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How Business Process Outsourcing Helps Researchers Build Better Client Relationships



Editor’s Note: Few industries have a more tumultuous relationship with offshore Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) organizations than market research; after all, most MR firms built their business models on a “field costs +” model, so keeping internal infrastructure in place and working has been a strategic business imperative. However, as new technology and new entrants into the space have increased the pressure on costs and value delivery, BPOs have emerged as an important part of the marketplace. Rather than being seen as competitors, most have worked hard to develop great partnering programs with a variety of research suppliers. In some cases, (like today’s contributor Ugam) these companies have morphed into highly innovative full service agencies in their own right, developing new solutions and unique offerings that address many critical business needs for both end clients and supplies alike.

Leveraging the economic, technological, and education resources of emerging markets like India, Romania, and Cost Rica these companies have become the vital field work, operational, and technological flex resources many MR firms rely upon to stay lean and agile. As more research suppliers make the shift to insight consultancies, the need for strong partners to deliver on operational needs will only increase.

With that in mind, todays post by Madhav Mirani of industry leader in managed analytics Ugam is a great overview of the importance of BPO partners to help deliver an edge in an increasingly competitive marketplace.


By Madhav Mirani: 

Market research firms are facing many challenges, from the way their end clients want to consume data to the way survey participants want to take surveys. Regardless of the changes taking place in the industry, these firms need to remain focused on delivering rich, actionable insights to their customers to succeed. Below are four examples of client service successes that illustrate how important it is to focus on customer needs and deliver what they want when they want it.

Example #1: We received a call from one of our market research clients at 11 a.m. one morning, stating that they had a meeting with their client the very next morning with an opportunity to displace another supplier for a particular book of work. They wanted to make a strong impression with their client and go in to the meeting with some specific insights. So we fielded a study, collected and analyzed the data and put it into a reporting format that enabled our client to easily add their own insights and conclusions before the day was done. As a result, our client made the strong impression they wanted to and won the book of work.

Example #2: Another one of our clients provides research and insights to a large IT company. The challenge for this client was that the IT company was not happy with the speed of the service they were getting – they wanted the ability to analyze data and get insights in near real-time without losing any service customization. Leveraging a combination of technology, process and people around the clock, we enabled our client to deliver what the IT company wanted, and build a more valuable client relationship.

Example #3: One of our clients works with various retailers, and one of their retail clients tasked them with getting insights from non-shoppers in real-time. Over 70 percent of their store traffic did not end up purchasing and they wanted to understand these non-shoppers and why they weren’t buying anything. They did not want to conduct a recall-based survey, but wanted insights in real-time. We partnered with a location analytics company and were able to engage with non-shoppers in real-time and provide some very valuable insights.

Example #4: One of our clients runs a large syndicated study where they reach out to thousands of respondents on a monthly basis. They had been seeing a decline in response rates and one of the reasons identified was the challenge of multiple devices and multiple browsers. The respondents were increasingly participating in the survey from all types of devices which had different browsers and different versions of browsers. We enabled a solution that ensured their syndicated survey worked in every device and every browser and every version of browsers. The process is now institutionalized such that it will work going forward as more and more devices and browsers and browser versions emerge.

The list could go on in terms of the different challenges market research firms face as well as end clients’ changing research and insights needs. And we do see some common themes emerging.

One consistent client need is speed. They want insights faster, in real-time, in a customized manner, on-demand, 24/7. Another need we observe from end clients is that they want to combine different types of data to provide richer insights. They are interested in how survey data can be combined with other types of data such as location data, transactional data, internal company data, etc. to provide more insights.

To respond to these changing needs from end clients, market research firms need to change in some fundamental ways. They need more analytical talent that can deal with and fuse all these different types of data. They also need to change their organization structures to be more external facing to deal with the need for speed in insights. In addition, they need to change their delivery interface to clients so they can provide insights in real-time. Finally, they must change their technology infrastructure to be more in-sync with client needs. Today, many market research firms treat each research project as a discrete project that needs to be executed from scratch where data collected is stored in silos and is not going to enable them to meet the needs of end clients.

Besides dealing with the changing needs of their end clients, market research firms are confronted with some seismic shifts in the respondent world. Companies have to think even harder about how we can engage with respondents to get them to participate in surveys, to collect data from them. One fact that is inescapable is that respondents are engaging with companies through multiple devices. We left the PC-dominated era a while ago, but most market research firms still engage with their respondents primarily via email and PCs.

In addition, the industry has talked about declining response rates for a long time, but nobody has bothered to analyze how the multi-device world in which we live is contributing to the decline, and how respondent engagement practices have not kept up. Another challenge with respondent engagement is the length of surveys. In conversation, most everyone agrees that 30- to 45-minute surveys are contributing to declining response rates. However, when it comes to trying to change this, the argument always used is that clients want to maximize the length of surveys to make maximum use of their budgets.

Market research firms need to demonstrate to clients that they can get richer insights by either fusing data together from shorter surveys with the same respondents or different respondents on a significantly larger scale. The technological capability exists today to enable such data collection, processing and analysis.

In this increasingly complex world, we believe that market research firms will be best served by investing in their core customer base. End clients come to market research firms to get insights, to be guided on making decisions that will impact their business. To effectively compete and differentiate themselves, market research firms need to invest in the right type of analytical resources and more client-facing staff who can engage and understand clients’ business problems and provide actionable insights. Market research firms need to be far more externally focused and have their research consultants in front of clients as frequently as possible.

At the same time, decisions need to be made about how to re-architect the technology infrastructure and processes to deal with the challenges of respondent experience, the need for speed, the need to combine different types of data, etc. The outdated technology infrastructure and processes put in place during the era of PCs and online respondents is no longer going to work. Similarly, delivering insights to clients in batch-mode or responding to their requests in hours is no longer going to work as they increasingly seek real-time answers. The infrastructure where each research project is treated as a discrete project and data is collected and stored in silos is no longer a viable business model.

Our view that it is unrealistic to expect research companies to effectively invest in both client-facing and infrastructure/process areas because each requires significant investment on an ongoing basis. The complexities needed to address the challenges in both areas are very different and require different core competencies. The market research firms that focus on delivering richer, more actionable insights to their end clients faster will win in the end.

Companies like Ugam exist to address the challenges of research operations execution. Our core is to understand the changing needs of market research firms and ensure that we have the technology infrastructure and processes in-place to meet those needs. We help answer questions such as:

  • How do you ensure that surveys are completely device and browser agnostic?
  • How can you deliver insights in near real-time?
  • How do you build repeatable and reusable custom research assets so that each project need not be executed from scratch?
  • How do you analyze data from different sources in a way that provides actionable insights?
  • What kind of technology infrastructure is needed and how much is it going to cost?
  • How do you find respondents based on location data or transactional data?
  • How do you deal with clients who expect to be serviced at all times irrespective of whether it is late in the night or the weekend?
  • How do you address the challenge of declining response rates without impacting the quality of data and insights?
  • How do you achieve defect-free research operations execution?

Companies like Ugam are completely focused on finding answers to the above questions. We invest in the talent that is needed to help find those answers, and the talent needed to answer some of the questions is quite different from the historical norm for the industry. Ugam also invests in the technology infrastructure that can tackle many of the problems in a far more automated and systemic manner than has been done in the past. We create frameworks and processes that leverage our talent and technology. A lot of this comes from our learnings and insights from different industries. For example:

  • The IT industry provides an excellent roadmap to address some of the technology and process challenges;
  • The online advertising industry provides some great takeaways for respondent engagement and automation of access to respondents; and
  • The manufacturing industry provides some great examples of how to create organization structures that can deal with the demand of real-time insights.

By working with a company like Ugam, market research firms can focus on delivering  client-facing insights – their core deliverable –  without having to worry about how research operations gets executed. They are able to invest in people and processes that enable them to better engage with their clients, get closer to them and better understand their business problems, and provide them with actionable insights.

In terms of how the research gets executed, market research firms can feel safe and secure knowing their partner’s core business is research operations execution. Our focus is to have answers to all the above questions. That is what we invest in on an on-going basis, and how we help research companies build better relationships with their clients.

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3 responses to “How Business Process Outsourcing Helps Researchers Build Better Client Relationships

  1. I struggle with this one. I agree with a lot of what Madhav says, especially about research cos focusing on the research, but I’m not sure I agree with this statement: “Our view that it is unrealistic to expect research companies to effectively invest in both client-facing and infrastructure/process areas because each requires significant investment on an ongoing basis.”

    Investing in client-facing people is something you can tie to revenue and scale up, whereas operational or technology investments (especially those that enable companies like UGAM to respond in the fashion Madhav indicates) are often multi-year projects where you’re making big up-front bets. They involve different groups of people. I don’t think pursuing them at the same time is therefore intrinsically problematic, all things being equal.

    A research company that outsources operations will ultimately need to invest in its people and intellectual property as this becomes their main asset. But there is real competitive advantage to be gained for companies that solve the operational/technological challenges of which Madhav speaks. There is more at stake than just “production”. This is not to say there isn’t value in working with BPOs as they’ve got benefits of scale and experience, just that there are legitimate and different reasons for companies to invest in their people as well as their execution.

  2. I agree with JD that the outsourcing is not always as effective as the article suggests. And there are obvious problems tied with it, especially with the potential of the company human capital, which is extremely low in companies which just hire others to work for them. This is why it remains essentially a matter of easier tasks, which are outsourced, especially connected to client-company relations. This can be a really good way how to deal with smaller projects, which does not require immense administrative background (IT companies focusing on smaller projects like web or mobile apps), but it seems unreasonable for projects that are bigger.

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Madhav Mirani

Madhav Mirani

Co Founder & Chief Commercial Officer, Ugam Solution