Over the years, I've seen far too many market research vendors focus on executing or administering the research instead of working as an advisor to their customers. Although the administration of such a project is key (programming surveys, managing fieldwork, and providing results), vendors often lose sight of the bigger picture. In the majority of cases, customers are buying market research advice, not the tools. Regardless of the the scope and statement of work, as a market research consultant, it is your job to guide the client to the most rewarding outcome. When clients view your market research offering as a commodity and not a service, they've already taken the next step to looking elsewhere for future assistance.
Think Custom, Not Cookie-Cutter
Survey writing is a very scientific process. If you work for a vendor or supplier, a cookie cutter approach is often recommended from your manager to increase efficiency (e.g., your client is paying a fixed project fee and the less time you spend on the project, the more profit your company makes.) Unfortunately, from a client standpoint, it is exactly what they do not want. They want you to work with them to customize a survey script and a process to fit their needs. They want you to consult them on best practices. They want you to tell them what you have learned from other clients facing similar problems. Essentially the are simply looking for guidance and they don't want the same solution that is provided to all other customers.
College Students Value the Experience, Not the Piece of Paper
Using a analogy in higher education, students are not buying their degree or the piece of paper. They are buying the college journey: the learning, advice from professors, support from friends, and guidance they receive over the course of their 4 years in school. In many cases that guidance and advice may result in a change in majors or a change in intended career path. That end result could not be achieved if the college simply gave the student what they asked for a freshman without walking them through a lengthy process of back-and-forth of learning the student's needs. Like many freshman, what clients request on day 1 could differ significantly from what is delivered on the final day of the project, and as a result, they are much happier in the end if they've been guided through a process to meet their objectives.
A Second Go-Around is Costly
What are the costs from choosing the wrong vendor or consultant? The costs can be incredibly high. If your project is run improperly the first time, it will take significant time and resources to rework the scope on the 2nd go-around. An example is you may need to change how questions are written (costing you valuable benchmark data from the prior wave.) If the execution of the project is sub-par and response rates suffer, you may need to add significant costs or resources (phone call reminders, rewards, etc.) to push your completes to an acceptable level. A good consultant will walk you through ways to increase response rates and ensure everything is being done to put the best foot forward.
If you are a bank or credit union there are multiple metrics you may want to track in your market research. If you're interested in a customer satisfaction survey make sure you choose a consultant that can discuss topics, question options, and provide you with benchmark data to see how your financial institution compares to others. Don't settle for the out-of-the-box solution with a canned set of 15 questions.
For your next market research project, as a consultant choose to guide and direct your team rather than simply acting as a survey administrator or someone who executes the process. Keep your focus on the outcomes. By working with your colleagues or client to keep the end-goal in mind it will force you to re-think current processes and make adjustments if necessary.