Research Is Never an Either-Or Question, But a Holistic Process

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The question of research in-house vs. outsourced implies an either-or answer. In truth, and with the "Five Ps" as a guide, this is more than an all-or-nothing question. The Five P's are a process for effective research results — Purpose (why), Plan (how), Performance (implementation), Processing (analysis), and Presentation (reporting) — and can be helpful in determining in-house vs. outsourcing of research, in part or whole.

The temptation in tight times is to bring everything in-house. Remember, whether in-house or out, there can be hidden costs to research that may lead a credit union into hidden pitfalls. In either case, if the "Ps" are ignored, research can take more time and resources than expected.

One credit union chose to survey members in-house to understand what motivated their middle-market members to stay with the credit union (Purpose). After crafting the questions for the survey themselves (Plan), and conducting it with members (Performance), they were unable to determine why the members stayed with the credit union or why they left. The CU's poorly designed research at best only adequately addressed the first three Ps; it fell down completely when it came to analysis (Processing) and sharing the results (Presentation). Hidden soft costs abounded: poorly worded questions, flawed methodology, and inexperience in coding. The bottom line: wasted human and financial resources, and research results of little use.

Now it didn't have to be this way. The CU could have better designed the project first (with the help of the Five Ps) and/or used the Five Ps to get consulting help on any one, two (or more) of the steps. In either case, dollars would have been saved, and more accurate and reliable results created.

A different credit union faced a related challenge. With better research design, and consideration of all Five Ps at first (and irrespective of whether or not they outsourced), the CU learned specific lessons on the power of fixing problems well, and which problems the CU could, and could not, effectively handle. Operations, HR, training and marketing all gleaned knowledge from the study. The resulting ad campaign with focused testimonials looks promising.

Whether in-house or outsourced, poorly implemented research is never cost effective. The Five Ps offer a new lens to look through in weighing the in-house vs. outsource question. Well-designed research (using the "Five Ps") can pay for itself and do what it's supposed to do: cost-effectively help the credit union better serve its members, for retention, enhancement, and growth.

Neil Goldman is Senior Partner with Member Research. He can be reached at 310-643-5910 or by email at

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