A recent discussion on LinkedIn pondered whether MR is having its own global warming crisis in the form of an ever dwindling respondent pool. As always, this brought on arguments that response rates need to be improved, quality enforced and of course talk about how much we have slipped as an industry since the good old days. Some blame clients for this (they demand speed and lower cost without concern for quality!) and some blame researchers for not holding clients’ feet to the fire. It struck me that this is yet another case of researchers not viewing things from a client perspective.
Back in the good old days phone service offered super high quality. Equipment didn’t break very often, calls were clear and they almost never disconnected prematurely. Compare that to today. Cell phone calls (which are increasingly becoming the majority of calls) are of varying quality (depends on where you are and when you are calling) and far too often prematurely disconnected.
Someone in that business who thinks like many researchers do would focus on those facts and lament the loss of quality. They’d complain that clients just want things cheaper and more convenient. They’d call for industry groups to enforce higher standards AND for phone service providers to deny customers this unreliable low quality cell phone service.
Of course as a consumer, I don’t see the drop in quality. Sure call quality can vary, but generally it doesn’t interfere with my ability to use the phone for what it was intended. I also get to take my phone anywhere and with it have access to more information through the web than a million phone books have (for those of you under 30, a phone book is how people found phone numbers 30 years ago). I also pay far less than I did back then even though I’m getting all these great benefits.
So, just as phone companies don’t get to define quality for those of us addicted to our cell phones, we as researchers don’t get to define it for our clients. Instead of lamenting low response rates we should learn to live with them (the reality is that even with time and money we could not drive response rates today that would have been considered acceptable 40 years ago anyway). We should also embrace the possibilities that new technologies offer. Already the ability to use choice methods such as discrete choice, max diff and configurators has exploded. The value of the insights for new product development, pricing research and messaging can’t be understated.
Those “low quality” mobile phones offer the opportunity to ask questions in a totally new way and to gain insights that truly get at how respondents make decisions. Add in learning from behavioral economics, brain scans, facial recognition and so on and it is clear that we are at the precipice of a revolution in what we can provide our clients.
Obviously all of this assumes that we will always have respondents. My guess is there will always be a means of collecting the data we need. It might be as different from what we do today as a smart phone is from the old AT&T basic black dial telephone, but it will drive customers insights nonetheless.