Editor’s note: Alex Castello is senior research manager at research firm KJT Group, Honeoye Falls, N.Y. 

Understanding the competitive dynamics of your market, as well as your customers’ satisfaction and loyalty, are critically important – not just for gauging your current performance but also for understanding how to improve your performance and identify early warning signs of an issue. A measurement and tracking system must be put in place to do this effectively. 

Once you’ve figured out what to ask, who to sample and how to sample them, you still must answer: When (and how often) should you utilize your measurement and tracking system? Is annual enough? Will bi-annual or quarterly measurement be more informative? Should you be continuously tracking performance? What tradeoffs are you making? 

Today, the most common approach is cross-sectional research – discrete pulses that are often annual or bi-annual. This approach is often chosen because, compared to a continuous approach, it is generally less expensive (e.g., less costs associated with administering the research and managing data) and less complex (e.g., administration is more straight-forward with less data to manage and report).

A continuous approach also necessitates buy-in from management to properly manage and utilize the results over time. 

That being said, leveraging a continuous approach can offer numerous benefits to achieving a more complete and higher-quality assessment of your performance: 

  • It eliminates temporal biases by spreading out data collection over a 12-month period. This improves the reliability of a yearly measurementsuch as satisfaction, by ensuring data are not representative of a single point in time. 
  • This approach dampens the overall impact of events outside an organization’s control. For example, a natural disaster that disrupts operations will likely have a negative impact on customers. That said, assuming it does not have an indefinite impact and is not indicative of typical customer experience issues, it should not have a dramatic impact on a yearly measurement such as satisfaction.
  • It also enables greater understanding of market fluctuations by being able to identify changes occurring throughout the year. Having a continual stream of data will allow you to identify when fluctuations happen and for how long they persist. 
  • With the availability of a continuous stream of data, real-time reporting (e.g., online portals, dashboards) can be used to monitor progress and help manage the flow of data. It also enables real-time identification of problems so you can quickly react and put solutions in place. 
  • Along with the ability to identify problems in real-time, a continuous approach gives you the opportunity to get an early read on marketing and salesforce changes as they are implemented. 
  • Continuous measurement also enables greater flexibility to quickly explore pertinent questions as your market evolves. Given the on-going nature of the study, it is easy to have a small, changeable section in your survey to gauge hot topics for your organization. 
  • And lastly, this approach provides a platform for continuous customer engagement. Participation in the research may be beneficial to customer perceptions, especially if they see changes being made soon after they provide feedback. 

Given the numerous advantages, continuous measurement and tracking is an approach you should consider. Whether you are setting up a new system from scratch or looking for ways to improve your current system, it is the optimal way to address the all-important need to keep tabs on the competitive dynamics of your market – including your current performance – and garner evidence to effectively make changes that will positively impact your future.