I’m a member of a consumer research panel. I get emails about once a month asking me to respond to a survey or two from a well respected management consulting firm. The surveys are about 25-30 questions in length and take about fifteen minutes to complete.
I respond to their questions but must admit: I kinda tune out after about question twelve, especially when it sounds an awful lot like question seven. And then I begin wondering why they’re asking this in the first place; what am I gonna have for lunch; and what really is the difference between “somewhat agree” and “somewhat disagree”?
On this panel I’m a respondent. I’m not me. I don’t open-up. I’ll click the box; drag-and-drop my response; or rate the following on a scale of 1-5 all day long. However, at the end of the survey, the esteemed consulting firm won’t know me any better than they did before I took their survey. They will know my responses. And while I’m trying my best to tell the truth with each response, I feel like I’m doing a terrible job at it. I feel like a subject in a study, not like myself.
My experience as a respondent (and seemingly like the experiences of others) begs a pretty important question for this consulting firm. Are your findings from your research actually right? While they may be “statistically significant,” “nationally representative,” or “projectable” they may not be “true.” And that’s a problem… a pretty big one.
So maybe the question is not, “how ‘statistically significant’ is the data?” but “how ‘personally significant’ is it?” Are people opening up and sharing their intimate thoughts and emotions or are they simply responding to what you’re asking?
I feel like I could be a lot more helpful to the consulting firm (and their clients) if we had a conversation. If I knew someone was listening and not just crunching my data. If I could share ideas with other like-minded people and build on theirs. If the conversation were facilitated by someone who cared what I had to say rather than presented as a forced set of questions.
Instead, the panel company, the consulting firm and their clients keep me at a distance—only asking what they want to know, how they want to know it. They have my data points to point to but they don’t have me. They aren’t engaging me. And as a result, they don’t know me.
So ask yourself, do you really know your customers, or do you know their data points? Are you treating them like respondents or like people you want to get to know?