Six ways consumer relations can do better surveys

In my decade at P&G I spent a lot of time working with surveys…Consumer Relations surveys, brand health tracking surveys, employee engagement surveys, purchase intent surveys, consumer satisfaction surveys – you name it!

Oddly enough – in the first half of my tenure our global market research officer publicly noted that the end was near for survey research .  Her successor later made the same prediction.  However, when I departed in 2015 we were still running surveys on a grand scale!

This experience and conversations with Wilke Global clients leave me pretty certain that survey research will play a meaningful role in the CPG industry generally and consumer affairs specifically for a long time to come, so its worth investing some time to ensure we are all doing the best we can.

The role that Consumer Relations plays in surveying consumers can vary quite a bit – ranging from simply administering surveys and providing data to owning the whole process – planning, writing, administering, and analyzing results.  If your work looks more like the latter here are some tips that may prove useful!


1.  What decision needs to be made?  What is the endgame?  

I find myself endlessly fascinated by people, what they think, and how they behave. When I have done survey work – or really any type of research – this has always created some tension when I have to balance what would be interesting to know with what is truly useful right now to inform a decision. Spending the time up front to get the information needs of a survey defined as clearly as possible helps in every step - including envisioning the final report, planning how the data will be analyzed, determining what type of data to collect, and so on.  Today businesses are swimming in data and information that nobody uses – discipline up front can help you ensure your work doesn’t fall in that category!


2.  Respect scarce resources.

Nearly everyone who runs a contact center is acutely aware of their AHT (Average Handle Time for anyone else who stumbled onto this post – the average time it takes a customer service representative to completely resolve a customer’s issue or question).  That statistic is relevant for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it drives cost for an operation (after all – time is money!).  Adding to handle time equates to spending more on that interaction.  However there are other costs to additional handle time:

The Customer’s Time – while this doesn’t necessarily come out of anyone’s budget at the end of a month it’s always worth remembering that people value their own time and want it to be respected. Those who write long opinion polls that are promised to ‘only take less than five minutes’ would do well to remember this!

Opportunity Cost – I think this is one of the more underappreciated costs that consumer affairs bears – if you have five minutes of an opportunity with one of your customers, what are all of the things you could spend that time on?  Which are of the greatest value to your company?  To your consumer?

Obviously there are great benefits to getting consumer feedback and opinions – in some cases there is nothing more valuable!  But I would suggest that we are always well served to keep the costs in mind (and the magnitude of the decision under consideration!) when we set out to do survey work – otherwise it can be easy to agree to run a 20 question survey on every consumer until the end of time.  Bottom line – try to get the information you need with the fewest questions and a clearly defined number of required responses.


3.  Data Types and Scales

You have a huge number of options as to what kinds of data to collect – you can categorize people (ie ‘Gender’); determine how much or how little they like something (satisfaction, Net Promoter Score); have them rank things (‘which of these products is most appealing’); or ask them about their behavior (‘how many hours do you sleep every night?’).  The kinds of data you collect will determine what kind of analysis you can do and the way you ask the questions can influence the responses you get.

One example – if you want to understand how recently respondents bought a product you can ask an open ended question (“How many days ago did you last buy bacon at the grocery store?”) or you can categorize (“Did you last buy bacon at the grocery store a) 0 to 3 days ago; b) 4-7 days ago; or c) more than 7 days ago?”).  But while the second option makes it easier to group respondents, the structure really constrains the analysis you will be able to do – you can’t average, calculate a mean, or look at variability when a, b, and c are the response options!  Again, working backwards helps ensure you get what you need.

The benefits of quality and speed make it worth investing in some resources (such as a book of marketing scales.

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4.  Don’t overdo demographics! And put them at the end…

It’s always interesting to know more about who you are talking with!  And in many cases a brand really wants to hear the opinions of a specific group – so often times you need to collect some demographic data.  However - asking demographic questions is tricky, it changes the conversation, may bias responses that come after, and can put people on the defensive.  So before you give in to the impulse to ask everyone their household income (friends don’t ask friends how much they make!) think about the tradeoffs. If you do need to know – I would suggest using ranges on sensitive topics like income or age, rather than asking for a specific number. And consider asking at the end of the survey so you don’t put people on the defensive for the ‘meat’ of your survey.


5.  Test!

The last point can be easy to forget…  After you have gone to all of the effort to have meetings so the intent is clear, you have sketched out the analysis, written a nice unbiased survey, coded it into your CRM system and set up the PLS table so it will be offered to the right consumers (a great feature in our very own CRS system – give us a call!) – it always makes sense to run two kinds of tests!

1)      Internal testing: Have some people on your team take the survey (and if you are doing it over the phone, test it verbally rather than via email!).  Do the questions make sense? Are there any acronyms?  How long does the survey take to complete?

2)      Limited consumer testing: Before you scale up run the survey on a limited group of ‘real’ consumers. Any negative feedback? Does the data look odd? Can you do the analysis you want to do?


6.  Analysis

Survey analysis can be difficult and time consuming, particularly if the question you are answering isn’t clear, the data turns out to be not quite the type you want, or the responses turn out to be skewed (see points 1, 3, and 5 respectively!). Assuming you have dodged those pitfalls in some ways the work is just beginning…

While it is always helpful to take a topline, aggregate view of responses, to get the full benefit of survey analysis you really need to dig into multivariate analysis by looking at more than one variable at a time and exploring differences among groups. Did heavy and occasional users of the brand feel differently about the new package? Did the flavor resonate better with men or women? Whether you evaluate differences by asking questions like these or do more complex math such as cluster analysis or factor analysis be sure to allow for the time and effort to explore your data thoroughly and test different hypotheses. You have invested a lot in getting the right data - make the most of it!

Survey research is a powerful tool and a great way for consumer affairs to bring quick insights from real consumers back to support decisions.  Even accounting for all of the steps laid out here (and some that are not) consumer affairs can often do a much quicker, more cost effective job than external research providers. It’s a great discipline to build in your team!


If you are interested in more ideas to leverage data in your consumer relations work check out our whitepaper on using marketing measures to model the value of your consumers!


Topics: data, surveys, insights, research