The advent of user-friendly, online survey tools has made customer research a reality for many companies that previously thought they could not afford it.  These tools make it easy for any company to obtain quick, inexpensive feedback from customers.   So, you might ask, why would you spend money on a third-party for your research?

If you are conducting an important research initiative, consider the following when deciding whether to use your own employees or an independent third party.

Survey Design

A recent survey I received asked the question “Did you receive fast, friendly customer service?”  I was really stuck on how to answer this because, while my customer service rep was quite friendly, the service I received was slow and cumbersome (and outside of her control!).  If I answered “Yes”, the speed of service problem would be buried.  If I answered “No”, a friendly service rep would receive a negative rating.  I opted to give the rep the positive rating.  I figured she should not suffer because her company designed a poor survey question.

Inexperienced survey designers regularly make these and other types of question design mistakes.  A third-party researcher is trained in survey design and able to avoid the many pitfalls inherent in effective study design.

Truthful, Candid Responses

Do your customers have a one-on-one relationship with someone at your company – maybe a Sales or Service Representative?  If so, preserving that relationship is important to both parties.

I work closely with a company that provides email services.  I know my Service Rep personally and am generally happy with him, though I recently had an uncharacteristically bad experience.  It just so happened that, a couple of week later, I received a Customer Satisfaction survey request from his company (yes, I receive and respond to a lot of surveys!).  The request to participate was sent over the signature of the Vice President of his department.  Now, I know the purpose of this is to emphasize the importance of the survey, but now I’m concerned that if I ding my rep on this bad experience the response will go directly to his VP and he will suffer because of it.

Using a third-party can go a long way toward easing these concerns for your customer.  A senior person at the company can still request your participation, but they can stress the need for candor and honesty, and back that up by using a third-party.

Unbiased Analysis

Even the most dedicated professionals can’t help but hope for survey results to support their point of view.  In fact, they can hope for it so much they can unwittingly interpret results in that direction.  This is especially true in the interpretation of open-ended comments.  It’s natural to read through customer comments and see only those that support your perceptions.  An independent professional, however, will dispassionately analyze those comments and present a more well-rounded picture of what customers are saying.

And let’s not forget the tendency to kill the messenger.  An internal person who’s been tapped to conduct a research study may be just as unwilling to report bad news to Senior Managements as the customer who does not want to give their Service Rep a bad report.


Connie Abood is President and founder of Market Pulse, Inc.
Founded in 1989, Market Pulse specializes in Customer Research and Satisfaction Measurement.
Connie can be reached at 440-460-0807