Research Indicates We Should Close The Research Department
A notice on a bank's door announces "as a result of customer feedback, we shall be open for business until 4 pm on Saturdays."
My reaction? Did they really need customer feedback to know that? Why aren't they all putting themselves in the shoes of their customers on a regular basis and coming to such conclusions without the expense of a research department? After all, they all use banks and by working in the bank they have the advantage of knowing what is possible within the processes of the bank.
Indeed, what's the point of research and isn't it the primary source of analysis paralysis? How many research surveys have you seen or completed that required you to indicate whether you strongly agreed, agreed, were indifferent to, didn’t agree or strongly disagreed with a series of statements, most of which you'd never considered before. From that a company is meant to get insight? Give me a break.
And if you are going to insist on that process, please only have four options so that you will at least force your customers to make an indicative decision. With the five choice option, it seems to me that the only answers worth paying attention to are the passionate ones (namely strong agreement or disagreement). While I have nothing to back this up but gut instinct, it wouldn’t surprise me if the distribution of answers across the five options probably resembles a normal distribution so that the majority of responders were giving bland answers in the middle section (mild agreement, indifference, mild disagreement). Responses that collectively tell you nothing at all. Strike 1.
Moreover, cognitive scientists have shown that when we answer questionnaires we may not be as honest as we think. Not because we're devious but rather because the part of the brain we use to consider such answers is different from that which we use when making the actual purchasing decision in the supermarket aisle! So our actions may not correspond with our honest answers. Strike 2.
Furthermore, you don’t even need to ask lots of people. Jakob Nielsen the guru of website usability has shown that you don’t need to employ banks of testers for websites (i.e. research) - if you use just 5 users they will identify 80% of the weaknesses of that site. Just imagine a site with 80% of its failings eliminated - sounds like a pretty exceptional site/product to me. Strike 3.
So what’s going on here? I’ve talked about research as an ass–covering exercise before and I’m increasingly vehement about it. Now, I'm only talking about consumer research here. A company must must must research the market they're entering in terms of competitive analysis, purchasing patterns and potential market projections in order to determine whether they have a potentially viable business idea. Viability is, of course, not the same as the ubiquitous and spurious market share projection that uncannily is the sane as that needed to generate the ROI required by potential investors or corporate masters, but Guy Kawasaki has much more on this here.
But constantly asking your customers what they want. Is there any point? If marketing works and I’m not sure it does in the traditional sense, then your customers are malleable so why bother asking them what they want? They probably don’t know or haven’t really thought about it. I’m being facetious to some extent but the basic point is thats it’s not their job to know. It's yours.