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The Design of Questionnaires in 12 Steps
作者:James H.…    文章来源:本站原创    点击数:    更新时间:2010-12-12    转载请注明源文出处

How Important Are Market Surveys ?

It is difficult to bring the subject of Marketing without discussing Market surveys, one of Marketing's most powerful tools.  Market surveys, originally one of the key success factors for a good marketing approach, unfortunately, have more or less become a necessary evil, the perception of which both in the general public and in the industries where they are applicable, is extremely negative.  However, forgetting to measure existing and/or potential markets is a short term approach which can alternately lead a company to losing touch with its customer satisfaction, its positioning, its brand awareness, and the basic requirements of the public.  Finally, it will certainly lead to the failure of one's new product/service launches.

And there is nothing more disheartening for a marketing Consultant than these so-called "Strategic" decisions based on hearsay, whereas the very profile of existing customers is not even known. One of my recent missions has put me in the presence of managers in charge of a 14 million customer-base, losing 1 million customers a year, who could not describe the latter even with some vague precision. Moreover, each manager in the organisation had a different view of those customers? Some of them described them as the average gutter-press reader, whereas others would describe them as representative of the UK population, without being able to back these assumptions by even the slightest evidence. Needless to say that any money spent on "Strategy" in those conditions is not very a very good investment.

The "vision" that can be carried across the organisation is also, in this case, reduced to a minimum. Managers, therefore rely on assumptions which are mostly inaccurate, and their future strategic choices will be impaired by them.  Let us take a closer look at the Banking Sector in Europe. In an environment where the increase in competition (BANKING BANANA SKINS - CSFI, Curzon Street London, 1997) is perceived by Banks themselves as a critical factor, most financial institutions give the impression of drifting along, by lack of clear strategies, seemingly unable to voice clearly their objectives.
However, in an industry where product differentiation is non existent, customer perception and customer satisfaction should indeed be placed at the centre. On the contrary, we are running the risk of seeing more and more institutions drift before they are subject to mergers and other hostile take-overs.

As a consequence, two main differentiation factors emerge as crucial from those observations: Customer Surveying and Customer Database Management.  Yet it does not suffice to mention the significance of these two factors. Here, more than anywhere else, rigour of approach and methodology are key to the success of field Marketing. unfortunately, just as what happened in the area of Direct Marketing, the absence of methodology and understanding of the complex area of Market surveys, has led to severe abuses, and eventually, to the rejection of this powerful tool.
Building a Questionnaire requires that one followed rules, in order to avoid the usual biases arising from a bad methodology. I want to provide my reader with a simple check-list, which is a useful guideline for the conduct of Market surveys. Most of the time, these simple, down-to-earth principles are not followed. Indeed, questionnaires also require strict and precise wording, and general/personal qualities that cannot fit onto a check-list. For each of these rules, there is a number of biases that one has to avoid (See our method for Building Questionnaires in 12 Steps).  But it is somewhat difficult to discuss quality control within the Market survey process, without looking at some real-life examples.  Last but not least I think it is necessary to admit the inherent imperfection of Market surveys and take the necessary precautions against bad analysis and conclusions, rather than believe that scientifically produced and administered Questionnaires may even exist.

However, if Market surveys have become "evil" in the eyes of many, it is mostly because these steps that we have just described have not been followed, therefore generating generalised suspicion towards this tool.  It is certain, that given the uncertain economic environment that is prevailing, market survey methodology should be updated; mainly, questionnaires should be made smaller and more frequent, but there is no evidence of that on the field.  On the contrary, we have observed monster surveys on the field such as even the most courageous of interviewees could not face without a yawn.  However, the main principles that lead to the conduct of market surveys are still valid. Once gain, this is a case of avoiding the confusion between reactive, flexible marketing and suicidal non/mis-management (Badot/Cova '92).

The Dark Side of IT

There is another pitfall that many Managers have fallen (and continue to fall) into, I mean the dark side of IT.  Failing to grasp the importance of the human factor within  IT has led to market research being perceived as immensely powerful (and even potentially dangerous).  Reality has often been less promising; but most of the time, it has nothing to do with IT itself. The belief that IT has enabled managers to "massage" huge volumes of data has led to the mirage of all-singing, all-dancing customer databases which were meant to increase revenue or competitive advantages as if by miracle. However, a customer database -however vital- is of no use if it is not cleaned up and maintained regularly. It does not serve any purpose if there is no strategy behind it. It cannot replace strategy. At best, it can be a powerful tool for feeding your strategy with meaningful numbers; that is to say when it is used with vision. Otherwise, it is just another way of producing data rather than information more quickly and in bigger volumes (SAMLI '95).
As usual with IT (and with marketing alike), there is this well-spread tendency to go from one excess to the other, i.e. either believe that technology can replace human tasks satisfactorily (and it fortunately can't) or otherwise that it is useless and disappointing. These two points of view are excessive.  Our ambition is to help Managers become more reasonable in their expectations, so that they can withdraw more both from Marketing and from its new servant, Information Technology.

The Design of Questionnaires in 12 Steps

Step 1: Objective
  • Describe the Objective of your survey in a few bullet points.  Avoid accumulating objectives.  2 or 3 main points are a limit to a good survey.  Although it may sound restrictive, it is very unlikely that your interviewees will be able to stomach more than this (with the exception of highly specialized business to business surveys focussed on professionals)
  • Failing to describe your objective will make you lose sight of the overall purpose of the survey and will have serious consequences on the length, the accuracy and the sequencing of your questions.
Step 2: Population
  • Define the total population concerned with your survey
  • Match this definition with the objective stated in Step 1, i.e. neither too wide or too narrow
Step 3: Pre-study
  • A Pre-study (caution, a pre-study is NOT a pre-test) should never be overlooked
  • Carry out the study on a few individuals concerned with your study
  • Avoid prejudices (yours or more likely,  your customer's !) which could make you jump to conclusions even before the beginning of the survey
Step 4: Assumptions
  •  State clearly the points (in accordance with Step 1), that you wish to clarify or verify, or even contradict
  • Do not filter these assumptions according to your own prejudices, i.e. avoid attitudes such as "I don't need to check that point because I feel that ... "  unless you already have evidence of the phenomenon in the first place.
Step 5: Writing the Questions
  • Check the wording of your questions so that they are ...
    1. Understandable
    2. Unbiased 
    3. Non suggestive 
    4. Not built in a way that interviewees react defensively
    5. Not long-winded and repetitive so as to avoid weariness factor
Step 6: Contact Methods
  • Pre test your questionnaire on a representative sample of the given population
  • If cards have to be shown to the interviewees, then add to pre test
  • Choose Contact mode
    1. Mail Questionnaire
    2. Personal interviewing (arranged or "intercept")
    3. Phone interviewing
    (New methods may include fax, Email, or even Html forms, but one may wish to stress the difficulty in using these new media.  In a sense, they bear a strong resemblance with the phone in so far as the interviewee is invisible and difficult to identify.  These media can only be used for short questions aimed at checking precise assumptions. As for the population involved, it goes without saying that Web usage is not pervasive enough - even in the States - in order to use this medium to survey wide populations of interviewees.  At the moment, the web is best suited for Internet survey, but things might change in the near future)
  • Modify questions in accordance with Pre test results
  • Modify sequencing of questions in accordance with Pre test results
  • Suppress redundant questions (this is often a sore point)
  • Insert missing questions
  • If cards have to be shown to the interviewees, ensure that contents match questionnaire.
Step 7: Sampling
  • Define the representative sample 
  • Give a sufficient size to the sample (methods of appraisal of error margins can be used) 
Step 8: Administration
  • Administer Questionnaire in a neutral fashion (i.e. preventing interviewers to introduce personal biases while asking the questions.  This may imply that these interviewers must be either trained or skilled professionals, and that a clear, thorough and comprehensive debriefing session takes place). 
  • If this is a Mail Questionnaire, reply envelope (free post or s.a.e. if small organisation involved) must be included
Step 9: Non responses
  • Response rate is an important factor. Do not just overlook them.  They are a good indicator the quality of your questionnaire (amongst other things, namely if a gift is sent to all responders)
Step 10: Interpretation
  • Interpretation should be distinct from the opinion of the collector of the data 
Step 11: Analysis
  • Analyse ALL the responses (avoid partial analysis)
  • Do not extend results that are valid for the given sample to the entire population without taking the necessary precautions
    Note: A famous example of a bad survey analysis that is given by the focus groups that led Coca Cola to change their flagship product at the end of the 1980's. The analysts of the focus groups were adamant that traditional Coke had to be changed, but the context was wrong, the methodology too, and eventually, the decision that arose from these groups almost led the Atlanta giant to a disaster.
Step 12: Report
  • Write a report that will describe the results comprehensively
  • Avoid biases conclusions
  • Minimise prejudices
  • Avoid "politically correct" conclusions 
  • Mention numbers and percentages (both are necessary) 
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