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Engaging with the vulnerable and hard to reach

Vulnerable customer and ‘hard to reach’ research is a requirement that more and more insight and market research managers are having to address as part of their roles. Not only are regulators keen for organisations to demonstrate that they are inclusive, but there is huge value in businesses being more effective in their engagement with those who are in debt or utilising services inefficiently.

Vulnerable customers are often identified as those with long or short term illness, those living with disabilities or in poverty, and also customers who are elderly.

Hard to reach groups will differ depending on the organisation and the products and services which are offered, but can include:

  1. Non-English speakers
  2. Those who are in severe debt
  3. Those who have suffered a mental illness or struggle socially
  4. Individuals who have a drug or alcohol addiction
  5. Younger people who are not in education or employment
  6. Elderly who live alone and don’t have family or friends

There are many reasons why it is important for organisations to be able to reach out to audiences that can be more difficult to engage with. This can be from a socially responsible point of view, or to reduce inefficiencies. However, as the term suggests – ‘hard to reach’ is exactly that, so having the right approach is vital.

So how can an organisation grow relationships with those where there are perhaps more barriers in place that will allow them to do this?

As organisations are placing more importance on engaging with these audiences we have become experts in delivering research programmes that provide great insight into these key groups.

As every organisation is different and each of these groups are so very diverse, a one size fits all approach will not work in research. Careful thought and consideration as to how these groups can be engaged with is crucial. Below are just three important factors which need to be deliberated when putting in place research and engagement with hard to reach and vulnerable groups:

  1. Language

For example, there is little point in using technical jargon or business speak when engaging with a group of 16 year olds. This may seem obvious, however it is surprising how difficult it is to get a specific point across without making use of industry specific terms. This is very common in the healthcare sector for instance. We recently carried out research which found that although the terms ‘Primary Care’ and ‘Secondary Care’ are commonly used terms across the NHS, only 26% of the sample we spoke to actually understood the term  ‘Primary Care’.  And this isn’t just the hard to reach groups either, this is the general public.

  1. Tone

Tone is different to language, as it goes beyond the actual words used in any communications, whether a discussion guide, questionnaire, online survey or promotional material used to engage for the research. Tone should be adopted for the audience – a formal approach will not encourage those who are young to participate in any research, as this can be intimidating. Having a moderator in place who is able to adapt to the audience is vital. For questionnaires, more visuals can be used. There are lots of creative ways in which you can communicate with your respondents, to make them feel at ease and more willing to open up and participate.

  1. Methodology and Selection

Usually a methodology is largely selected on the type of insight that is required, however carrying out telephone interviews or on-street surveys as you require a quantitative analysis will gain little return with a disengaged group, while trying to recruit on-street to get people who have issues socially to come along to a focus group at a public space such as a hotel will not be successful either.  Methods such attending pre-arranged groups or community sessions are an extremely useful way to engage with the hard to reach. Not only are you going to them, they are also in their own environment so will feel naturally more comfortable and more willing to participate. Offering experiences is also a fantastic way to encourage some hard to reach groups to participate in research. Activity days that will provide them with some value and an enjoyable experience will not only encourage them as respondents to attend, but also will make individuals feel more at ease and start to participate more with a skilled moderator. Online communities which already have a specific audience type are a great way to engage with those certain groups. There are online communities available which specialise in certain profile types; for example, an online community made up of people who have a disability, or who care for those who do, is an excellent way to carry out a range of qualitative or quantitative research.

Our team at Explain Market Research are experts at putting in place research programmes with vulnerable customers and those who are hard to reach.

Contact us today to find out more.



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‘Trust and Confidence’ what is your score?

‘Trust and Confidence’ is a key indicator of how a range of stakeholders such as customers, potential customers, patients or members of the public view an organisation.

Over the last few years, the term ‘Trust and Confidence’ is becoming more commonly used as a key performance indicator to how well businesses are engaging with their audience across their ‘journey’ with them.3-trust-confidence

The more proactive of organisations within the utility (water, gas and electric), finance and NHS see that measuring the ‘Trust and Confidence’ of their stakeholders, is a more effective and accurate way to allow them to be more responsive to their needs and requirements – impacting positively on loyalty and satisfaction.

With competition opening up in the water industry and NHS organisations working harder to attract patients, Trust and Confidence is vital for these sectors that aren’t perhaps traditionally as ‘competitively’ driven as sectors such as retail. However with economic landscapes changing, whether you are public or private sector, understanding how you rate in ‘Trust and Confidence’ within your sector will of course provide a competitive advantage.

As experts working within regulated environments we have developed a ‘Trust and Confidence’ Evaluation Tool.

There are a number of factors that influence an individual’s ‘Trust and Confidence’ within an organisation, and we have carried out our own research to identify what these are. We then surveyed members of the public across the UK and asked them to rate their water, gas and electric, NHS and mortgage providers utilising these factors. This has resulted in Explain owning benchmark data for organisations within these sectors to compare themselves against.

This powerful insight allows organisations to track and measure against their sectors performance, identifying areas where improvements can be made.

Find out more about ‘Trust and Confidence’ by contacting Explain Market Research today.

trust and confidence fact sheet



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The power of social media in research

Read our article to find out how social media can be used as part of a robust research programme:

On the 15th of February Research Live reported that the global social media analytics market is set to grow by 27.6% due to new advanced analytic techniques and a surge of users. This is unsurprising given the power of social media and the volumes of unanticipated feedback customers provide on channels like Facebook and Twitter every day.

For example, last year in their social media report McCallum Layton reported that around half of social media users are likely to share positive or negative experiences of a brand on social media and so the power of social media for research purposes cannot be ignored. Customers are increasingly vocal and giving organisations ‘free’ and unprompted feedback every day on what they love and hate about your brand, service or product. If you can harness this feedback then you can gain insights to help shape the direction of your activities.

Social media listening should not be conducted in isolation (self-selection bias is at the extreme here with only the happiest and unhappiest customers likely to speak up), however as part of a robust research programme it can add an additional dimension to the knowledge base of your business. Further information on the benefits and drawbacks of social media listening can be found in our infographic: https://goo.gl/i5jTgk

You can even go one step further and ring fence the power of social media into your very own online community where your customers can interact with each other and you to drive business improvement. Communities can be long term with 5,000 plus members or short term with 100 members, either way providing you with plentiful actionable insights to help you make the right choices.

To learn more about how we build, moderate and manage online communities for our range of clients, get in touch!

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Knowing, segmenting and talking to your audience in their language, improves engagement

Information overload increases by the day, so how do organisations become smarter in order to engage with their stakeholders such as customers, prospective customers, users of a public service, employees…

Email boxes are now crammed packed with notifications of the latest offers, on-demand TV allows viewers to skip past ad breaks, we have internet streamed music with preference built play lists with no ad interruptions, there are text message notifications to overcome the issue of more and more people not opening their mail, we have internet adverts that follow you around online …. those who are responsible for engagement have a difficult task at hand to understand which channels and what messages are right to yield the desired results.

A one size fits all approach didn’t work as effectively as a targeted communication campaign 10 years ago, so now with all of the rapid and major changes in how we communicate, this approach has very little impact.

Segmentation is more important than ever and is applied and used by large retailers extremely effectively due to most transactions taking  place online and data collected as part of the process at point of sales –  this is known as ‘big data’.

It’s not all about demographics either.   We can’t assume all those 65 plus have the same preferences e.g. silver surfers Vs. traditionalists. There is huge diversity within demographic groups now and without behavioural segmentation to give a true understanding of what makes your audience tick, your communication will likely fall on deaf ears.

Getting our hands on this data can be extremely difficult.  If your services aren’t all about online purchasing and point of sales, this makes it even trickier.  It’s not uncommon for organisations particularly within the utility, public sector, healthcare, housing and education sectors to have collated large databases of various stakeholders including customers, but have great difficulty in segmenting it to communicate more effectively in order to improve engagement.

Market research is fundamental in understanding key groups and to start the process of an effective segmentation strategy  based on behaviours and preferences, allowing us to talk the same language with the right benefit messages using the right channels to our intended audience.

Our team work with a range of organisations across sectors, particularly where segmentation isn’t as straight forward. Our mix of research, marketing and data specialists will build a programme of research and segmentation strategies to help your business become more effective and smarter in engaging with stakeholders.

We have produced an infographic for anyone thinking about how they can better understand their audience:

Segmentation infographic

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Using social media for market research

As a research agency, we are often asked how social media can be used as a tool for market research.

Social media is an excellent resource to tap into to gain insight for organisations, however there are data protection guidelines that need to be considered.

We have produced an infographic as a guide to help anyone who is considering utilising social media as a research tool.

social media research

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Embarrassed and unhappy employees – How do you spot them?

Recently the CIPD (The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, the professional body for HR) reported that one in five people were embarrassed or ashamed of the company or sector in which they worked.

Unhappy employees are a huge cost to the business. So if one fifth of your workforce is unhappy – how much could this be costing your organisation?

Many studies have shown that the impact of unhappy employees doesn’t just cause high employee turnover resulting in high costs of re-recruitment, but also impacts productivity and sickness. Research has shown that a happy employee out-performs those who are unhappy by 20%.

There will always be a proportion of ‘unhappy’ people – some people are just born that way! The trick is to keep this to a bare minimum and help increase productivity to impact the bottom line.

Spotting where issues lie is the first step.

Carefully constructed employee surveys are an excellent way to provide the organisation with a full picture of employee views – positive and negative. There are a range of methodologies to ensure that employees feel secure in what they are sharing – after all if their view of the workplace isn’t entirely positive they may feel under threat if they share this.

However surveys for employees are not just based around how employees are feeling. Research is also used by a range of departments to find out how employees view them as an internal service. ‘Internal customer satisfaction’ is a great way to identify inter-departmental issues. Methodologies such as on-line communities, that enhance or replace intranets, are a great way for employees to join in and provide feedback via discussions, polls and focus groups on their organisation.

To find out more Employee Research or On-Line Communities and how they could help your organisation contact kim@explainreasearch.co.uk

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5 tips to consider when commissioning market research

How do you go about articulating to your research agency exactly what it is you need?

Some people are experienced in commissioning research, but some aren’t, resulting in the output not being as informative as it could be.

So what is the best way to go about creating a research brief to pass over to your chosen agency?

To gain the answers that will help your business, a well written research brief will convey exactly what you are trying to achieve and ensure that your research agency will formulate the best programme of activity for you within your budget.

Our top 5 tips aim to help anyone that needs research to form a well thought through market research brief so that they get exactly what it is they need first time.

1. What are your key business objectives?

You should have clear business objectives. Depending on your business model your objectives could be to impact social behaviour, optimise your services, grow sales or increase cross selling. It is vital that this is made explicit when writing a research brief, as the agency will gain a better understanding to how this project will link to the ‘bigger picture’ of your organisation.

2. What are the objectives of this particular piece of work?

What are you trying to find out? It may sound obvious, but this sometimes isn’t conveyed well! “We need a customer survey to measure satisfaction” isn’t enough. What are you trying to pin point? Do you suspect that there are areas where there are issues? Don’t be worried about informing your research agency of areas of concern whether these are merely just anecdotal or if it’s been something highlighted in research in the past.

3. How much in-depth information do you require?

This could be the difference between the types of research methodologies chosen by your research agency to deliver your project. For example, if you are trying to understand the emotive reasons why your customers would choose to purchase one product over another, an in-depth discussion would be more appropriate to gain better insight into this. If you are wanting to understand how customers rate how quickly your organisation responds to a complaint a survey which uses a rating scale would be adopted.

4. What are you planning to do with the research once it is delivered?

It may sound like a silly question in the beginning – as you don’t know what the results are! But always keep in mind what you intend to do with the output once it’s delivered. Research should add value to your business. Where it identifies opportunities or areas of weaknesses, then an action plan can be put in place to tackle these – resulting in a positive impact on the business. Don’t intend for your research reports to sit on a shelf and gather dust – document in your brief what you will be doing with them so that the agency can help carry this through for you!

5. What exactly is your budget and timeframe?

Don’t be afraid to stipulate your budget. A trusted research agency will not spend the full amount if it’s not necessary! Also if your budget is tight, a good research agency will have a range of other methodologies that they could tap into that could actually save you money, such as on-line panels/on-line communities.

Providing your agency with a timeframe is also important so that it allows them to plan the project effectively so all parties involved know what they need to do and at what point, to prevent any unnecessary project slippage resulting in missed deadlines.

For more information on the services that Explain Market Research offer contact kim@explainresearch.co.uk