Sharing our private space: our new relationship with our phone!

Surveys that use smartphones and tablets are becoming increasingly popular and unavoidable. They make it possible to reach respondents who have become “invisible” to the other means of data collection. They represent a new challenge, but also bring great opportunities to the table. You don’t conduct a survey on mobile devices as you do with more “classical” collection means. Here are some tips that will help you to become aware of these differences and to imagine how far your mobile surveys may lead you.

The first lesson is about the relationship that respondents have with their smartphone and, to a lesser extent, their tablet. The cell phone is one of the objects with which we have the greatest bond of personal attachment: we always have it on us, we customize it, we share practically all of our private life with it and, most of the time, we take good care of it.

This commitment is reinforced by the pattern of consumption of smartphone services, or applications. To install an app on your phone is like inviting someone into your home. It’s the equivalent of giving a not so restricted access to your intimate space. It is accepting to constantly look down upon the logo of a brand that you accept in your circle of trust. For the application user, it is the creation of a direct link with your company.

This trust must be maintained. Otherwise, the sanction will be brutal: your application will be deleted and the link broken in symbolic (you are no longer visible) and practical ways (the respondent cannot answer your studies).

The key elements that will maintain this privileged link are the following:

1. Simple and effective applications, as well as short questionnaires (no more than 5 minutes). Unlike the Web, you don’t “surf” in an application. You open it, access a service or information, and then close it. The cycle is very fast and rarely exceeds a few minutes, but may instead be repeated frequently. It is thus also possible to question respondents more regularly.

2. A presentation that is optimized for mobile use. Do not try to reproduce your Web questionnaires in a mobile version. Instead, reduce the amount of displayed data, be concise. If you have many things to say in a question, try to divide it into several sub-questions. Also try to keep each question on a single page, but be aware that it will never be guaranteed, because the presentation will be different depending on the terminals. There always comes a point where the user will have to scroll down to see the different answers. In that case, consider mixing your answer choices to limit bias.

3. A response mode adapted to mobile. Limit the amount of text input by the respondent. On smart phones, there are many other ways to gather information: selection in lists, choice of date from a calendar, photo taking, automatic geolocation, etc. Thus, if you already have access to the information, do not ask for it again, except if absolute imperative validation is needed. Use the known data of the respondents to skip unnecessary questions and go straight to the point.

4. Solicitation mode: a phone is primarily a personal tool. Respondents can often be uncomfortable answering a questionnaire about their personal tastes when they’re at work, or a questionnaire about their work during the weekend. Try to match your invitations with periods adapted to your respondents’ schedules. These invitations can take the form of “push” notifications. These are considered less intrusive and generate much better returns than emails. Use this function to solicit respondents more efficiently, and to invite or remind them about a pending invitation.

5. Proactive questionnaires. Offer questionnaires in which the respondents decide when to answer, at the frequency of their choosing. Rather than offering a questionnaire on the last movie they’ve seen, offer them the ability to give their opinion whenever they leave the movie theatre… Respondents always have their phone at hand and are better able to judge if they can or want to answer a survey. Remind them periodically through “push” alerts, if needed.

6. 100% mobile features. Ask your users to take photos or videos to illustrate what they’re saying, allow them to send voice comments, etc. All these features make the questionnaires more attractive and will allow respondents to be more involved. They will also allow you to extract more information, if you have the tools to exploit them.

7. Instant feedback. On smartphones, applications are used to obtain a result quickly. The simplicity of the questionnaire is important, but so is the feedback that the respondent gets at the end of a survey. The user could receive such a feedback, allowing him to appreciate the time he or she took to answer: results of the latest survey on the subject, recalling the points earned (in the case of a panel), discount coupon, exclusive content, etc.

Keep these things in mind when setting up your mobile studies and adapt them to your own context. There is no single recipe, but a multitude of ingredients that can be used to build an effective solution for your needs.

Mobile surveys should be seen as a way of collecting data in their own right, offering exceptional opportunities by redefining the relationship you have with your respondents. The technology is still new and evolving really fast, and its uses remain largely to be invented.

Imagination is a must in order to allow your studies to take their place, and especially keep it, on the respondents’ telephones.

Have a good summer!

Response rate Challenges

Having run my own market research data collection call center for over 10 years, nothing was more important to a research study than the response rate. Response rates are an important measurement in survey research because they reflect the level of effort undertaken during data collection and help describe the reliability of the resulting data. Survey non-response can bias samples (and therefore survey data) by making the sample composition substantively different from the target population. Bias, in this instance, refers to the difference between the sampled units and the target population.

Within today’s ever growing fight for consumer time and head space, market research firms are having to be more and more agile in securing responses when interviewing. People have less and less time given the amount of time they spend sleeping, working, with family and friends and engaging in social media. Let’s face it, as much as we all hate to admit it, participating in a 20 minute survey is not how most of us want to spend some of our precious free time.

Less intrusive ways for interviewing need to be explored. This will be accomplished in a number of ways. Shorter but more frequent studies are one possible way the industry is adapting. Providing alternative ways for respondents to complete surveys is another.  Web and mobile surveys are becoming more and more of a trend and are gaining on telephone and face to face. People are constantly on their phones and the fears of usage charges are fading with unlimited data plans. People are migrating away from laptops and desktops for the convenience of mobile phones and tablets and as a result mobile surveying will become more and more important. In many markets survey-taking is moving from telephone and face-to-face to mobile device and leapfrogging the PC altogether.

A key to achieving higher response rates is taking the survey itself to the various medium that are available to consumers today. If consumers prefer to reply to surveys online or on their mobile devices rather than on the telephone, it is up to the industry to provide those options for participants. Multi-channel data collection solutions are available and research firms are going to need to invest in them in order to achieve the response rate necessary to complete their projects. This is a fact.

Whether it be traditional telephone, IVR, internet or mobile (both online and off line) we need to make it easier for respondents to complete the study as quickly as possible.

Making the survey interesting and engaging is also important. As people become more and more easily distracted and we are fighting for their precious free time it is important to make it easy and as entertaining as possible. Shorter questions with fewer response options are where we are going to have to go. Using all the bells and whistles for interactive web surveys is something we have learned will only bias results and should be steered away from. Just because the technology allows for something doesn’t mean we should do it. Just how happy can I make this smiley face icon is trivial in respect to the results. Having said that, however, there is a fine line when engaging the consumer, especially as the younger generations make their way up the demographic scales.

Incentives continue to be a great way of enticing people to participate. Relevant incentives are key. Use incentives that assist people with their day to day lives that are tied to the study being performed. People love the idea of getting something for nothing.

It has been proven time and time again that people would rather a small change for something bigger (i.e. a draw) than everyone getting something small. Just look at how many people purchase lottery tickets in North America every day!

Regardless of how we do it we as an industry need to adapt and technology is the key. Consumers are what we are all seeking, they are changing and we have to change with them!

I welcome your thoughts and comments. Do not hesitate to contact me at


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