Question for research firms: To app or not to app?

Editor’s note: Gloria Park Bartolone is senior vice president, global fieldwork operations at Maritz Research Inc., Fenton, Mo. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title “To app or not to app (with apologies to William Shakespeare).”

Should apps be more prominent in market research and more specifically in customer experience surveys? There are basically two polarized camps when the topic comes up. I think I’ve heard nearly all the arguments.

On the plus side:

• Apps allow you to use the native capability of a smartphone.

• Apps have the best functionality for a smartphone and make surveys easy for customers.

• Apps for market research use are on the increase.

On the minus side:

• Apps for market research use are on the decline.

• Survey apps only make sense when imbedded in a brand’s app or what is referred to as a white-label app.

• No one would ever download an app for a single, event-based survey.

I know: How could apps be on the increase and on the decline? It depends on who you listen to. Several market research companies have chosen to go with mobile app solutions. More troubling are the companies that have focused on one smartphone brand rather than those that comprise the largest market share (Apple, Android and BlackBerry). It’s not hard to understand why they would choose only one. It’s difficult to keep up-to-date with app development considering ongoing device proliferation. Just for starters, each has its own operating system and some have varying screen sizes. But what is the best solution to capture that coveted respondent’s attention?

Well, it depends.

Apps make sense for diary studies and other qualitative work where a respondent or panel member is involved over an extended period of time. It also helps that these individuals are paid for their participation. It even makes sense for mystery shopping, where the same person is engaged in multiple assignments. White-label apps make sense for feedback but push-notification is necessary to proactively engage your customer.

Geolocation fencing (tracking respondents through their mobile device) might be the answer to obtain in-the-moment results but the FTC is recommending that apps obtain “just-in-time” disclosure and consent before allowing access sensitive content like geolocation. It may go further than recommendation to law. Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., proposed a Location Privacy Protection Act which requires mobile apps to obtain permission before collecting and sharing location data. The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2013 and goes before the full Senate next. Will this type of heightened concern about being tracked keep respondents out of mobile apps?

What then is the solution for event-based or transactional follow-up that is the realm of most customer experience programs? Do apps have a place here? I’ll go back to the questions above. Why would a person download an app for a one-time survey, or at best, a periodic survey? Furthermore, would limiting your universe only to people who will download an app (or worse, a single operating system-app) truly represent your customer base?

Where do we go from here?

Over the years, many customer satisfaction programs have moved to Web-based methodologies. As a result, an interesting phenomenon has emerged. It’s the rise of the “unintentional” or “accidental” mobile respondent. They are the customer who is sent or given a link to an online survey who chooses to use their smartphone to complete it.

Maritz Research has been tracking this phenomenon over the past few years. Looking back to the beginning of 2011, smartphone survey starts were less than 5 percent of Maritz Web-based studies. Based on the current trend illustrated below, they are forecasted to be over 20 percent by the end of 2013, with tablets in hot pursuit. (The brighter-colored bars represent estimates of future quarters.)

maritzBecause of this trend, Maritz Research has been focused on improving mobile browser rendering. How a survey looks and functions on a mobile device is a reflection of a brand in customer experience programs. Our work takes that into account. We want to extend a brand’s impression in its Web-based survey. We start by addressing the simple issue of mobile sizing and follow through to the other end of the spectrum to mobile optimization. For starters, this includes the best use of a brand’s logo and the presentation of different question types.

Since mobile browsers are approaching the capability of desktop browsers, it is only a matter of time before this technology will make the mobile app obsolete. Forrester Research advocates promoting emerging research methodologies in its What Needs to Happen in Market Research in 2013 white paper. So which one should companies bet on for customer experience programs? I’m placing my chips on mobile browsers.

This entry was posted in Mobile Interviewing, Mystery Shopping, Online Surveys and Research, Research Industry Trends, The Business of Research. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>