To Get Real Results From Research, Don't Ask Questions - Seek Answers

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Stephen Covey's advice, "Begin with the end in mind," provides a good starting point for effective research, and especially the best research methodology to use. In these challenging times, it's important to focus your research investment wisely. And with research, one size truly does not fit all.

The place to begin in designing research is not to solicit managers about what questions they want to ask (which may unwittingly lead to unfocused or irrelevant answers), but rather what answers they need to learn.

A useful technique in research design is to put one's self into the near future, and look back on the now just completed research. You've read the report, and you're smiling because you learned what you needed. What was it? By beginning with the end in mind, the research design process will always be more effective. Effective research design includes determining the right research methodology. A starting point here is qualitative or quantitative.

At their essences, qualitative research is about words and feelings. Quantitative research is about numbers and trends. So, to start: do you need numbers or words?

For example, in brand identity research, name change issues, or other open-ended areas where you're not sure exactly what the answers might be, go qualitative. Qualitative research can usefully explore member feelings about products, policies, and brand in unparalleled depth.

In assessing service quality, prioritizing interest, determining awareness levels, or otherwise needing to quantify or trend, go quantitative. Quantitative research can numerically track trends and statistically project answers to service quality, awareness and/or interest levels, market share, etc. The two formats can be combined in hybrid-fashion as well (e.g., quantitative telephone NPS surveys which probe for open-ended driver-comments). Neither is inherently better overall; each is better for specific applications.

Qualitative research employs focus groups, in-depth interviews, and sometimes intercepts and/or phone surveys to assess account holder attitudes, feelings or perceptions. Benefits here include in-depth feedback from participants that can be translated into product, service or policy improvements to grow the credit union.

Quantitative research may use online, written or mail surveys, or phone surveys (such as new or closed account surveys), typically trended on an interval basis. The information gathered can help determine if there is a pattern of behavior exhibited that can be addressed, changed or leveraged to increase the members' use of CU services.

In both methodology frameworks, it is important to keep in mind the biases that respondents and the credit union may have in regard to the questions being asked. For example, online bill pay users will typically respond to an online survey more readily than one delivered by mail. Members with dial-up online access may do the reverse. Thus, consideration of the audience is also critical, and can impact choice of methodology. One size of research obviously does not fit all.

In either case, whether qualitative or quantitative, research should begin with the end in mind to obtain resulting information that the credit union can act on with confidence.

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

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