Avis Budget Group’s VP of Customer Insights and Experience, Eric Smuda, sat down with CMB’s Judy Melanson to talk about Customer Experience, suppliers, and his work as a corporate insights executive.
Eric, it’s always fun to listen and learn from you. I’d like to start by asking a broad question: why is managing the customer experience important for Avis?
Managing the experience is critical for us—and critical for the car rental industry as a whole—because it’s the only way we can differentiate ourselves. The products we offer are identical to the products our competitors offer. We don’t have a location advantage because our competitors are immediately next door. There aren’t no-show fees, so customers are free to choose any company. It’s solely customer experience that differentiates us from our competitors and that drives growth.
Tell me a little bit about your job.
My role is to identify customer pain points and to design improvements in our customer experience. My team gathers and shares customer experience measurement data and marries that data with our operational, reservation, and financial data to really understand what, why, when, and where something is happening. This helps ABG define improvement priorities and get executive sponsorship, funding, and resources for those priorities.
How does your team interact with your end-users—both corporate and on-site?
We want to drive macro change at a corporate level and location-specific change at a local level. One of our newer initiatives is the customer experience governance council, which includes all of North America’s senior management as well as key customer touchpoint owners.
My analytics team shares their findings with the council on a monthly basis. That way, the council can prioritize the projects we want to invest in. We then align executive sponsors, resources, and funding with those initiatives. This monthly meeting also gives us the opportunity to report back on progress made on previous initiatives. We’ll share those insights with the marketing organization and communicate any changes we make with the customer base.
As you reflect back on the years that you’ve been at Avis, what are some of the changes you’ve made that have had the greatest impact on the customer experience?
One change that stands out is in rental rate price consistency (RRPC). We learned that when customers made reservations on our website, the site wasn’t accurately taking the daily rate, combining it with any add-ons he/she might have (insurance, car seats, GPS, XM radio, etc.), and then correctly calculating the taxes. So customers weren’t getting an accurate final bill. Now they do with the RRPC project, and we’ve seen a significant decrease in our pricing and billing complaints.
Price and cost are such important considerations in the purchase decision because they can be dissatisfiers, so that’s great.
Absolutely. We now know from our text analytics program that billing complaints are the biggest driver of negative Net Promoter Scores. The RRPC project has been one way we’re reducing those pain points and the number of calls going into our call center, and it’s had a large impact for our customers.
Another thing I’d like to mention is the rollout of the Select & Go experience to our top 50 locations. Some customers want to have the option of selecting another car if they don’t like the one we assign to them. This program was born out of that customer feedback. Customers can now receive a notification on their phone about which spot their assigned car is in, come see the car, and either take the assigned car or go to the Select & Go exchange lot where they can exchange the car for free. We also have an upgrade lot where they can decide whether they’re willing to pay $20 or $25 more to upgrade to another car class. This has been a customer experience improvement, and it’s also actually driven $3 million to $4 million in incremental revenue for the company.
It’s a win for customers and a win for ABG. Another thing we know is that speed of service is of the utmost importance. We get more comments about speed of service in our text analytics engine than we do about anything else, so we’ve been taking a look at the entire rental process. We looked at over 100,000 customer verbatims and broke them down based on where they sit in the rental process or in the customer experience. We identified 20 projects we can complete to impact the customer speed of service at different stages of the rental experience. About half of those projects are active now, and customers should definitely look for significant upgrades over the next year or two in our ability to serve them more quickly.
I love that you’re addressing the customer needs more globally. You’re not making a touchpoint-by-touchpoint improvement, but rather an improvement about the customer’s need for speed across his/her entire engagement and experience.
I think that's the biggest philosophical change we've made over the last couple years as it relates to our customer experience program. Rather than looking at it as location-specific and driving change at the individual level, we’re now evaluating customer experience much more comprehensively. We look at macro issues at a division level that impact customers everywhere, and we start to fund and drive change in those identified areas.
What’s going to be different in customer experience at Avis in the next two years?
We’re working on a flight disruption service, which is relevant given the winter we’ve had in the Northeast. This service proactively reaches out to customers whose flights have been canceled and asks them whether they’d like to keep the car another day, turn it into a one-way rental and just drive home, and more. We want customers to know we can get them home or wherever they need to be.
Great! Let’s move a little bit more into research, tell me: what insights get you most excited?
Our program is constantly evolving as we bring in new brands and continue to evaluate our business. CMB was with us at the beginning of this journey, and you guys know that our customer experience program started with roughly 150 to 200 of our top airports.
We’ve also expanded it globally through our partners EMEA and Asia Pacific. The bigger growth challenge for us from a learning standpoint is adding the relationship view of the customer to the evaluations of the transactions they have with us. That will let us know not only how we did in Phoenix yesterday, but also how we’re doing across all of the interactions customers have with our various brands. So all of this growth we’re making in our customer experience measurement program is absolutely something I’m excited about.
As far as things that excite me, it’s really when we can dive down and understand specific customer pain points that affect specific types of customers in specific types of situations. For example, we know customer satisfaction is lower for certain types of trips vs. others, so when we can start to dig and combine that knowledge with other information like pricing strategies, billing strategies, and other policies, you start to understand why. Then, we can begin to have conversations with business decision makers and explain to them what things are getting in the way of the customer experience so they can reconsider and change those practices and policies. My passion is always trying to make things easier and better for customers, so what’s most exciting for me is the possibility of accomplishing that through those conversations.
You’re the customer advocate. There might be pricing or revenue objectives, but you can speak for groups of customers, which needs to be done in order to build engagement with the brand.
That’s always the big challenge: trying to balance customer needs against revenue and profit goals.
What would you tell market research vendors about how they can best support the decisions you need to make?
What an age old question! I feel like the supplier side has always struggled with understanding our business at a level at which they can help us drive business decisions and not just simply provide information. We want suppliers to provide context, combine the findings and the context with our financial drivers, and use all of that to help us make a more informed business decision. That’s a true partnership. That’s where I’ve had the most challenges with suppliers in the past. It’s also why I value working with your CMB team.
Can you talk a little bit about your relationship and partnership with CMB?
You understand our business as well as our management’s priorities. We have a great, trusted relationship—your guidance, partnership, and advice have been wonderful. You’ve transcended from being a vendor to being a very key advisor and trusted partner.
Got a market research question that you're just dying to have answered? Ask our Chief Methodologist, and he might tackle your question in his next blog!
By Heather Magaw
It’s both an exciting and challenging time to be a researcher. Exciting because we can collect data at speeds our predecessors could only dream about and challenging because we must help our partners stay nimble enough to really benefit from this data deluge. So, how do we help our clients reap the rewards of Big Data without drowning in it?
Start with the end in mind: If you’re a CMB client, you know that we start every engagement with the end in mind before a single question is ever written. First, we ask what business decisions the research will help answer. Once we have those, we begin to identify what information is necessary to support those decisions. This keeps us focused and informs everything from questionnaire design to implementation.
Leverage behavioral and attitudinal data: While business intelligence (BI) teams have access to mountains of transactional, financial, and performance data, they often lack insight into what drives customer behavior, which is a critical element of understanding the full picture. BI teams are garnering more and more organizational respect due to data access and speed of analysis, yet market research departments (and their partners like CMB) are the ones bringing the voice of the customer to life and answering the “why?” questions.
Tell a compelling story: One of the biggest challenges of having “too much” data is that data from disparate sources can provide conflicting information, but time-starved decision makers don't have time to sort through all of it in great detail. In a world in which data is everywhere, the ability to take insights beyond a bar chart and bring it to life is critical. It’s why we spend a lot of time honing our storytelling skills and not just our analytic chops. We know that multiple data sources must be analyzed from different angles and through multiple lenses to provide both a full picture and one that can be acted upon.
Big Data is ripe with potential. Enterprise-level integration of information has the power to change the game for businesses of all sizes, but data alone isn’t enough. The keen ability to ask the right questions and tell a holistic story based on the results gives our clients the confidence to make those difficult investment decisions. 2014 was the year of giving Big Data a seat at the table, but for the rest of 2015, market researchers need to make sure their seat is also reserved so that we can continue to give decision makers the real story of the ever-changing business landscape.
Heather is the VP of Client Services, and she admits to becoming stymied by analysis paralyses when too much data is available. She confesses that she resorts to selecting restaurants and vacation destinations based solely on verbal recommendations from friends who take the time to tell a compelling story instead of slogging through an over-abundance of online reviews.
By Nick Pangallo
Did I snag you with the title? I hope so—it took me quite a while to come up with it. As our regular readers and esteemed clients know, each of CMB’s employees contribute to our blog by writing at least once annually. In the past, I’ve used my posts to tackle the real-world applications of complex mathematical topics, including statistical significance, Maximum-Difference scaling, and stated vs. derived importance.
Today, though, I’d like to introduce you to my true research passion: brand positioning. My first job in the research field took me all over the world as my team and I worked to determine and deliver the most effective positioning for a multinational insurance company. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Most of you reading this have probably heard the term “positioning” before, but for those who haven’t, here’s a definition from the guys who (quite literally) invented the field: “An organized system for finding a window in the mind. It is based on the concept that communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances.” - Ries, A. and Trout, J. (1977), Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.
A simpler definition, also from Jack Trout, would be this: “the place a product, brand, or group of products occupies in consumers' minds, relative to competing offerings.” Pretty simple, right? You define your brand as the collection of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors you want your consumers (whomever they may be) to have about you, relative to your key competitors (perhaps the most famous “opposition branding” of this sort is 7 Up’s classic “The Uncola”).
So, we need to identify the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we want consumers to have and then make a big, direct marketing push to communicate those aspects to them. Right? (Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that.) In a future blog post, I’ll tackle aspects like value statements, foundational benefits, key goals, and the like, but for now, I want to focus on one major sticking point I keep seeing come up: emotion.
These days, marketers talk endlessly about “big data” and “connecting on an emotional level.” How can we convince so-and-so to love our brand? What emotions do we want associated with our brand? Are we happy? Exciting? Stoic?
Research firms, including ours, often tackle these questions and try to help clients be seen for the right emotions. But here’s the rub: unless your product or company is brand-spankin’-new, the basic emotional reactions to your brand are already defined. Try as we might, changing an idea in someone’s mind is by far the most difficult task in all of marketing, and if people in a focus group are saying your brand reminds them of a Volvo, the odds that you can convince them to think of your brand as a Ferrari are virtually nil.
So how can brands connect with consumers on an emotional level, convey the right emotions, and do so effectively in an already over-communicated world? Well, that answer would be too long for this blog post, but let me start with a simple analogy: brand positionings can be thought of as a ladder—you have to climb one rung before you can move on to the next. The very bottom is your foundation (what industry you’re in, when you were founded, etc.– just the facts, Jack), and the very top is your emotional connection to your consumers, inasmuch as one exists. In between is an array of needs, including functional benefits, the value statement, goals, and a few others I’ll cover in a future blog.
Brands have to build up to that emotional connection, which is usually the most difficult component of branding (and why it’s at the top of the ladder). Brands or products can do so by delivering across the entire spectrum in a consistent, thorough way that speaks to the emotion you want to own. If you have major delivery issues, you won’t be thought of as reliable. If you’ve only existed for 2 months, you probably can’t own trustworthy. Oil companies can’t be fun. If you want to own reliability, you need top-level customer delivery, including responsive employees, a reputation for customer service, and a culture that rewards proactivity. You get the idea.
By now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with my new Prius (good timing!). Outdoorsy, environmentally-friendly folk like myself have been long-devoted fans of Toyota’s original hybrid fuel cell vehicle for its emissions-slashing, fuel-saving engine among other things. But those aren’t emotions, and no one could think the Prius’ historical sales records could be accomplished without more than a dash of emotional connection thrown in.
So how does the Prius make me feel? Like I’m making a difference. The “hybrid” stamp on the back reminds me not to be wasteful. The constantly-cycling energy meter not only encourages me to drive less aggressively, but also turns reducing emissions into a fun little game I play driving around Boston. (54 mpg? Psssh. I can do better.) A solar-powered climate roof reminds me not to waste energy and makes me smile when it unexpectedly turns on. A cynic might say that what the Prius really does is allow people to feel better about themselves, and I don’t deny there’s at least a kernel of truth there, too.
You can see how the positioning of the Prius fits the ladder example: the foundation is the hybrid engine, 14 years of existence, and Toyota brand. Functional benefits include cutting gas costs and reducing emissions (the proof points are well-known) while supporting the goal of living a low-emission life. All of these things add up to that simple, good feeling I have whenever I slide behind the wheel, which connects me with the product in a way that the individual features cannot. The cycling energy monitor is cool, but I wouldn’t have assigned point values for efficiently driving away from stoplights around my neighborhood if it was just a toy. The solar roof not only helps keep the car cool in the summer, it reminds me to be energy-conscious at home, too. Seamless alignment between functional and emotional.
Let this be the first lesson then: brands can own emotions, but not without much effort. If you want someone to love your brand, you have to give them reasons why they should, and all of those reasons need to work in tandem with one another to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. In a future post, I’ll show you how.
Nick Pangallo is the Senior Project Manager on CMB’s Financial Services, Insurance, Travel, and Hospitality team. He’s an avid poker player and an occasional lecturer at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. You can follow him on Twitter @NAPangallo, though be warned: he often tweets about the Buffalo Bills.
By Cara Lousararian
After nearly a decade working on highly complex and strategic research projects, I’ve learned the one thing you can count on when dealing with massive amounts of data is Murphy’s Law—anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. No matter how much planning we do (and we take planning very seriously), the nature of market research means there’s bound to be a hiccup or two along the way.
One of the best ways to deal with Murphy's Law is to accept that issues will arise but to make sure they don’t get in the way of the end goal—actionable insights. At CMB, our ability to seamlessly execute projects hinges on our capacity to adjust and course correct (when needed) to keep things on track. We put a lot of preparation and time in putting together solid project plans, focusing on business decisions, and conducting stakeholder interviews, but we also place a lot of emphasis on hiring and training strong problem solvers. We do this because we know that even the best laid out plans can still go awry, which is why it's important to manage problems proactively. For example, CMB firmly believes in conducting stakeholder interviews at the beginning of nearly all research engagements. This allows us to proactively re-shape/re-think the questionnaire design based on the information we’re hearing from the stakeholders. This helps prevent getting to the final presentation and delivering insights that are not relevant or useable for the key stakeholders.
Even the Patriots, as successful as they were this season and in the Super Bowl, run into problems and issues in each game that they play, regardless if they are playing the worst or best team in the league. If you read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column the day after the Super Bowl, you'll remember that he highlighted Bill Belichick's pre-Super Bowl game meeting with his staff. Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, summarized the meeting and said that Bill's main message was this: "This game is no different than any other one. It’s a 60-minute football game, and whatever issues we have, let’s make sure we correct them, coach them, and fix them. That’s our job." During that meeting, McDaniels, wrote two notes on his game play clipboard, "adjust" and "correct problems and get them fixed." Going into the game with those mantras was a reminder for him that the game is dynamic, and even the best laid plans need to be adjusted throughout the course of play.
While we can’t rely on Tom Brady, our approach to research engagements is no different. We encounter complex challenges day in and day out, and as our clients' needs change, we continue to think creatively and provide new and better solutions. When working with CMB, you can feel confident that we're putting together a solid project approach while simultaneously planning for the problems that may lie ahead. We might not be the Patriots, but we’re champions at execution just the same.
Cara is a Senior Research Manager. She enjoys spending time with her husband and dog, and she is STILL reveling in the "high" from the Patriots Super Bowl win.
Are YOU a strong problem solver? Come join our team!
Originally posted on the South Street Strategy blog
By Andy Cole
Diversity in the workplace has proven massive benefits for organizations that rely on innovative thinking. Contrary to what most people believe, however, diversity in business is not just about surrounding yourself with people who look different. It’s also about equipping your team with a wide array of approaches to a common challenge.
You can imagine each of us having a diversity score – based on 3 dimensions – that fluctuates depending on the collective characteristics of the team. However, the score isn’t static: each of us can increase our individual and team diversity score at will. Let’s take a look at the three common dimensions of diversity to understand how we can do this:
- Inherent Diversity
Inherent diversity includes race, ethnic background, gender…hardwired traits that we are born with/into and cannot be controlled. For better or worse, these traits can influence the way we perceive the world around us, and vice versa.
A McKinsey study shows the difference inherent diversity can make, finding that executive boards in the US with inherently diverse members enjoy a 95% higher return on equity than those without. Impressive! On the flipside, what is an example of the drawback to sameness? Ask Bertelsmann, whose all-male team turned down Bethenny Frankel’s pitch to launch a low-cal alcoholic beverage for women. They simply could not relate to the target market, and the unseized opportunity gave rise to Skinnygirl, the fastest growing spirit brand in history.
- Acquired Diversity
This dimension involves the ingrained experiences we collect throughout our lives that train us how to think and behave, such as educational background, professional expertise, and even experience abroad.
An Art History class might allow you to understand the context surrounding important works and to fully appreciate the artist’s vision. Raising children helps you value an uninterrupted night’s sleep and wholeheartedly empathize with new parents in a way that others simply cannot. Though we cannot dictate all life events, we do have a great deal of control over the diversity we acquire over time.
According to the Harvard Business Review, companies with leaders who exhibit 2-D diversity (that is, each leader possesses at least 3 inherent traits and 3 acquired traits) are 45% more likely to report growth.
While this is all wonderful, raising the level of inherent and acquired diversity at your organization (especially at the leadership level) is not something that is easily achieved. We believe a third dimension is needed; a dimension to help you raise your overall diversity score immediately with the human capital you already have: that third dimension is Inspired Diversity.
- Inspired Diversity
Through the development of our subject knowledge over time, mental models begin to take form and solidify in our minds. That’s natural, but these biases can also blind us to new opportunities and challenges. In order to increase our openness and mental agility, we must constantly identify opportunities to branch out from our immediate environment and learn how others might solve interesting challenges, focusing on how we might apply their insight to fit our purposes.
For example, touring a manufacturing facility can give fresh insight to the way we think about our internal processes and workflow. Interviewing an exceptional street performer could provide wisdom on courage and leadership. Perusing an exhibit at an art museum can help you reimagine your brand’s image through the artist’s lens.
When I run rapid innovation programs with clients, there is a clear trend among the super creative folks who consistently ideate at a higher level: They are renaissance people. They have many interests, are curious about many subjects, and partake in many activities that all contribute to having a wide array of perspectives. They have the unique ability to create using their past experience (acquired diversity) and also in-the-moment when they bring a specific business challenge to an outside activity (inspired diversity). They challenge themselves with new experiences and perspectives as often as possible.
When business requires innovation, pulling novel ideas out of thin air is simply not a realistic expectation; it’s about attacking a challenge from angles that have never been considered. And this level of thinking requires diverse individuals, with diverse minds, stimulated by diverse activities.
Andy Cole is a consultant for South Street Strategy Group where we use a multi-method approach to identify and test growth and innovation strategies for increased commercialization success. Read South Street's Strategy Group's blog here.
Dear Dr. Jay,
We’ve been testing new concepts for years. The magic score to move forward in the new product development process is a 40% top 2 box score to purchase intent on a 5 point scale. How do I know if 40% is still a good benchmark? Are there any other measures that might be useful in predicting success?
I have some good news—you may have a big data mining challenge. Situations like yours are why I always ask our clients two questions: (1) what do you already know about this problem, and (2) what information do you have in-house that might shed some light on a solution? You say you’ve been testing concepts for years. Do you have a database of concepts already set up? If not, can you easily get access to your concept scores?
Look back on all of the concepts you have ever tested, and try to understand what makes for a successful idea. In addition to all the traditional concept test measures like purchase intent, believability, and uniqueness, you can also append marketing spend, distribution measures, and perhaps even social media trend data. You might even want to include economic condition information like the rate of inflation, the prime rate of interest, and the average DOW stock index. While many of these appended variables might be outside of your control, they may serve to help you understand what might happen if you launch a new product under various market conditions.
Take heart Norm, you are most definitely not alone. In fact, I recently attended a presentation on Big Data hosted by the Association of Management Consulting Firms. There, Steve Sashihara, CEO of Princeton Consultants, suggested there are four key stages for integrating big data into practice. The first stage is to monitor the market. At CMB, we typically rely on dashboards to show what is happening. The second stage is to analyze the data. Are you improving, getting worse, or just holding your own? However, only going this far with the data doesn’t really provide any insight into what to do. To take it to the next level, you need enter the third stage: building predictive models that forecast what might happen if you make changes to any of the factors that impact the results. The true value to your organization is really in the fourth stage of the process—recommending action. The tools that build models have become increasingly powerful in the past few years. The computing power now permits you to model millions of combinations to determine the optimal outcomes from all possible executions.
In my experience, there are usually many attributes that can be improved to optimize your key performance measure. In modeling, you’re looking for the attributes with the largest impact and the cost associated with implementing those changes to your offer. It’s possible that the second best improvement plan might only cost a small percentage of the best option. If you’re in the business of providing cellular device coverage, why build more towers if fixing your customer service would improve your retention almost as much?
Got a burning research question? You can send your questions to DearDrJay@cmbinfo.com or submit anonymously here.
Dr. Jay Weiner is CMB’s senior methodologist and VP of Advanced Analytics. Jay earned his Ph.D. in Marketing/Research from the University of Texas at Arlington and regularly publishes and presents on topics, including conjoint, choice, and pricing.
By Jared Huizenga
I once again had the pleasure of attending the CASRO Digital Research Conference this year. It’s the one of the best conferences available to data collection geeks like me, and this year’s presentations did not disappoint. Here are a few key takeaways from this year’s conference.
1. The South shuts down when it snows. After having a great weekend in Nashville after the conference, my flight was cancelled on Monday due to about an inch of snow and a little ice. Needless to say, I was happy to return to Boston and its nine feet of snow.
2. “Big data” is an antiquated term. Over the past few years, big data has been the big buzz in the industry. Much like we said goodbye to traditional “market research,” we can now say adios to “big data.” Good riddance. The term was vague at best. However, that doesn’t mean that the concept is going away. It’s simply being replaced by new, more meaningful terminology like “integrated data” and “multi-sourced data.” But one thing isn’t changing. . .
3. Researchers still don’t know what to do with all that data. What can I say about multi-sourced data that I haven’t already said many times over the past couple years? Clients still want it, and researchers still want to oblige. But this fact remains: adequate tools still do not exist to deliver meaningful integrated data in most cases. We have a long way to go before most researchers will be able to leverage all of this data to its full potential in a meaningful way for our clients.
4. There’s a lot more to mobile research than how a questionnaire looks on a screen. For the past three or four years, it seems like every year is going to be “the year of mobile” at these types of conferences. Because of this, I always attend the mobile-related sessions skeptically. When we talk about mobile, more often than not, the main concern is how the questionnaire will look on a mobile device. But mobile research is much more than that. One of the best things I heard at the conference this year was that researchers should “follow the humans.” This is true on so many levels. Of course, a person can respond to a questionnaire invitation on his/her mobile device, but so much of a person’s daily life, including behaviors and attitudes, is shaped by mobile. Welcome to the world of the ultra-informed consumer. I can confidently say that 2015 is most definitely the year of mobile! (I do, however, reserve the right to say the same thing again next year.)
5. Researchers need to think like humans. It’s easy to get caught up in percentages in our world, and researchers sometimes lose sight of the human aspect of our industry. We like to think that millionaire CEOs are constantly checking their emails on their desktop computers, waiting for their next “opportunity” to take a 45-minute online questionnaire for a twenty-five cent reward. I attended sessions at the conference about gamification, how to make questionnaires more user-friendly, and also how to make questionnaires more kid-friendly by adding voice-to-text and text-to-voice options. All of these things have the potential to ease the burden on research participants, and as an industry, this must happen. We have a long way to go, but. . .
6. Now is the time to play catch-up with the rest of the world. Last year, I ended my recap by saying that change is happening faster than ever. I still think that’s true about the world we live in. With all of the technological advances and new opportunities provided to us, it’s an exciting time to be alive. However, I’m not sure I can honestly say that change is happening faster than ever when it comes to the world of research. I’ve been a part of this industry for a very fulfilling seventeen years, and sometimes my pride in the industry clouds my thinking. Let’s face the facts. The truth is that, as an industry, we are lagging far behind as the world speeds by. Research techniques and tools are evolving at a very slow pace, and I don’t see this changing in the near future. (In our defense, this is true for many industries and not only market research.) I still believe that those of us who are working to leverage the changing world we live in will be much better equipped for success than those who sit idly and watch the world fly.
I’m still confident that my industry is primed and ready for significant and meaningful change—even if we sometimes take the path of a tortoise. As a weekend pitmaster, I know that low and slow is sometimes the best approach. The end result is what really counts.
Jared is CMB’s Field Services Director, and has been in market research industry for seventeen years. When he isn’t enjoying the exciting world of data collection, he can be found competing at barbecue contests as the pitmaster of the cooking team Insane Swine BBQ.
By Jen Golden and Ashley Harrington
Last week, we spent a few days networking with and learning from some of the industry’s best and brightest at The Quirk's Event. At the end of the day, a few key ideas stuck out to us, and we wanted to share them with you.
1. Insights need to be actionable: This point may seem obvious, but multiple presenters at the conference hammered in on this point. Corporate researchers are shifting from a primarily separate entity to a more consultative role within the organization, so they need to deliver insights that best answer business decisions (vs. passing along a 200 slide data-dump). This mindset should flow through the entire lifespan of a project—starting at the beginning by crafting a questionnaire that truly speaks to the business decisions that need to be made (and cuts out all the fluff that may be “nice to have” but is not actionable) all the way to thoughtful analysis and reporting. Taking this approach will help ensure final deliverables aren’t left collecting dust and are instead used to lead engagement across the organization.
2. Allocate time and resources to socializing these insights throughout the organization: All too often, insightful findings are left sitting on a shelf when they have potential to be useful across an organization. Several presenters shared creative approaches to socializing the data so that it lives long after the project ended. From transforming a conference room with life-size cut-outs of key customer segments to creating an app employees can use to access data points quickly and on-the-go, researchers and their partners are getting creative within how they share the findings. The most effective researchers think about research results as a product to be marketed to their stakeholders.
3. Leverage customer data to help validate primary research: Most organizations have a plethora of data to work with, ranging from internal customer databases to secondary sources to primary research. These various sources can be leveraged to paint a full picture of the consumer (and help to validate findings). Etsy (a peer-to-peer e-commerce site) talked about comparing data collected from its customer database to its own primary research to see if what buyers and sellers said they did on the site aligned with what they actually did. For Etsy, past self-reported behaviors (e.g., number of purchases, number of times someone “favorites” a shop, etc.) aligned strongly with its internal database, but future behavior (e.g., likelihood to buy from Etsy in the future) did not. Future behaviors might not be something we can easily predict by asking directly in a survey, but that data could be helpful as another way to identify customer loyalty or advocacy. A note of caution: if you plan on doing this data comparison, make sure the wording in your questionnaire aligns with what you plan on matching in your existing database. This ensures you’re getting an apples to apples comparison.
4. Be cautious when comparing cross-country data: A multi-country study is typically going to ask for a “global overview” or cross-country comparison, but this can lead to inaccurate recommendations. Most are aware of cultural biases such as extreme response (e.g., Brazilian respondents often rate higher on rating scales while Japanese respondents tend to rate lower) or acquiescence (e.g., China often has the propensity to want to please the interviewer), and these biases should be kept in the back of your mind when delving into the final data. Comparing scaled data directly between countries with very different rating tendencies could lead to to falsely thinking one country is underperforming. A better indication of performance would be to provide an in-country comparison to competitors or looking at in-country trending data.
5. Remember your results are only as useful as your design is solid: A large number of stakeholders invested in a study’s outcome can lead to a project designed by committee since each stakeholder will inevitably have different needs, perspectives, and even vocabularies. A presenter shared an example from a study that asked recent mothers, “How long was your baby in the hospital?” Some respondents thought the question referred to the baby’s length, so they answered in inches. Others thought the question referred to the baby’s duration in the hospital, so they answered in days. Therein lies the problem. Throughout the process, it’s our job to ensure that all of the feedback and input from multiple stakeholders adheres to the fundamentals of good questionnaire design: clarity, answerable, ease, and lack of bias.
Have you been to any great conferences lately and have insights to share? Tell us in the comments!
Jen is a Project Manager on the Tech practice who always has the intention to make a purchase on Etsy but never actually pulls the trigger.
Ashley is a Project Manager on the FIH/RTE practice who has pulled the trigger on several Etsy items (as evidenced in multiple “vintage” tchotchkes and half-complete craft projects around her home).
By Laurie McCarthy
An old friend recently remarked how crazy it is that I’ve been at the same company for over 16 years (and I’m not even that old!). I hadn’t really thought it was a big deal, but among my peers, I’m an outlier. A recent article claims Millennials are putting a “time-limit” on their time at a company—91% expect to stay in a job for less than three years. Kids these days!
Of course, economic, cultural, and social reasons all play into the shift away from long-term employee tenure. But when I think about why I’ve stayed at CMB, I keep coming back to the role loyalty plays. If employers want to keep and grow their most valued employees in an increasingly competitive job market, they need to take a lesson from the brand loyalty playbook. Here are 5 principles worth developing:
If you want your smart, curious, and driven employees to stay, you need to offer opportunities to keep their skills fresh and relevant. When I was interviewing at CMB out of grad school, I was excited that analysts were exposed to all aspects of project work (sampling, questionnaire design, data collection, reporting, and analysis). Over the years, we’ve also developed the CMB University (CMBU) program, which includes weekly seminars on the latest techniques, case studies, and innovations. All this emphasis on staying competitive means I’m never bored and my skillset is constantly refreshed.
It doesn’t matter whether your company is a small firm, a global giant, or somewhere in between—employees who are proud of their work and their culture are going to stick around. Just this past year, CMB was named to the AMA Gold Top 50 US Market Research Organizations and the 2014 Top 100 Women-Led Business in Massachusetts by the Boston Globe. I take pride in knowing my contributions to the company (small and large) helped win these awards. Bottom line: as an organization grows, so does the degree to which an employee can thrive.
Word of mouth is an essential component to hiring and sustaining a good employee base, as well as for promoting a brand. When employees feel valued by an organization, they’re going to tell family and friends. The key is to leverage that advocacy to work in favor of the organization. At CMB, there is a referral program. Our employees are the face of our company, and our referral program encourages employees to reach out to peers as potential candidates and talk about their positive experiences at CMB.
79% of Millennials say it’s more important to genuinely enjoy their job than to make a lot of money. They want to love what they are doing and not just see it as work. I am a data dork and proud of it. Syntax, formulas, advanced design, efficiencies gained when brainstorming with colleagues—love ‘em all! My passion is digging into the data, wrapping my head around a problem, and troubleshooting . . . all of which come with my role as a data manager.
But during my time at CMB, it’s not just the work I’ve enjoyed, it’s the sense of community. There’s a camaraderie in our work environment—we work hard together, and then we play together. Throughout my years here, I’ve been privileged to form friendships in addition to great working relationships.
Loyalty is definitely a two-way street—when an organization believes in you, it really inspires you to believe in the organization. As an employee, you have confidence that the company will do right by you and that you will earn both hard benefits (401K, health insurance, vacation, etc.) and soft benefits (flexibility of hours, virtual commuting, working from home when you are sick, etc.). Having a 401(k) is important, but retirement plans are offered at most companies in some form or another. Here’s what really makes me happy: not missing my child’s first grade holiday concert, and CMB makes sure I won’t.
So after almost two decades at the same organization, maybe I am an exception . . . but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Laurie McCarthy is a Senior Data Manager, and she has been with CMB for over 16 years. She’s had 9 desks, sat on 4 floors, had 2 kids, and has gotten married once.
Want to join our team? Check out our current openings.
By Tara Lasker
Maybe you’ve seen the news? This winter, Boston ushered in a new ice age. I’m joking (sort of), but you’ll forgive me since we have had six, SIX consecutive snowstorms, dropping over 90 inches of snow on the region. Commuting has become a game of strategy, and shoveling and “roof raking” have overtaken hockey as the city’s top winter sport. You know it’s bad when The New York Times’ editorial board tries to lift their city’s spirits by reminding New Yorkers that at least they don’t live in Boston. Ouch!
Of course these storms have been no laughing matter for area businesses and employees, and customer loyalty is critical for surviving these stressors. So what can companies do to leverage loyalty when their customers are buried under 7+ feet of snow?
- Make me love you so much I’ll go out of my way to get to you. Loving a brand can help a customer look past inconvenience. For example, I have been using a service to help me decorate my house. The appointment when we were going to make some final decisions just happened to fall during one of the many snowstorms. I should have rescheduled—it was snowing and the roads were awful. But I was so excited that I just couldn’t wait, and I drove through the snow to make the appointment. Are your customers willing to drive through a raging storm to get to you? That’s an example of the true love and loyalty we strive for.
- Build a strong foundation of trust and confidence. Between commuting nightmares, school closings, and travel bans, much of our work was being done outside of normal business hours. When I explained our situation to clients and coworkers, they understood. Communication and transparency are critical—be honest and upfront, and your loyal customers will respond. But. . .
- Even the most loyal customers have a breaking point. A few weeks ago, my husband and I had highly anticipated dinner plans, but we ended up not going because we knew we wouldn't have the patience to handle the parking challenges. We weren’t alone, and because of this, restaurants in particular have suffered. Businesses can use this time to find other avenues to connect with customers, e.g., doing competitive research or communicating to your (snowbound and captive) customers via social media, getting them excited about when they can come and see you next.
- Alternative online experiences are critical. Even though I couldn’t get out, I still needed things to do, and the snowpocalypse gave me the opportunity to beef up my online purchases and explore new websites. This is just one reason (of many) it’s important for businesses to have a functional and enjoyable online and mobile experience for customers who can’t get to you.
- One man gathers (shovels?) what another man spills. Customer loyalty is truly tested during times like these. Our public transit system has been having major problems. It’s been over a week since our last snowstorm, but our service is nowhere near back to normal. My colleague, who just couldn’t take it anymore, called an Uber and paid $50 for a 3 mile ride to work. It is unlikely the MBTA will lose customers over its spotty service, but will Uber or Lyft gain new and loyal customers as a direct result from the MBTA’s limited service? It’s surely possible.
The fact is, we can’t control the weather, and we can’t control every touch-point in the customer experience. But we can make sure we’re prepared by building a strong base of loyalty that can see through stormy weather and won’t melt come spring.
Tara Lasker is a Research Director at CMB who is a survivor of 7 school snow days in 3 weeks, limited bus/train service, and severe cabin fever. She is looking forward to a family ski trip to North Conway, NH where she'll actually be able to enjoy the snow.