A client had some very specific questions about her customers. In fact we all have very specific questions that are unique to our organization, members and circumstance. Often we have questions that surveys are not equipped to answer.
This was shopper research for a retailer. Had I employed a survey I may have missed out on the contextual information that would lead to significant improvement. One of the survey questions could have looked something like this:
What do you like least about this shopping experience? (Select the best answer)
a. Too expensive
b. Not convenient
c. Too busy
e. Poor selection
f. Other __________________
In this case shoppers would have selected too busy. But was does that mean and what do you do about it?
Busy can mean a lot of different things. It can mean the retail space is too small. Few floor staff are already helping other customers. Lines are too long at check out. Maybe it means it is hard shop because of the volume of people at the racks. Too busy can also mean that with so much traffic most of the good stuff was already purchased or I couldn’t find a parking place because there were so many cars. The answer could have been any of these and had I conducted a survey we would have been left wondering. In reality the answer was none of these.
During one-on-one phone interviews I noticed that too busy frequently came up. I started asking follow up questions to understand what too busy meant. For these shoppers in this retail experience too busy was synonymous with the derriere brush. The aisles were narrowly spaced so that even a few people browsing made it seem crowded. When someone had to pass she almost always bumped the other shoppers – too close for comfort by american standards.
Context is tricky. You usually can’t anticipate what it is. When crafting surveys it is very hard to anticipate the correct answer so this leaves respondents to select the best answer which is often not the correct answer. Understanding the context behind a problem is critical to knowing how to solve the problem. Understanding context is also critical to telling the story that will appeal to your audience. More often than not you can’t rely on surveys to understand your members needs and answer your specific business questions. You can, however, get the information you need by having conversations with members (or conduct qualitative research) where you seek to understand their point of view.