The benefits of survey research and how online platforms can make the research process more efficient and effective

Surveys remain one of the most popular forms of market research, and consequently we regularly work with customers on large survey-based market research projects. Most commonly this is customer satisfaction surveys, and these can be one of the most valuable forms of data that a company has. We also have clients who conduct broader market research, going beyond their own customer base in order to learn more about a particular market or segment in which they are interested.

Of course surveys are not the only way you can find out what your customers think. Sometimes they’ll tell you what they think through an unsolicited complaint. Indeed, pre-existing sources of data such as complaints, returns and sales data can tell you a lot about what’s working and what isn’t. The growth of customer online reviews can also be a valuable source of insight – you can scrape such reviews from Amazon or other sources and analyse them as unstructured data, something we will talk about more in future blog posts. For now though I want to discuss the key benefits of good old-fashioned survey research.

1. Online survey research is inexpensive

Today conducting a survey can be extremely inexpensive. If you have an existing list of email addresses to which you’re planning to send the survey then online survey platforms such as Survey Monkey mean the total cost of sending out the survey can be minimal. For a small survey the free version of Survey Monkey can be ideal – it enables you to ask up to 10 questions and is free as for up to 100 responses. Once you go over this then the paid plans start at £34 per month for unlimited questions and responses. This means that online surveys can have a very small cost per response. It’s still a good idea to offer an incentive but even with this taken into account this is still much cheaper than running a phone or paper survey.

What about if you don’t have access to a suitable list of email addresses? Many online survey platforms have their own databases and access to massive panels of potential survey respondents, offering a high level of targeting and flexibility as well as a simple, relatively low-cost method to accessing the respondents you are interested in. Typically you’ll pay per response, rather than per contact as you would if you were renting a mailing list in the traditional way.

2. Survey research offers you a high degree of flexibility

Survey research enables you to reach a varied audience. Distributing your survey via multiple channels (online, email, social media, paper, mobile, telephone, face-to-face) enables you to maximise response and reach as many people as possible. This is particularly true if you have remote or hard-to-reach respondents in your market for whom using a mixture of these  modes of survey research may be necessary. It’s generally a simple matter now to collect data through multiple channels and then compile all the responses into one dataset ready for analysis.

3. Insightful and informative

Surveys are useful in describing the characteristics and demographics of a large population but also the opinions and sentiments of large groups.  No other research method can provide this broad capability, which ensures more reliable results from which to draw conclusions and make important decisions. A well-designed survey enables you to collect both qualitative and quantitative data, so you can get the benefit of both numbers (useful for benchmarking, measuring progress, understanding what’s happening) and unstructured free-text fields (useful for understanding why things are happening).

4. Reliable

The anonymity of surveys allows respondents to answer with more candid and valid answers. To get the most accurate data, you need respondents to be as open and honest as possible with their answers. Surveys conducted this way provide an avenue for more honest than other types of research methodologies, especially if it is clearly stated that survey answers will remain completely confidential. This is particularly the case with online surveys and other anonymous methods of survey distribution. Anecdotal evidence suggests that people are most likely to give truthful answers when a survey is conducted by mail or via the internet than when it’s conducted over the phone or face-to-face. If your survey is dealing with sensitive or highly personal issues, perhaps asking people about their health or their finances, then these more anonymous methods of data collection are probably the way to go.

5. Reach a bigger audience

Online surveys enable you to reach a much bigger audience in a cost effective fashion, making your sample bigger and hence your results more reliable. As a general rule, the more respondents you have the more faith you can put in the reliability of your results. It’s true to say that there can be diminishing returns for really large samples and these can come with some other disadvantages, but for most surveys it’s a case of the more responses the better.

6. Minimal processing cost 

Again, this is a particular advantage of online survey platforms. When you conduct a survey this way then you completely cut out the data entry stage that’s often required for postal or telephone surveys. To be fair, the quality of OCR software is improving all the time so it can be possible to design postal surveys where the data is scanned into a database, however most companies do not have access to this software and it’s rarely worth acquiring for infrequent research. And indeed you still need a resource to manage the scanning. With online research each response is automatically entered into the final dataset in real time so there’s no data entry or processing cost.

7. Quick data collection

One final advantage of online survey platforms is the speed with which you can collect the data. Once the survey is designed it can quickly and simply be set up in the platform of your choice and then immediately distributed. It’s possible to send a survey out in the morning and to get the bulk of your responses back the same day. In contrast distributing a survey by post or phone can be a very time consuming process indeed and the opportunity for ‘quick and dirty’ feedback really isn’t there in quite the same way.

Market researchers have been conducting surveys for a very long time, and the technology and mechanisms used have adjusted over time from face to face interviews, to paper surveys, to telephone surveys, to electronic completion on hand help devices, to completely remote online surveys and all the way to survey apps. The ready availability of things like Survey Monkey and the extremely accessible (or free) price point mean that it’s easier than ever to conduct a quick survey to collect, analyse and use this data to formulate new strategies. If conducted carefully, survey research can benefit the researcher with reliable and useful  data to power better decision-making.