Market research is so important to commercial organizations it’s worth interrupting your family dinner.
Those calls you get around the same time of evening each week or so are actually critical little fact-finding missions that help shape the consumer world around you. But if market research is so important to companies, why is the task left to anonymous cold-callers, pop-up internet surveys, ugly discussion boards, and good old-fashioned flyers?
What about using the power of video conferencing to resurrect the most effective means of finding out what a customer thinks–asking them to their face?
In-Person Interviews Are More Accurate
A 2013 study of the effectiveness of various survey styles in assessing wine consumption found face-to-face interviewing to be the most reliable method for collecting representative survey data. The research–one of few attempts to compare the quality of responses from telephone, face-to-face, and internet surveys–indicated the personal approach was better at revealing consumer preferences and behavioral characteristics.
Conducting a survey in person generates a higher response rate, allows interviewers to ask more open-ended questions, and means an interviewee is likely to participate for longer. It also offers obvious visual advantages, such as eliminating the ability of, say, a 13-year-old boy to pass himself off as a 40-year-old woman.
The biggest drawbacks to conducting face-to-face interviews have nothing to do with the quality of the insights the method provides, but rather the financial and time cost of undertaking them in the first place, making video conferencing an obvious candidate to simplify the process.
Making It Easy to Talk Face-to-Face
The chief cost of personal interviews is putting people in the field to conduct them. However, the core asset of teleconferencing is the ability to send a person’s digital self out into the world to speak for them.
There are two possible ways to employ teleconferencing in the consumer survey world, and they mimic the methods companies are already using to locate current and potential customers. They are to reach consumers by phone, or at the point of sale.
The first is by far the most common method of consumer survey. Not even the additional costs and logistical hurdles the overwhelming shift to mobile phones has caused (such as catching people while driving, or legislation that mandates cellphone numbers must be dialed manually) has slowed phone surveys.
However, if companies want to gain the extra insight a face-to-face interview generates, all they need do is add a simple question to their telephone interviewer’s introduction: “Would you prefer to speak to me face-to-face?”
Making the switch at this point is easier than you think. Fitting out a call center with video conferencing equipment is a matter of adding the right peripherals to each station.
And on the survey subject’s end, the advent of Web RTC means most major internet browsers are already capable of hosting real-time communication. And there’s no need for the customer to give away their Skype address or other private service. Free video calling services such as appear.in would allow the survey service to create a personal, single-use, virtual room for each customer where they could have an “anonymous” face-to-face conversation.
Collecting Data at Point of Sale
The second way to find suitable survey subjects is at the point where they transition into being customers–the point of sale.
There are a litany of methods companies currently employ to gather demographic and contact information from their retail customers. Discount cards, competitions, and other incentives always include a request for contact details, while some retailers will just flat out ask for your email address even if you wish to buy a product with cash.
Instead, why not be upfront about the process and have the merchant simply direct the customer to a computer at the other end of the counter where, in exchange for a small free item or gift card, the customer can complete a quick video survey with a real person.
Alternatively, dedicated video chat kiosks could be set up in trafficked areas like malls, or fashion or restaurant districts to catch the eye–and information–of curious shoppers. As with a telephone-based system, existing survey staff could be available to take these calls, and with the rent on kiosks in major malls going for around $800 a month, there’s a wealth of quality consumer information available for a relatively small outlay.
A Focused Group
There’s a reason why major corporations consult focus groups before changing so much as the pattern on the burger franchise napkins. They can hear from the customers themselves, in their own words, just how they feel about the product. And it empowers the research team to pick up on and explore the verbal and physical cues that may betray a key insight not accounted for with a tick-a-box online form.
Video conferencing promises to add that depth of feeling and information to any online or telephone survey, with just a little tweak of the existing protocols, and at an affordable cost.
Image source: Flickr CC user Jaysin Trevino