And other strategies for delivering good service
“Unfortunately, I will not be able to help on this occasion”. How often were you brave enough to say this to your existing or prospective client?
It was only a few months ago when I moved to Sapio Research, 10 years+ into my client management career, that I saw the whole team being encouraged to do this. It felt really refreshing!
Market research is a fascinating and important industry. It should never be underestimated. It helps to make educated business decisions, provides justification for strategic investments, identifies new opportunities, lowers business risks and much more. Market research is behind the sustainability of organisations, no matter how big or small they are. I’ve been a part of it for many years now and I still love it!
On the other hand, it is also a very competitive industry. Over the last decade since I’ve been working in the industry, market research agencies started to pop up everywhere like mushrooms after the summer rain. UK, US, Asia… the numbers are growing, and everyone constantly thinks about new and innovative ways to position themselves in front of clients as “Global Leaders”. Marketing departments are swamped with demands for new campaigns. New business roles are created.
Online panel providers cannot stop informing potential clients about how many respondents they can reach, how fast, how cheaply and where. These figures do not go up in tens or hundreds of thousands of people. We are talking about millions now! Looking closely, we see these are not real as usually the number of active panelists is much lower than that, but hey! Seven digits always look better than let’s say five, right? In my experience, many qualitative providers, both for in-person and online research, do pretty much the same too. Boasting about their facilities (many of them without convenient ways of getting there), recruitment capabilities, quality of respondents they can provide etc. Again, a lot of information is not entirely true and goes straight into the same bucket called “marketing tricks”.
Looking at all this, I cannot help but notice that somehow the market research industry created (knowingly or not) a bit of a toxic melting pot. Clients started to learn that not everything we tell them is as we describe it. They started to pay less attention to the quality of research and its genuineness, mostly focusing on cost and fast turnaround. The idea of loyalty went out of the window a long time ago, as there is no need for it right now. And who could blame them?
It is us as research providers who put more attention on quantity instead of quality. It is the industry ready to sell services for the sake of selling them (quite often this practice is being encouraged from the very top of the leadership). It is us who are ready to lower costs to the point of running projects for pennies, just to bring another name on the board, so we can shout about how many new clients we have and how fast our portfolios are growing. Clients see all that and rightly take advantage of it on regular basis. At the same time, the understanding of real market research value diminishes right before our eyes. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. – Does this resonate in the PR & Comms market too?
What is the solution to all this? Transparency!
One of Sapio Research’s values is being forthright (together with friendly, fast and flexible), and I cannot stress enough how important it is. Not just to me personally, but also to our clients. The combined experience of our Team is up to the highest level and research solutions we bring to our clients are simply outstanding. I know, I’ve worked with a lot of teams.
However, would I say we are the best in the industry, or that we are the “Global Leader”? No, I would not. Not because I do not like this type of statement but because this would be a stretch. Because we are aware of our limitations and shortcomings, and we are not afraid to admit it, especially when talking to our clients. And neither should you! Although we all need to strive for the excellence in fields we specialise in, it is pivotal to know what we can and cannot do. Simple as that.
So, while I entirely appreciate it is not easy to admit to this common ‘over exaggeration’ practice, I would advise market research (or any other) agencies to stop saying you “are the ‘best'”, as you are probably not. Stop describing yourself as a global leader because there is really no such thing (well, at least not for long). Stop creating unreal statistics because all you do is paint a misleading picture, which affects the whole industry. Just be honest. In every aspect of your work.
In the long run, there is nothing better than that. Perhaps going back to basics and reminding ourselves about this can help us rebuild the industry’s reputation and best practices.
Whether research or PR agency, instead of blowing our own trumpet, what about the following?
- Do not be afraid to admit that there is something you do not understand. From the moment you receive the brief, it is all right to let the client know there are bits which are blurry and to ask for clarification.
- Provide the feedback based on your expertise and knowledge if changes to it are needed. Clients do not need to be research (or PR) savvy. We are the experts; therefore, we should be positioning ourselves as such (even if it means tweaking the brief).
- Do not overcommit on what you can deliver and where. Being truthful is important and trust me, if you are not, your client will very quickly figure that out.
- Do not change your cost after the project is commissioned! It is extremely unprofessional and leaves a long-lasting negative impression. It is fine not to be sure about certain aspects of the projects, especially those which are niche. At the same time, it is not that difficult to let the client know about your assumptions, estimates or provide different cost options based on different scenarios. All this at the bidding stage though, not after the sign off.
- Keep your clients informed and in the loop. They are often new to market research and giving them reassurance about the progress is crucial for developing a strong relationship
- Stick to your deadlines. The outcome you provide is only the first step in their journey and not doing this can have some serious consequences.
- Ask for feedback after project completion. Real, honest feedback! It is a constant learning process for all involved and knowing how your performance is ranked should be considered one of the biggest assets for your company.
- Finally, do not be afraid to educate your clients. Either by providing them with a real picture of the process or by offering some complimentary learning sessions to make them better equipped too. For example, Sapio Research offers “Lunch & Learn” sessions for teams from different sectors and in different markets. All this with remarkable success and appreciation.
Do not get me wrong here, please. I am not trying to slag off the industry I love. I know plenty of fantastic market research agencies around. I was part of some of them. Sometimes I was a client too. My point is that unfortunately there are still some “bad apples” out there and I hope that one day there will be absolutely none. Once that happens, we can all get back to being proud of what we do and the industry we represent.