Customer feedback is often emotionally-charged. The author reminds researchers that relying on non-representative data in favor of convenient data from established customers can lead to expensive mistakes and poor decision-making.
Editor's note: Noel Roos is vice president at Diedrich RPM, a Burnsville, Minn., research company. She can be reached at 320-760-8223 or at email@example.com. Roos is located in Burnsville and Alexandria, Minn. This article appeared in the May 20, 2013, edition of Quirk's e-newsletter.
Recently, a student completing his master's degree called to ask a question regarding convenience versus random sampling - and the perils of making decisions based purely on a convenience sample.
"Is it poor business to make decisions on convenience data?" asked the student.
To the great frustration of the student, I said, "It depends."
Many companies today have continuous feedback surveys - and it's a good practice, especially if there is an incentive and a company can capture those who are not motivated by extreme happiness or anger. But the bottom line is that while continuous feedback surveys can reveal trends, companies should compare these results with a random sample before making expensive product, service or resource decisions.
For example, a retail company routinely gathers a convenience sample of its shoppers via a link on its Web site. Why does a shopper look for and click on this link? Usually because they are motivated by a particular emotion. This same company finds that the convenience sample reveals that it needs to offer lower prices on a certain product or risk losing customers. Should the company react and lower its prices (and possibly product quality to maintain an acceptable profitability level)?
At least not yet. This trend warrants further research before changes and a new price/value strategy are created. We would recommend this retailer take the feedback seriously but caution that it's possible that only the emotionally-motivated have filled out the survey, missing the bulk of its shoppers.
A survey based on a random sample should be implemented to understand the true impact of price (and possibly quality) to understand if there is an issue. A change in price strategy before understanding how the full shopping population feels could result in keeping the small segment who complained while leaving money on the table from customers who did not complain - or worse yet, losing the rest of the population because the price/value equation was altered.
The squeaky wheel has many channels to voice displeasure in today's world - including social media, e-mail and yes, feedback surveys. Meanwhile, the happily satisfied keep quietly moving along. Given how loud the world can be, it's more important than ever to get the full picture through sound research practices before making expensive decisions that could negatively impact the bottom line.