OPINION9 May 2013

MR and VoC: getting the balance right


There is a role for both market research and voice of the customer programmes within organisations looking to improve customer loyalty and retention. But how should companies balance the two approaches? Wale Omiyale explains all.

Companies seeking insight that will differentiate them from their competition have had to turn to other departments to secure the necessary budget. However, the demand from these departments is for a more customer-centric approach which has led to a growth in the development of voice of the customer (VoC) programmes, over “traditional” MR. The question for MR agencies going forward is how to respond to this changing focus in order to ensure their own survival.

Some argue that MR cannot match the new skills and technologies from outside the industry but there is no real need to compete against complementary skills. MR and VoC bring different things to the table and are perfectly capable of existing alongside each other.

Correctly implemented, there is no duplication of purpose or data from either discipline because, quite simply, they offer different approaches. MR is designed to provide anonymous, aggregated data whilst VoC encourages feedback direct from customers about individual experiences. MR surveys are typically lengthy and detailed in their line of questioning and rarely linked to a single event or experience, while VoC asks highly personal questions at key ‘moments of truth’ for the customer, immediately after an interaction.

“Market research and voice of the customer programmes bring different things to the table and are perfectly capable of existing alongside each other”

MR often involves a process of recruiting and maintaining large panels of respondents, which can be both costly and complex to maintain, whereas there are always large numbers of customers immediately available who want to share their opinions through a VoC programme. While panels and direct customers are very different sets of respondents, each provides an opportunity to drive informed decision-making.

For many organisations and brands, it is no longer acceptable to spend significant amounts of time to design, implement, gather data and report on a detailed strategic survey. While there is (and will continue to be) a time and a place for such studies, companies are also looking for ways to tactically gather insights which will increase the speed with which they make impactful business decisions. However, the faster turnaround and virtually instant, direct access to customers provided by VoC does not mean that MR best practices should be ignored or that trends and big picture analysis are no longer valuable. Providing this expertise is a key area in which MR can continue to thrive.

VoC practitioners would do well to remember that data integrity and data privacy remain crucial parts of a business’ brand integrity. Equally vital is the need for respondents to be treated with due care and responsibility – they are key assets providing valuable information.

At the same time MR professionals need to take on board the impact of social media and lifestyle changes which mean that fewer people are prepared to commit to a 30-minute survey, be that on the phone or over the web. Bite-sized feedback solutions using, for example, mobile devices are now more likely to achieve faster and healthier response rates than traditional methods.

The best way forward is to provide all lines of business with the information they require in a format that suits them. This may be from a customer champion running an internal customer insight team within an organisation, or via a loyalty practice established as a specialist off-shoot within an existing MR agency. This will depend, in part, on the company’s preference towards outsourcing or owning their own programme. Either way, the main objective is to leverage key elements from traditional MR and emerging VoC programmes and to use the most appropriate solution for specific research initiatives, delivering either individual or aggregated data as required.

Longitudinal tracking studies, which are best suited to MR agencies, and ongoing VoC programmes, which are more operational, are complementary. The former can be easier to measure than ad-hoc surveys because data can be compared and contrasted over time. More importantly, adding the voice of the customer techniques to traditional research (which provides the overall voice of the market) can impact almost every area of the business. The combined skill-set can provide best practices and insights to product development, sales processes and back-room functions as well as making it much easier for all department heads – not just marketing – to see the tangible benefits of investing in research.

Using expertise from both disciplines will not only improve the quality of insight gathered, it’s also likely to increase the ability to measure the ROI of research and the likelihood of securing additional support from lines of business and board-level. This can only be a good thing for an industry that needs to secure its future.

Wale Omiyale is a senior vice-president at Confirmit and has over a decade’s experience in the market research industry