All posts by Rudly Raphael

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Black Friday Shopping Is Near

The day after Thanksgiving first became popular among shoppers in the late 1920s, when Macy’s department store advertised holiday sales during their annual Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. This signaled the start of the holiday shopping season in the United States. Since then, it has evolved into huge sales in retailers across the country. It is an opportunity for retailers to create a sense of urgency by offering ridiculously low prices on certain items, offer special sales for limited hours during the day, or limiting the number of items available for purchase at the special price. Due to the high demand for hot “doorbuster” items, it is not uncommon for shoppers to camp out in front of their favorite stores in hopes of grabbing the coveted items.

Retailers capitalized on the increased popularity of online shopping and started marketing “Cyber Monday” deals. Cyber Monday has only been around since 2005, and legend has it, got its name because the average consumer had dial-up internet at home, and would wait to do their online shopping at work, where the internet connection was faster. While the deals on Cyber Monday might not be quite as good as those of Black Friday, more and more shoppers are taking advantage of the opportunity to stay in the comfort of their home the day after Thanksgiving. Last year, Cyber Monday surpassed Black Friday in terms of revenue—Cyber Monday sales reached $3.45 billion, up 10.2% from 2015, and just ahead of Black Friday’s $3.34 billion. This year, mobile sales are expected to make up 54% (45% smartphones and 9% tablets) of online sales, beating desktop for the first time.

Small Business Saturday, a recent addition to the holiday weekend line-up, was founded in 2010 by American Express in an attempt to support small businesses and communities around the country. While it has not yet grown into a mega success like Cyber Monday, 2.1 million small businesses and 112 million consumers participated in the event in 2016.

QuestionPro Audience conducted a study with its shopper panel to understand how consumers plan to shop over Thanksgiving weekend. Our research indicates that shoppers are looking forward to a vigorous holiday shopping season. Black Friday spending is always a good gauge on the state of the economy, and 37% of survey respondents indicated that they plan to spend between $250 and $750 this year on their Black Friday shopping. A whopping 61% are going to spend the same amount or more than they did last year, but only 19% of those surveyed plan to pay for their purchases with cash. As evidenced by recent Kmart and Sears store closings, e-commerce is taking away market share from brick and mortar stores. Online sites such as Amazon are where the majority of our respondents plan to shop. Although there have been predictions that mobile sales will be huge this year, only 11% of respondents plan to shop via mobile phone or tablet. 21% of those surveyed are looking to purchase clothing/apparel, followed by computers, TVs and cameras. Cyber Monday popularity is still going strong, with 47% of our audience planning to shop those sales as well, but only 32% plan to support Small Business Saturday. All in all, it looks like it will be a prosperous weekend for consumers and retailers alike.


iPhone X – Are Consumers Willing to Pay?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ve heard of, used, and/or own an Apple product. When Apple first debuted the iPhone in 2007, it revolutionized smartphones and changed the industry. The touchscreen was unlike anything else on the market, and with a price of $399, took some getting used to for the average consumer. However, over the past ten years, we have become accustomed to and grown to expect a higher price point for the sort of innovation Apple produces. There are now more than 700 million iPhones currently in use worldwide, and that number is expected to grow 13% over the next year.

On November 3rd, their most anticipated product was released, the iPhone X. iPhone release day has become something of a national holiday for Apple fans, and the iPhone X release was no different. In cities all over the world, eager customers camped out in hopes of purchasing the $999 phone. According to Apple’s website, the phones were sold out in Apple stores by day end in New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Dallas, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Austin, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Washington, DC, Las Vegas, Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Apple has earned a reputation as an industry innovator, and the iPhone X doesn’t disappoint. The iPhone X has facial recognition so you can bypass the fingerprint entry. Also, the home button has been removed, allowing for the high-resolution screen to cover almost all of the device, and Apple promises an additional two hours of battery life. Now for what all the cool kids are already talking about: Animojis. You can create animated emoji animals that mirror more than 50 different muscle movements of your face.

These features sound very cool, but we wanted to know—does any of that really matter to the average consumer when they are deciding which new phone to buy? We polled over 300 people across the United States to see if features such as the newest technology and brand name outweigh a steep price tag to the average mobile phone consumer. We found that an overwhelming 80% of respondents are most interested in a moderate price point. The newest technology is a selling point for 50% of our respondents, but only 29% feel features such as a megapixel camera are extremely important. 24% are interested in the brand name, and 84% of our audience is looking for a phone with a long battery life.

Apple has assembled a cult of followers, and they are always eager to purchase the newest model. Reception across the board for the iPhone X has been mostly positive, with many users saying this changes what we’ll look for in a phone from now on. Every few years, Apple has come up with a new product that turns the market upside down, and it sounds like the Apple X is no different. But if you’re not interested in the newest technology and features, there are many other great, conservatively-priced options on the market.

Declaration of War? North Korea & What Americans Think About Recent Threats

In July 2017, North Korea announced that it had fired the first intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States’ mainland. President Trump responded by using his favorite social media platform, claiming that the North Korean leader and its government had nothing better to do. Kim Jong-Un responded by accusing Trump of exhibiting “mentally deranged behavior.” The crisis has since taken a life of its own, leaving world leaders to fear the worse possible outcome.

To understand what the general public thinks about this international crisis, QuestionPro Audience conducted a survey with more than 300 respondents from its general consumer panel. Respondents were asked a series of questions to gauge their perception and attitude towards this much critical topic.

Our research shows that the public believes in a more optimistic approach. More than 70% of the respondents agree that the US should not go to war with North Korea. In contrast, 81% fear that North Korea would use nuclear weapons to attack the US, if ever necessary, and 87% fear that North Korea would use them on both the US and its allies.

Full results can be seen in the infographic below. You can also download it here.

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Download this infographic.

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The Landline Survey: An Antiquated Methodology

Back in the 1990’s, virtually every household had a landline, and people would answer the phone and talk to survey research callers. However, times have changed, even though some researchers are stubborn about admitting the change.  Landline households keep decreasing, while cell-phone only homes become the norm. To confirm the tendency (see National Center for Health Statistics1), QuestionPro Audience conducted a study with more than 350 respondents, to understand landline phone ownership and usage. We found that 92% of adults have a cell-phone, which is theoretically a great penetration for cell-phone surveys. The only challenge is that people do not answer cell phone numbers that they do not recognize. It is also against the law to dial cell phones automatically, meaning the labor costs for hand dialing is huge.

But, when talking about landline surveys, there is a clear pattern to the data. Only 48% of research participants indicated they have a landline service in the household.  Most respondents indicated that they never use a landline.   Thirty percent (30%) of respondents who have a landline stated that they use it only about once every other month, while 2% claimed that they never use it.  Moreover, what researchers find is that landline surveys skew heavily to the older population.  Finding people under 50 years of age with landlines is virtually impossible.

Young adults are more likely to have cell phones only, and it fits their mobility and technology-wise lifestyle. Our research also shows that 20% of the respondents who have a landline suggested it is part of a bundled service.  In a last-ditch effort to keep landline companies going, the cable company puts landline service as part of a “package” that phone companies offer.

At the same time, 11% have a landline as part of their home security system. In this case, the Home Security Industry is suffering the same tendency. Although they are moving into wireless systems2; having a landline is considered to be more of a safety net, as landlines typically offer a more stable connection.

Dr. Jim Kitchens, President of The Kitchens Group notes, “Phone surveys, whether landline-based or cell phone based are suffering the sample methodological problem.  The response rating has gotten so poor that it is skewing the samples.  The costs of executing the surveys are going up and the accuracy is going down.”  Researchers must address the problems caused by a changing lifestyle.  More than 90% of adults in America are online at least once a day.  While the methodological challenges of online surveys have not been completely solved, it is certainly possible to get a better cross-section of the population than with landlines.

1: National Center for Health Statistics

2: Park Associates Research. “Almost half of home security owners in the United States have a security system that connects wirelessly to sensors.”  

Why Customer Satisfaction Surveys Don’t Satisfy, and What to do About It [WEBINAR]

If you haven’t been docked in a space lab for the past 30 years, I’m sure you’ve been asked to complete a customer satisfaction survey, after a recent shopping experience, whether online or offline.  In fact, even in space, it’s probably not a stretch to assume that NASA conducted a few with their astronauts to gain feedback on behalf of their product partners. Perhaps Cottonelle or Charmin wanted to measure astronauts’ satisfaction regarding their toilet paper products in space. Ok, maybe this is not a clean (pardon the pun) example, but you get the point.

Customer satisfaction surveys are all the rage for a reason. After all, businesses want to remain competitive, increase their customer retention, provide better service and ultimately increase their profit margins to stay in business.  To achieve these goals, businesses need proper feedback from their customers. Unfortunately, customers’ attention spans are rapidly diminishing. The typical survey response rate is often below 2%, but the problems with customer satisfaction surveys don’t stop there.

The reality is that a small number of people who participate in customer satisfaction surveys are likely doing so in response to a particular product or, in most cases, a particular bad experience. In essence, the overall survey results can be largely skewed. Yes, many experts will point to their top 10 lists of possible solutions. However, the big elephant is still in the room.

So, what’s going on? A well-respected colleague and industry expert (Bill Fonvielle) suggested that at least part of the problem is that customer satisfaction is an abstraction and not a thing itself. He went on to quote the late, renowned marketing professor Richard L. Oliver who made this statement –  “Everyone knows what [satisfaction] is until asked to give a definition. Then it seems, nobody knows.”  In Bill’s view, when people say on a survey that they were satisfied, they are saying that the experience was okay, and nothing more. They are not saying that they were thrilled, excited or delighted. People are either satisfied or dissatisfied. He compares it to being pregnant. No one is a little pregnant; either you are or you are not.  He went to say that rating scales invent distinctions that may not make sense.

What is the message for businesses contemplating a customer satisfaction survey?  A better path begins with asking customers to tell you what their expectations are, and using expectations to measure, not customer satisfaction, but your performance in meeting or exceeding customer expectations.

Join us for our upcoming webinar, as Bill and I discuss why customer satisfaction surveys don’t satisfy and what to do about it.

Customer Satisfaction Survey

Driverless Cars: Are Consumers Ready?

The past few years have been a whirlwind for the autonomous automotive industry. To date, Google’s self-driving cars have driven over 2 million miles and Tesla’s 90,000 cars are equipped with AutoPilot enabling the vehicles to maintain speed, change lanes and even park without any input from the driver. What Tesla advertised as simply a driver’s assistant, is being used as much more than that. As an article on explains, “The Internet is awash in videos of people sitting in the backseat and sleeping, and ignoring Tesla’s TOS requirement that they maintain control at all times.” Videos such as these have prompted back-lash, suggesting Tesla may be moving too fast. Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX CEO, disagrees. Instead of slowing down, Musk continues to move forward with Tesla’s autonomous endeavors, promising that “he’ll produce a Tesla that can drive itself from Los Angeles to New York City, no human needed.” Technology that seemed fit only for movies such as I, Robot a few years ago, is closer than many people realize. Begging the question, are Americans ready for this level of automation?

It’s not only tech companies such as Google and Tesla leading the way. Uber is now knee deep in the mix and making a name for itself in the driverless car industry. As of August 2016, Uber deployed a fleet of autonomous vehicles driving the streets of Pittsburg. Bloomberg reports that “Unlike Google and Tesla, Uber has no intention of manufacturing its own cars, Kalanick says. Instead, the company will strike deals with auto manufacturers, starting with Volvo Cars, and will develop kits for other models.” For the time being the cars are being supervised by humans, but expect to be completely autonomous in the future. However, Uber’s initiatives might be premature.

On December 14th of this year Uber’s fleet of self-driving cars began shuttling passengers around the streets of San Francisco. Within a week of the launch, there were already several safety concerns. One of the vehicles apparently ran a red light and caused a near-collision. Uber claims that this incident was caused by human-error, meaning the driver behind the wheel, though witnesses dispute this fact. Additionally, these autonomous vehicles raise alarm regarding their inability to make right-hand turns without crossing into bike lanes, potentially leading to fatalities. The state of California has threatened legal action unless Uber removes its self-driving cars from the roads until the problems are addressed and the proper permits are acquired. According to an article published by The Guardian, even though Uber openly admitted to the vehicles having a problem with crossing bike lanes, they will not be pulling their cars from the roads. A statement released by Uber VP of Engineering, Anthony Levandowski, explains, “…we respectfully disagree with the California Department of Motor Vehicles legal interpretation of today’s autonomous regulations, in particular that Uber needs a testing permit to operate its self-driving cars in San Francisco.” He claims that because all their self-driving cars are still equipped with a driver and “are not capable of driving ‘without…active physical control or monitoring’” that they do not require a permit. Uber has instead informed all drivers that “they should take manual control when turning right in a street with a bike lane while engineers try to fix the vehicles’ programming.”

Uber’s current safety issues are only one of many obstacles associated with the future of driverless cars. The security risks accompanying autonomous vehicles are vast. Forbes reported that “Last year, security experts proved in a controlled test that they could use the Internet to take control of a car as it was driven down the road. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles consequently recalled 1.4 million vehicles to fix the software defect enabling hackers to control multiple vehicle functions.” It is one thing to have your computer hacked, it is another thing entirely to abruptly lose control of your 4 ton vehicle, moving at 70 mph down the highway. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are continuously working to improve cybersecurity to protect against such breaches, but it is an ever-changing environment that requires constant innovation to stay ahead of potential threats.

Even with the security and safety threats constantly being assessed and addressed, many Americans still aren’t convinced. According to the J.D. Power U.S. Automotive Emerging Technologies Study, only 1 out of every 5 consumers was interested in a fully autonomous vehicle. However, as history has shown, the advent of new technology is often met with uncertainty. The fact remains that many people enjoy getting behind the wheel. A day may come in which autonomous cars are deemed superior drivers in every sense. Therefore invalidating human’s right to even operate motorized vehicles or will at least be limited to designated locations. However, given the 130 year love-affair between Americans and their automobiles, it seems unlikely that they will let go of the wheel without a fight.

Driving a car is not only a pleasurable experience for many, it’s also a source of income. An article published by The New York Times notes that “Millions of truck and taxi drivers will be out of work, and owing to the rise of car-sharing and app-based car services. Consumers may purchase fewer vehicles, meaning automakers and their suppliers could be forced to shed jobs.” However, it’s important to remember that there was once great outrage surrounding mechanized looms and the fact that they would steal jobs from weavers. Innovation and change will continuously be met with skepticism, and may disrupt the status quo, this does not mean it won’t lead to positive outcome in the long run.

Whether society is prepared for autonomous vehicles and all that comes to follow or not, the future seems to be undeniable at this point. There will continue to be obstacles and the occasional public outcry, but driverless cars and the technology that accompanies them will continue to progress. What seemed like science fiction only a decade ago is nearing fruition. A recent article by Forbes offers a more specific timeframe, explaining that “technology proponents  are predicting autonomous vehicles will be a reality by around 2020 – just over three years from now.” So, buckle up, because the future of transportation is coming up fast.

Seven Sins to Avoid When Designing a Survey

A year ago, we published a series of best practice for questionnaire development. This year, we would like to highlight some common mistakes that research practitioners should avoid, to ensure their data collection effort is not wasted. We are calling them The Seven Deadly Sins Of Questionnaire Design. The Seven Deadly Sins emerged from an ecclesiastic era, and since then have evolved as broader ethic markers for those who prefer disinfected consciences. Gwyneth Paltrow lost her head over them in the movie Seven, and the secular world has incorporated them as business credos (an example being The Seven Deadly Sins of Management, from the Harvard Business Review).

As long as people are dropping the ball in their professions, the Seven Deadly Sins work as a values template. They certainly work in market research, specifically when it comes to designing online survey questionnaires. Without a heavenly questionnaire, a survey will plunge into the deepest recesses of hell.

Below are the Seven Deadly Sins of Questionnaire Design that every researcher should avoid.


You are passionate about your project. You let that lust pollute your wording, even allow bias to possess the questions like a Linda Blair dream. Sometimes you don’t even know you’re doing it! As one research expert put it: “Bias is the mortal enemy of all surveys, and as a survey creator, it’s important to guard against it to make sure you get reliable results.”

To avoid this Hades, keep your language neutral and dry; employ a sensible number of opt-outs and open-ended questions; and make sure you use a second and even third set of eyes while crafting questions.


You crave that data or have a reprehensible voracity for it. You write an extremely long questionnaire, which ultimately results in crappy data collection.  You ignore the fact that respondents don’t care much for long, boring surveys, or your greediness for the data causes tunnel vision in your data collection methodology.

As some of our own research has shown, respondent fatigue sets in after 20 minutes of a survey. This may result in respondents exerting less effort and spending less time thinking about their answers as they journey deeper into the survey. A survey over 35 minutes is an indicator that your craving for data is approaching its peak with little consideration for the survey participant.

Some had predicted that online surveys completed from mobile devices would approach 50%. In an era where mobile devices are displacing computers, long survey questionnaires are just a sin.


Put it simply, edit, edit, edit! Mistakes won’t make you look slothful to respondents, just demonic. Furthermore, on the side effects of sloth, a good research practitioner explained:

But the problem is rarely “bad respondents” – instead the problem is lazy researchers.  When people discover that the survey they just agreed to take is boring, tedious, repetitive, or too long, they either quit altogether or they stop providing good answers. As I’ve stated many times in the past, when it comes to data quality, the burden should always be on the researcher first.


You want to defend your research project or the sanctity of your data. Full of wrath, you will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those unsuitable respondents who access your holy survey. Okay, maybe not Ezekiel 25:17, but you’re going to place a lot of screeners and trap questions to weed out the unfaithful.

Recent studies indicate the methodology of trap questions for surveys may not be as effective as originally thought. In reality, trap questions might have unexpected results—such as shifting the thinking of respondents to critical thinking from “optimal thinking” (that is the state of mind they reason as they normally would in daily life, which is typically necessary for reliable data).

There are other analytical ways to evaluate respondent data that don’t include placing land mines in your questionnaire.


Budgets are rarely fun, unless you’re working on the next Marvel film or you’re a Congressman(not from the state of Illinois). At the same time, a sense of greed within you assumes that the internet ought to make research economical.

Therefore, you skimp on incentives. Bad move.

Some reports claim that 175,000 online surveys are conducted a day. This volume has influenced a drop in participation rates to historic lows, which some estimates to be at 2%. On the other hand, studies have shown that the proper incentive will have a positive effect on survey response rate. We touched base on this topic on a previous blog.

This form of avarice can be avoided by rewarding your respondents properly for their time, and never assume they care about your brand as much as you do.


Okay, you’ve done all this work and soon respondents will joyfully complete surveys, while vying for an iPad, that trip to Hawaii or Starbucks gift card. You say to yourself: “this is a lot for a 40min IDI or telephone interview and it’s all from my blood, sweat and tears”.

This attitude of envy will harm your research project. You’re not just envious, you lack empathy—the key ingredient for a successful online survey questionnaire. As stated in a previous blog, empathy is significant.

“Companies need to have more empathy for the research participant. The person(s) who writes the survey instrument should ask themselves if they could sit through that survey for 25-30 minutes. Companies should make surveys fun and engaging, regardless of the topic. They should test their surveys over and over again to identify the fatigue points in the survey. This is usually the area where data integrity is compromised.”

This quote addresses all the other deadly sins, mind you, because they all overlap. It certainly overlaps with:


Pride is also known as vainglory. It basically means you think you know better than everyone, including study participants. Pride has become a positive quality in western culture, but don’t let it fool you.

Pride also tends to stifle the ability to be open-minded. With all the tech innovations changing market research this year, such as eye tracking technology, social listening etc., don’t let your pride assume your ways are absolute and unchangeable.

The opposite of the Seven Deadly Sins are the Seven Heavenly Virtues. We’ll discuss them pertaining to online surveys in the future. Right now, though, avoiding the above list will likely create a paradise for your next online survey undertaking. Hell might not freeze over, but neither will your data.

Impact of Emotional Research

Emotional intelligence, although not to be confused with IQ or being emotional, is defined as the ability to be intelligent about your emotions. It consists of motivation, social skills, empathy, self-awareness and self-regulation.

Numerous studies have shown that the brain is built to adapt in response to good or bad experiences more than any other organ in our body. In other words, Emotional intelligence can be acquired and increased over a period of time.

Some Research scientists have been calling for Emotional Market Research and it is safe to say that the time has finally arrived. As consumer decision-making becomes more emotionally-based, successful brands will identify and utilize emotional values as strategic foundations for meaningful positioning, differentiation, and more authentic storytelling.

The future of business will be based on having a strong emotional connection with the consumer. Brands that adapt their research agendas to get a better understanding of the role that emotions play have a powerful advantage.

Examples of Emotional Market Research

WebCams: Three years ago, there were a handful of companies that provided or even scratched the surface of emotional research. Companies like Affectiva and RealEyes were the two dominant players in the space. Today, it is one of the top 5 emerging research methods, according to the latest Greenbook Industry Report. Webcams seem to be one of the more popular methods –typically placed in remote panels of users viewing ads or products in their homes or offices—they detect facial expressions and then provide what they call “emotional analytics.” In essence, the technology unearths the authentic feelings of individuals in real-time and intensity-level.

Eye-tracking technology: Ranked 9th on the list of emerging methods and becoming widely adopted by many research firms, these technology records conversations alongside an automated system analyzing eye movement. From a selling standpoint, eye-tracking software deciphers a potential customer’s preferences in regard to webpage layout, brand placement, or even the product itself. Some studies have eye-tracking technology correctly identifying the honesty levels of subjects at an 83% accuracy level.

In a way, eye-tracking technology is a form of online survey, albeit in a different language, able to measure the intimate tastes of respondents.  In fact, online surveys and eye-tracking technology could be a marriage made in marketing heaven, as their union truly focuses on a key issue in any manner of research sampling: honesty.


Using big data, transaction data and social data along with conscious and unconscious mind shopping behavior data presents a new single view of how marketers may be able to influence behaviors.

Ultimately, the goal is to develop novel marketing models to integrate the best from big data analytics—as well as influence based on how brain stimuli relate to perception, memory, and decision-making. Big data may provide information on “what” people did, but neuromarketing gets to the “why” they did it according to swaying stimuli.

There are other, smaller examples, such as utilizing GPS technology to record the actual movement of shoppers instead of relying on their memories later on in a study. QuestionPro has added a number of innovative tools to the mix as well, including “Live Discussions”, which harnesses feedback, using a custom, real-time, qualitative platform to probe deeper into a respondent’s mind. Conversational Form, which is currently in beta, combines Artificial Intelligence and innovative techniques to humanize the survey experience in a chat-like conversation to capture better user responses.

While there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to emotional research, the technologies are still developing and methodologies are being perfected. However, the subconscious resistance to emotional research remains. Not embracing this form of research, however, could negatively affect customer experience, which has a huge impact on overall business revenue.

Lies and The Lying Survey Respondents Who Tell Them

Ok, I couldn’t help myself here. I’m playing off the title of a great satirical book by Al Franken, a comedian who later became the Democratic Senator for the State of Minnesota. According to the experts, and Franken would agree, we’re all a bunch of liars.  If  you don’t believe me, google it.  The only item in dispute is the number of times per day we lie.  The range seems to be anywhere from twice a day to 200 times per day.  That’s a lot of lying…

“Honey, do I look fat in this outfit?”

Dr. Phil(Sorry, but that’s my source) describes our lying in terms of personal relationships.  He lists several reasons for this behavior, including our attempts to:

      –Escape accountability

     – Avoid punishment

      –Gain an advantage

Fortunately, many of our relationship lies are white lies.  They’re told to spare the feelings of our loved ones and to keep us out of the doghouse (or off the couch).

But our personal relationship lies are only one part of our lying behavior.  We lie to coworkers and strangers, too.  Consider our recent presidential election.  Almost all polls predicted a Hillary victory.

What happened?

Pollsters and pundits alike have been scratching their heads since Nov. 8th and there are multiple theories:

Sample Errors

The first theory suggests the pollsters did not have representative samples to begin with.  It seems unlikely the major polls got this wrong – many of them have been conducting these polls for decades.  It will be interesting to see if any of them change their selection methods before the mid-term elections.

Voter Turnout

There is some dispute about whether the overall voter turnout was greater in 2016 than in the 2008 or 2012 general elections (apparently the experts do not agree on the number of eligible voters in the US.)  But there is no dispute about the demographics – a greater percentage of Republicans voted in 2016.

Herding Effect

This one is fascinating – pollsters cheat, too.  When an organization’s polling results are vastly different from others’ results, they might skew their own numbers!

People Lie

This one could have been the main reason the pollsters got it wrong.  There is a common belief that many respondents failed to admit their preference for Trump.

In all likelihood there were multiple factors contributing to the failure to accurately predict the presidential outcome. I suspect the 2016 election will become a case study for college students in the years to come.

What does this have to do with consumer surveys?  Everything.

If you have a large population to choose from, the first three of the above challenges are fairly easy to control.  You can increase the sample size if the response rate is low and you can ensure you aren’t skewing your own results.

But what about the lying?

Do our customers lie on customer satisfaction surveys?  If we believe the psychology experts, the answer is ‘yes.’  But why?  There is no reason to lie on a customer satisfaction survey.  Nothing ‘bad’ will happen to you if you say you will buy a particular product or service in the future even if you have no intention of doing so;  Nothing bad will happen if you ‘break up’ with a brand during a rant then continue to buy their products/services the following day either.

Some consumer behavior doesn’t make sense, or does it?

After a long, stressful day at work are you more likely to take your frustrations out on a brand that cheerfully asks you to complete yet another short survey when all you want to do is order a pair of shoes and go home?

Part of the problem with customer satisfaction surveys is the shear volume we’re constantly exposed to. Sometimes they’re like a bad horror flick –  they’re everywhere.   This ultimately results in survey fatigue for the consumer.  The reality is that  today’s shoppers want personalized experiences – they assume their favorite brands should already know what they think and want.

Another problem is respondents’ attempts to ‘gain advantage’ – the lie we use in our personal relationships.  Many people will provide ‘good’ feedback because they believe it will increase their chance of getting some future benefit.  This is especially true when the brand offers an extremely attractive incentive for their feedback. I’m not implying the respondent should not be incentivized, but the reward should not be the key driver, especially in the case of customer sat surveys.  

Finally, some customers are people pleasers – they tell us what they think we want to hear.

Does this mean we shouldn’t conduct customer satisfaction surveys?

Not at all.  But it means we need to be smarter about how we use them. Customer satisfaction surveys will continue to provide us with valuable information, but they need to be used in conjunction with other methods of gathering feedback.


In an Evolving Research Landscape, Giving is a Two-way Street

One phrase we often hear repeatedly from research practitioners is that: “Survey participation is declining and online data quality continues to plague the industry.” After investing a great deal of time, resources, and effort, they are often unsatisfied with the quality of data collected for their research. After all, the research is meaningless if the survey results are inadequate. “How can I effectively increase survey participation and data quality,” they want to know, “without extensive data scrub?”

The first area of focus is often the data collection methodology. The next area of focus, naturally, is the instrument – the actual language used in the survey, particularly for online, direct mail, or mobile surveys where no other guidance is available. Survey incentive is usually the last variable that companies look at as a means to boost response rate or to address data quality issues. Given consumers exist in a culture driven by rewards, it should be natural for survey respondents to expect an attractive incentive in exchange for their time – and rightfully so.

Unfortunately, research practitioners and panel companies alike undermine the significant role that incentives play when it comes to data collection. In fact, some researchers view survey incentives as something that could potentially create bias in their data collection efforts, based on the assumption that respondents will not provide honest answers to survey questions and are only driven by the reward.  Although this is not completely incorrect for a small number of research participants, it is, however, not the norm.

As stated earlier, our society is already reward driven. Just look around – in business, in commerce, in our day-to-day life. They are passed off to staff and packaged in wellness programs that encourage pedometer steps and healthy eating habits. They are plaques presented to sales reps reaching quotas. They are the points we earn, the loyalty cards we shuffle in our wallets and the frequent flier miles we stockpile. Even our bonuses and raises are forms of reward and incentive.

In marketing, rewards are indispensable tools. We donate portions of proceeds to causes. We employ games, contests, points, and loyalty cards – all to motivate specific behaviors. Incentives help us broaden word of mouth marketing, increase revenue, shrink advertising cost, expand into new markets, and keep customers coming back for more. Marketers use incentives because they work. So why should this be any different for market research?

Without data, there is no research; without respondents, there is no data; Panel providers must incentivize their respondents fairly and act as good ambassadors for their panelists. Research practitioners, on the other hand, must be realistic and understand that the world has changed. Volunteer survey participants are almost extinct. High earning CEOs or influential individuals receive monetary incentives to give lectures, speeches, or to provide their expert opinions to various organizations. Their opinion is never questioned due to the value of their speaking fees. Survey participation and data quality will continue to plague the research industry until research practitioners understand the value that rewards play in our daily lives. It may be too late for them to realize that without incentives, there are no respondents.