Two media companies and a grocery retailer emailed me survey invitations this week. They know who they are. Actually, they probably don't. Based on the content of the surveys I received, they didn't seem to have any clue as to who I was at all.
Between the three of them, these companies gather survey feedback from millions of customers every year. With the help of their research agencies, they reach a lot of consumers.
The good news is that these companies are trying to listen to their customers. In that sense, they're on the right track. The bad news, however, is that these surveys didn't create goodwill with me as a consumer. What was supposed to be an opportunity for them to win me as a repeat customer became an experience I'd rather forget.
My experience with these surveys highlights how many companies approach consumer insights: mostly as a sideshow, something that's low priority. And that's a problem because surveys and other engagement activities are, in fact, an important point of contact, and a place where brands can strengthen their relationships with their customers.
Bad research is bad marketing, and if your research activities don't provide great customer experiences, you are inadvertently damaging your brand. Here are some tips on how to use research activities to work for your brand, instead of against it:
- Obsess over each customer touch point.
To build brand loyalty, companies need to ensure that all teams that interact with customers provide the best possible experience. CMOs know this best: it's why editorial, marketing, and store management go through ruthless quality checks. Top-notch marketing teams would never allow a print article to be badly laid out, store signage to be misspelled or outdoor advertising to casually use an illegible font.
So why do companies allow ugly, old-school surveys to go out? Every customer touch point matters - and surveys sent to millions of customers are certainly touch points. It's already 2014, and if your surveys are still grey and only allow checkboxes and texts, you're already behind. Just look at what websites look like these days: people expect the same experience in your surveys. If your surveys still look like they'd be right at home in Netscape, you might find your brand following the old browser's ill-fated destiny.
- Abandon the ad hoc approach.
The surveys I received were not just ugly; they were also long and dull. In one of the surveys, I was asked to rate 24 different ads. Another one asked where I live, presenting me with a list of 192 countries written in tiny font. The third survey asked irrelevant questions about things I haven't watched.
Why are these surveys so time-consuming and boring? I suspect it's because these companies treat consumer insights as an ad hoc activity. Many companies run lean insight teams in an effort to save money, outsourcing many of their activities to agencies. This is problematic when you're not engaging your agency the whole year since that requires them to cram everything in one survey. Don't let an ad hoc approach and external parties completely shape the experience for your customers.
- Build the marketing skills of your in-house research teams.
When marketing and research don't talk to each other, the customer experience suffers, as the surveys I received demonstrate. Where was the snappy layout that I see in these same companies' advertisements? How about the targeted content or voice I get when they send me direct mail or email?
To deliver the best survey experience, brands need to build the marketing expertise of their in-house research teams, and vice versa. By broadening the skills of these teams and by making sure they're communicating with each other, brands can help ensure that their research activities build goodwill with customers who are willing to provide their feedback.
- Reflect consistent branding in your research activities.
Just like many people, I do most of my online activity on my smartphone, so naturally I tried answering the surveys using my iPhone. Unfortunately, all three were clunky on mobile. They gave me fat-finger complex with their tiny radio buttons. But more alarmingly, the surveys didn't look or feel the same as the companies' other apps or mobile web design. One of the surveys couldn't even fit the brand logo on the screen.
When research activities are seen as low priority, bad customer experience happens. Companies end up sending surveys using different software platforms, and research and CRM software tend not to be integrated. The result is a user experience that lacks cohesion with the company's branding.
How can you provide a more consistent experience for your customers and research participants? By following branding 101. You don't have ten disconnected websites, loyalty programmes or CRM systems, so why should customers see something different whenever you're asking for feedback? Standardize more, and use a common platform for feedback. As it does in marketing, consistency in research activities will provide a better brand experience.
- Make it a two-way conversation.
I probably would have responded to the surveys if I had a sense of what's in it for me. I already buy from these companies, and I want to help them improve; I'll even give them my time and opinions. But the value for me isn't clear: I don't ever get feedback and I don't know if my opinions make a difference.
If you're treating research activities as a one-way street, then you might be turning people off because they don't know how their participation is beneficial to them. People are eager to share their thoughts and their time with brands, but they need to know that their time isn't wasted.
A lot of creative hard work goes into creating the right brand experience for your customers. Stop letting bad research practices undo it. Start reviewing all your customer touch points - including your research activities - and hold your research activities to the same quality standard you apply to any other customer interaction.