go a long way to resolving many issues.

We can work to collect only the data that we need to drive action, and to do it in a way that engages our audiences. Text analytics, multi-media responses, the ability to conduct research using Siri or Alexa might make some old-school researchers blanch, but they will deliver insights that businesses can actually use. And really, is it so far from Interactive Voice Response (IVR)?

Intent vs actual behaviour

Insight has typically been rooted in asking about intended behaviour: ‘How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?’ etc. This is not going to cut it any longer. Intent is fine when you cannot measure actual behaviour, but that is becoming possible now.

In 2020 and beyond, the research process will give the respondent the power to choose how and when they respond to surveys. This is a very CX-led approach. But beyond this, being able to understand exactly what people then do is critical. MR companies would be well-advised to invest in the development of new tools to interpret future behaviour based on what people are doing today.

This is where skills such as predictive analytics become instrumental, creating new opportunities for data scientists. Again, it is about the marriage between traditional analytics skills, and a more people-focused approach.

What does this mean for the future?

This global shift from traditional research to new techniques such as automation, AI and analytics will create a demand for new skills within the industry, which is a huge opportunity.

Fewer people will be needed for traditional MR jobs such as interviewing and data entry, and more people required for tasks such as data science, chatbot design and analytics. The idea of using Alexa/Siri for feedback is already being piloted and we will see some moves towards these technologies being used in the next couple of years – though it will not be mainstream.

The analytical tools to understand insights from Alexa and its counterparts are fairly straightforward, in fact. Simple answers can be categorised as with ‘normal’ survey data, while there are tools available to convert voice to text. At which point, good AI-led text analytics take over. Like mobile and other ‘cool’ new approaches in the past, the capability will be there long before usage really takes off, but it is an approach that should feature in CX programs in the coming year or two.

Enhance Research CEO George Zdanowicz has described how the company helps clients with the evolution from the simple collection of research data to using customer insight as a source of competitive advantage provided opportunities: ‘There is a recognition at the most senior levels of organisations that insights are critical and that there are now more sources of relevant data from which to distil those insights than ever before. Using our expertise to help clients shift their organisations from considering the insights function as a cost centre to regarding it as something that is driving and fuelling the growth engine, that is a source of competitive advantage and a significant opportunity for the research industry.’

Wise words. And whether you consider yourself a CX or an MR professional, it’s time to get started.

Author: Jason Mallia, Country Manager, Confirmit

This article also appears in the February – April 2020 edition of AMSRS publication, Research News – CX, UX & Research Design. Check out the rest of the articles in this edition.

Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

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