Market Research in the New Now

With changes to home working and greater digitisation, Competitive Advantage’s telephone researchers answer some questions about how they are coping with the New Now.

What is the main difference between conducting telephone interviews before Covid and now?

For trades people or site workers where a mobile number has always been the principal means of contact there is little difference, they have continued to work and be contactable.

But reaching office-based decision makers is much harder, particularly for large companies and with roles like architects it is harder as a lot of people are working remotely and calls are not always able to be transferred, depending on the telephone system the companies have set up.  So that can make people inaccessible.  Now the mobile number has become the main contact channel.

The first lockdown in March 2020 caught everyone by surprise, firstly that it happened at all and secondly how long it lasted.  How did you find things changed from April 2020 to November 2020 and now in 2021 with subsequent lockdowns?

The first lockdown seemed to be much stricter and the construction industry closed during some of that time.  Whereas during the second and third lockdowns the government has encouraged the construction industry to keep operating and organisations have now implemented technology so they can work as near normal as possible, with many companies putting systems in place to ease communications amongst staff.

Was/are people being on furlough a problem for you?

Furlough was more of an issue in first lockdown with a high number of people furloughed.  It is much less of an issue now as companies try to maintain levels of business activity and respond to demand.

Construction has four main groups of target respondents; Tradesmen, Merchants, Contractors and Architects & Engineers – how have each of these groups changed in terms of their accessibility and also how prepared are they to cooperate with interviews?

Tradesmen and Merchants are busier than in the past, so they have less time to talk.

Architects are a challenging group to interview generally and with the larger companies it is more difficult to get past the gatekeeper and speak directly to potential respondents.  Their willingness to take part in interviews is influenced by their work schedule at the time and the relevance of the topic to them.  Engineers and contractors can be equally challenging.

But the skill of the telephone researcher is to engage with people and encourage them to talk.  So, it hasn’t impacted on interviews.

When talking to respondents during 2020 what have been their principal business concerns?

There have been four main concerns:

  • Uncertainty around Covid and when and how long further lockdowns would take place.
  • Uncertainty around the Brexit deal outcome and how that could impact on business.
  • Both of which have contributed to disruption in the supply chain and availability of products (especially from abroad) and price increases.
  • How all the emergency government spending would affect future government funded initiatives, whether they would be cancelled, postponed or scaled back.

It seems certain that increasing numbers of people will be working from home after we have come through the Covid pandemic, how do you see that affecting the way you engage and conduct interviews?

I don’t think it will have a major impact on the interview but I feel it will be more difficult to get initial contact with the respondent.  It will just add more time onto the project.

2020 can be considered the year of the video conference with massive growth in companies’ use of Zoom and Teams.  Are there features of these that can contribute to market research?

Zoom and Teams have greatest potential as a way of conducting online focus groups.  Getting people to commit and then attend due to the travelling and unsociable hours has always been a challenge, and hiring a venue adds to the cost of organisation.  I’d expect to see an increase in their use in the future.

With the trend towards digitisation perhaps the role of the telephone interview has ended, should research focus on using online surveys?

Although online surveys cost much less to conduct, it is not possible to guarantee a representative quota of respondents in the way that telephone interviews can.  Also, they are most effective when kept short.

There is a real positive in actually speaking to a respondent and by engaging them in a telephone conversation. You will naturally gain more information from their answers than you would get from an online response by building rapport on behalf of the client which can also establish opportunities.

I find the majority of respondents seem happy to speak to you, if they have the time to spare.  In a world dominated by digitalisation it is sometimes nice to have a personable experience especially as many may feel cut off from human contact during these times.

Nichola and Patsy have more than 50 years of research experience between them, much of it gained interviewing decision-makers in the built environment.