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News Analysis

By The Drum | Administrator

April 27, 2007 | 6 min read

If organisations are to effectively leverage multi channel strategies they need to recognise the value of online research as a proven driver for business transformation. The rise in digital research techniques is transforming the corporate value of market research, a value that is growing all the time.

As organisations look to utilize the growing multi channel consumer base, research projects are no longer one off, ad hoc events addressing specific products, customer or demographic groups or distribution channels. Automated online research now delivers unprecedented access to real time information across every aspect of the business.

This research is not just providing faster, lower cost access to critical business information. It is enabling business change. Providing automated reports to logistics, buying teams, customer services and product managers; online research is now becoming an integral part of key business processes.

For years organisations have relied upon traditional printed, telephone and face to face research methods to gain insight into operational performance, customer satisfaction and new business opportunities. From in depth qualitative studies to brief quantitative customer surveys, market research has played an important role in monitoring business performance and, via focus groups, supporting business direction.

However, as an increasing proportion of the customer base moves online, a growing number of organisations are looking at new digital research techniques. From SMS and online research to IVR and surveys via email, organisations beginning to make use of the cost effective, faster and more accurate responses associated with new market research techniques.

But just how effectively are organisations using this new medium? Digital research offers unprecedented opportunities to gather detailed information across every aspect of the business – from products to distribution to customer experience.

Its inherent automation enables organisations to build in automatic research in response to customer interactions, such as purchases. By intelligently collecting information such as customer postcode, items purchased and cost from the user’s interaction, organisations can gain a depth of profile to attach to any online research.

Critically, the low cost per survey completely removes the need for highly targeted programmes that only concentrate on a specific demographic: online surveys can address a far wider consumer population, enabling a company to attain detailed analysis and business insight across a range of target demographics.

The drive to online retailing and purchasing means it is becoming ever more important for organisations to reflect that change by communicating with customers via their medium of choice. And response rates are typically very high, especially when the research is in direct response to consumer activity.

As the trend towards digital communities, blogs and direct consumer interaction demonstrates, the online consumer offers a more responsive research base. This is enabling real time measures of brand advocacy and Net Promoter Score that, critically, encompass not only the online brand but every touch point including retail stores. This depth of information simply cannot be cost effectively attained via traditional research methods.

However, the ease with which information can be attained online creates its own problems. Traditional market research methodologies become ever more important when using online research to ensure information is accurate and trusted. While organisations have the opportunity to be far more creative with online research, from the use of images onwards, there is a very real danger associated with poor research techniques.

With online survey systems now available off the shelf, there is a risk that organisations will fail to follow stringent market research rules and it is only by addressing confidence intervals and avoiding presumptive questions, for example, that organisations can feel confident that the information being collected can be trusted and used to support on going business strategy.

For those that rigorously comply with market research techniques, the quality, depth and timeliness of information is unprecedented. However, while this information is undoubtedly enabling organisations to attain improved customer and competitor knowledge, the challenge is how best to leverage this information to effectively manage multi-channel strategies, achieve shorter product lifecycles and address increasing competition.

And this is where the true competitive differentiation can be attained. For a growing number of organisations, online research is now integrated with core business processes, from logistics to customer service. One retailer, for example, uses sales data to automatically email every customer two days after product delivery to gauge satisfaction. A top level customer satisfaction overview is provided in daily reports to management and results are also analysed by product and delivery method to provide insight into satisfaction by product, delivery type and depot.

This information is transforming understanding of the quality of its service and, critically, the performance of its distribution companies. Key to the high level of consumer response – typically around 25% - is the timeliness of the communication. Leveraging integration and automation, online surveys offer relevance and immediacy that simply cannot be achieved cost effectively via traditional methods.

Furthermore, organisations can run multiple surveys online at any one time, using cookies and customer online activity to determine the most relevant or valuable survey to present to each consumer.

Building in thresholds to reports – such as a drop in customer satisfaction levels – can trigger immediate notification of key personnel within an organisation, to ensure rapid response to business issues. Suddenly, online research is not only a completely integral part of the business but actually driving business response.

As such, research now demands a new pricing model. Rather than the traditional per project or per response costs, organisations can actual pay a fixed fee for multiple surveys and replies, further underpinning the new role as core business function.

Businesses must wake up to the true potential of the new digital research methods. For years too many critical decisions have been based on guess work and hypothesis. Now with a timely and trusted feedback direct form the customer, organisations have the information at their fingertips to drive quantifiable business improvements.

Market research has rapidly stepped outside the realms of the research department to become a truly integrated component of business processes. Placing this information directly in the hands of the product, customer and distribution managers is incredibly valuable – far more so than leaving it festering in the back rooms as researchers assess its potential impact on the business.

Online research is providing organisations with extraordinary amounts of excellent, timely information. But just how many are truly using it to commercial advantage?

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