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Why Use An External Market Research Agency To Produce, Run And Analyse Your Student Satisfaction Surveys?

At the core of great market research are three main principles:

1) Ask the right questions
2) Get the true answers
3) Use this information to your advantage

Essentially it’s about focusing on gathering data that can be turned into valuable information which can be used to benefit and progress the client organisation.

Ask the right questions

Asking the right questions in a student accommodation survey is not about ‘ticking boxes’. 

When you’re working with student residences all day every day, it’s easy to become too close to the subject being researched.  In turn, there is a danger that this might not only bias the questions being asked, but also influence the way they are asked.

For example:

If you were researching some key campus facilities, you might ask:

“ABC University prides itself in providing student facilities that deliver high student satisfaction. Please rate the following facilities where 1 is very unsatisfied and 8 is highly satisfied.”

Albeit obvious, the question is suggesting to the student that satisfaction levels should be high, which might encourage the student to rate higher.

It is subtle, but you cannot afford to bring any bias to research as it can be disastrous for three reasons:

1) From the outside, it looks like the research has been engineered to produce the ‘right’ (aka desirable) answers. This is difficult to avoid, and even harder to refute. However hard you try not to, your ideal research outcomes can leak into the questions.

2) It can introduce apathy amongst the respondents which can result in a reduced quality and quantity of data. A respondent wants their feedback to feel valued and if they get a hint that this isn’t the case, they can lose interest.

3) It can make the project feel like a ‘waste of time’ for you and the respondents. Budgets are tight at the best of times so investments of time and money into satisfaction surveys need to generate good value outputs.

Get the right answers

Getting the right answers is not about ‘steering’ or ‘forcing’ the respondent to answer with an ideal outcome by reducing answer choice. It’s about using marketing research knowledge to choose the right question and answer format that gathers data which adds to the final outcome.

For example:

During a catering survey, you might ask:

“Which of the following meal options would you prefer:

1) Potatoes, vegetables and chicken
2) Chips, beans and sausage
3) Beef curry and rice
4) Toad in the hole with onion gravy
5) Vegetarian lasagne with cheese bread”

The respondent is expected to make one choice.

The outcome of this type of answer structure could be something like:

“42% of respondents would choose beef curry and rice for their first meal choice.”

In itself, this is interesting information. However, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

A better answer structure would be to ask the respondent to give a 1st, 2nd and 3rd rating for the meal choices on the list.

This would yield data that would be more reflective of the spread of meal choices that students might make.

In the final data analysis, the answers from this question could be analysed with combinations of demographic factors to give a yet more illuminating picture of student preferences.

So, it is important to have a depth of knowledge and an experience of how answer structure affects the final market research outcomes. This can only come from working in a wide range of industries with a range of market research outcomes.

Use this information to your advantage

If you’re asking the right questions and getting representative answers, then you are about 30% of the way to achieving your objective.

Yes, just 30%.

Most people assume that the lion’s share of the work is in creating the right questions and getting representative answers.

Yes, they are important, but the vital skill is deriving clear outcomes from the data through careful analysis.

It is not just about straight percentages for each question.

For example:

You might have a simple question to determine gender which results in:

36% Female
64% Male

Now, this gender split can be merged into other questions to form more interesting outcomes:

87% of respondents who chose beef curry and rice as their first meal choice were male.

13% of respondents who chose beef curry and rice as their first meal choice were female.

This merging and analysis of question data creates complex outcomes that are rigorous and valuable in providing strong objectives to move forward.  It is only through producing clear outcomes that true benefit can be gained from the satisfaction survey.  Again, an external market research agency has no view on what a ‘desirable’ result would be – we report the findings as we find them, without bias or prejudice.

Conclusions

It is critical to deliver the right questions, the right answers and measureable benefits when implementing satisfaction surveys.

In more cases than not, using an external market research agency maximises the market research outcomes because:

1) The questions reflect the type of market research outcomes required without bias.
2) The answers are structured to allow feedback without compromising answer quality.
3) The data is analysed in depth and with rigor to produce tangible benefits and direction.

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