Fueled by the rapid advancements in software and Internet technology, we find ourselves in a digital era whereby everyone wants everything faster, better and cheaper. This certainly holds true for the market research industry. Over the past 10+ years, the most significant industry change in this regard is undoubtedly the move of telephone survey data collection to online survey data collection. The provision of sample through access panels is a key component to the online survey data collection business. Access panels are built and maintained, so that companies can purchase ad-hoc samples that provide the respondents necessary for online survey fulfillment.
The challenge for access panel providers today is how to add value to survive in an increasingly automated market. There are two fundamental ways of approaching this, 1. By increasing their own levels of automation or 2. By differentiating themselves.
1. Adding Access Panel Value with Automation
Let’s start by looking at how access panel providers can add value for their clients via automation.
- Quoting Systems - Automation enables efficiency with respect to automated quoting systems; the upfront process of running feasibilities which includes determining costs. Queries can now be run directly by clients or by the provider’s sales rep / account team who are basically doing the same thing – that is, to count how many completed interviews would be possible based on incidence and response rate assumptions for the project. Without automation these calculations can be complex and time consuming, even more so when there are quota requirements, nested quota requirements and the potential for multiple projects running in parallel - A resource drain for you and frustrating for your clients.
Automated Added Value: Speed, Ease
- Project Management - The second area of automation is associated with the running of projects, including the testing of links, pass back ID’s (which enable the access panel to track status of each panelist they invite), the launching of a new project, the sending of invites and reminders, monitoring fieldwork completion rates, and closing the project. Another time consuming process when done manually but not only that, the vast numbers involved mean that human error is likely.
Automated Added Value: Speed, Error Reduction
- Data Cleaning - Automated data cleaning includes digital fingerprinting to ensure that the same respondent is not able to participate in the survey more than once (a necessity when integrating various additional panel or ‘river’ sources), de-duplication to apply a rule that the same respondent cannot participate in a survey within the same category for a period of 3-6 months to avoid potential bias, and data qualification to remove any survey completions where the respondent did not provide quality input, i.e. they raced through the survey just to finish and obtain their incentive. This ‘bad’ behavior is typically reflected by the respondent not paying attention, straight lining and / or answering with patterned responses, all of which can be detected with automated processes.
Automated Added Value: Data Integrity
* Automated data cleaning is also an avenue to added access panel respondent value: a combatant to declining response rates. The speed at which an automated system can filter respondent profiles and interview data means that every panelist who wants to take a survey can now be given the opportunity to do so rather than being screened out, which deters them from responding again. Cleaning the data is a very simple case of removing anything that falls outside of sample scope – a breeze for automated software.
Automation brings with it many benefits that will always add value when passed on to the client. But you have to be quick to gain competitive advantage. Once any automation process becomes mainstream it ceases to add value, rather it is expected.
2. Adding Access Panel Value without Automation
Despite the access panel automation trend, the more ‘traditional’ access panel providers such as SSI and Research Now continue to thrive. Further, new access panel providers such as Critical Mix and Innovate MR have been born during this same time period without an emphasis on automation. So, what is it about these access panel providers that enables them to prosper with so much competition? What added value do they offer?
2a. The Added Value Access Panel Customer Experience
I recall leading the charge for Research Now on their entry into the US market just over 10 years ago. Automation aside, there were concerns at the time that the US was too competitive of a market to enter, with many established access panel providers already in place and dominating - Greenfield Online, Lightspeed and GMI. But as we looked carefully at the market and what customers were saying about their current suppliers, it became obvious that there was a gap, a glaring opportunity to differentiate by adding value on three key dimensions: consulting, relationship building and customer service. We did… and the rest is history.
Today, you might call this an access panel customer experience. Regardless, upping your game in these service areas will add competitive value.
- Consulting - To me, consulting means understanding a client’s needs by asking the right questions and being able to propose a solution that is appropriate. Providing solid advice of this nature requires training and ideally sales and client service staff who have research backgrounds and experience. Often times, these roles are filled with those who came into the access panel industry because it was fast growing vs. having a keen interest and education in market research.
CX Added Value: Research Expertise
- Relationship Building - Lasting business relationships are built when one thinks about the long-term opportunities of working with a client, not simply the near-term sale of sample. A long-term emphasis means knowing when to pass on a project, never over promising and under delivering, and identifying ways to foster lasting client commitment by investing in your access panels in order that they support the future business you seek.
CX Added Value: Integrity, Transparency, Innovation
- Customer Centric Culture - All interactions from sales to project management should focus on the access panel customer. They need to obtain a quality result at a good price and on time. By doing so they are able to look good for their internal stakeholders and in case of a market research agency, the end client for whom the project is ultimately being conducted. If your service makes them look good, repeat business is guaranteed.
CX Added Value: Quality Sample, Timeliness
In addition to the customer experience, there are also a number of automation free ways to add value to your access panel product experience brought about by the online survey movement. The following are used by some providers but not all thus an opportunity to stand out from the majority.
2b. The Added Value Access Panel Product Experience
- Exclusive Sampling - Provide access to the more difficult to reach target audiences, this is often done by recruiting from more specialised sources dedicated to retaining such participants.
PX Added Value: Reach
- Qualitative Sampling - Support the sale of quality online qual participants. Synchronous and asynchronous online focus group projects are becoming more and more popular as companies recognise the substantial benefits of online vs. offline qual.
PX Added Value: Ease
- Advanced Profiling - Provide a wide range of sample specifics at speed. This can be achieved by deeper, consistently up dated profiling.
PX Added Value: Speed
- External Recruitment - Support the recruitment of proprietary client panels and communities. These are also becoming a popular approach to market research as companies realise that having their own panel means they can do more for less.
PX Added Value: Flexibility
No doubt that as the next 10 years passes, we will see more and more automation across the board and there is no doubt that access panel providers can add value here. Value of a technological nature can very quickly become a hygiene factor however. Thus adding value via the customer experience; by listening to your customers, and the product experience; by supporting their ever-changing requirements is a competitive must.
As market research professionals, we should know better than anyone that asking customers about their needs and wishes is fundamental to developing the right product and service proposition. These fundamentals of good business will remain, as they were well before the Internet came into being.