Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Vent Sour Tastes When Surveying Consumers

At the university that had retained my consumer attitude survey services, students were outraged about the housing office. The anger was so great that each time an attitude survey had been administered recently, those students who did answer trash-talked absolutely everything about the housing office’s operations. Because of the universal negative reactions and the low response rate, the university felt unable to accurately prioritize corrective actions. They couldn’t afford to do everything all at once, but where to start?
     As I looked over the students’ comments, I was struck by two things. First, there were surprisingly few. If these housing office consumers were so angry, why weren’t they giving specifics? Second, of the comments there, a high percentage were downright vile. I recall one that cruelly ridiculed the physical appearance of an older housing office staff member. Clearly, I was dealing with a bunch of frustrated consumers.
     I decided to do something unusual: The comments section on a questionnaire is almost always at the end, after the degree-of-agreement questions. I moved it to the start of the questionnaire and allocated lots of room for it. I was figuring that if I gave respondents a chance to vent off their sour moods, I could get some valid responses on the degree-of-agreement items which followed.
     It worked.
     A related sort of remedy was suggested more recently by researchers at Northwestern University. Here the situation could be described as a sour taste about a candy manufacturer. The manufacturer had been found to be engaging in highly immoral business practices. Study participants were asked their opinion of the candy. The researchers found that:
  • When consumers who were highly critical of the immoral behavior were not asked about this on the survey, they used their ratings of the candy quality to express displeasure. The candy tended to be rated as being of inferior quality.
  • This bias—which could affect whether a retailer carried the line of candy—was eased significantly if respondents were told at the start of the candy quality survey that they’d have the opportunity later to express their thoughts about issues other than the candy quality.
     The bias did not disappear completely. I believe it might have if the comments section had been at the start of the questionnaire.
     Negative feelings are relevant to you, retailer. When shoppers express them, know what it is they’re really talking about.

Click below for more:
Phrase Consumer Survey Questions Carefully
Interpret Survey Results as a Retailer

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