Customer Research International

Case Studies

I like to think that all of our research produces actionable findings for our clients and occasionally, those findings are true game changers. Below are four case studies that changed the game for our clients. The following case studies are just a few of my favorites.
—Dave Roberts, 2011

Case Study #1: The Tail Is 9% of the Dog

A small suburban community asked us to develop a quality of life study that included the public’s preference for developing the last bit of open space available. The usual public debates took place before the city council with no scarcity of opinions but also no hard data. The loudest voices heard up to that point were against any growth. But was that what “the public” really wanted?

ChartThe random-sample telephone study of n=400 documented what was important to residents in terms of defining a high quality of life and what they felt their community should look like to maintain that quality of life. They were also asked to rate the desirability of several development scenarios. It was this exercise that informed a segmentation strategy that revealed that 4 out of 5 subsets of the public favored various approaches to growth. Most importantly, it revealed that indeed, the tail was wagging the dog in the public forum. As a distinct segment, those who opposed any growth at all represented only 9% of the city’s adult population.

While no plan will please everyone, a development approach that took into account the sensitivities of all of these segments was devised. Emblematic of the plan was a Wal-Mart with an elaborate water feature and a high-end playscape.

Case Study #2: News & Talk Stations Aren’t Radio

Several years back, radio clients suspected that their All News Stations were underperforming in the Arbitron ratings relative to what they believed was their real listenership. Indeed, we were having trouble finding qualified respondents for our News & Talk focus groups, recruited on an unaided basis. So, we began following up with an aided list of radio stations and found that many who did not volunteer our clients’ call letter earlier, did say they listened on an aided basis.

We decided to recruit several groups based aided but no unaided recall. Even in the groups themselves, many did not mention the News & Talk stations top of mind. So we gently probed why they didn’t recall listening unaided but admitted that they listened when we provided the call letters as a choice. The reasons:

  • “Because it’s AM”
  • “I thought you meant FM stations”
  • “I thought you meant music stations”
  • “Because it’s news, it’s not radio”
  • “Because I only listen to it for news and traffic”

At the time, Arbitron—the ratings service—used only an unaided “diary” measurement so it often did not get written down. Our clever clients took these findings and developed on-air promos that addressed the problem, which future research and future ratings proved were effective. One the most effective one-liners was: “Your favorite radio stations doesn’t play music.”

Case Study #3: The Folly of Fifty-Six Hammers

A medium-sized hardware store chain (50,000 square feet) was perceived to have less Selection than the big box store (150,000 square feet), even though in some categories, the smaller store had greater “depth” of selection. However, customers in the DIY space aren’t always building a house, installing new landscaping, or remodeling a kitchen. For everyday hardware needs the Selection was fine, but most importantly Service (available, helpful, and usually knowledgeable) and Getting In & Out Quickly, were highly valued attributes for the average homeowner.

However, the ad agency was obsessed with the store managers’ contentions that in some categories they did have better Selection; for example more hammers than the competition. So they came up with a campaign to try to bolster the Selection perception. One element of the campaign was a very expensive TV spot that touted the fact that the store had over 56 hammers…many with very special purposes.

The Marketing department was skeptical and asked us to test the spot with several others. Not only did it not move the Selection needle, it was not believable and even if they did have that many hammers, who cared? Furthermore, it made no mention of Service and Convenience and respondents insisted that the interior shots did not even look like the store.

Yes, it was an expensive spot to produce, but from an ROI perspective, this research managed to cut losses by halting media buys for a potentially ineffective commercial.

Case Study #4: Don’t Ask About “No Questions Asked”

An ad agency asked us to conduct focus groups with their client’s internal customers—store managers, department heads, sales associates, and cashiers—to get a frontline view of the customer experience.

Among the many issues was that tracking research showed some slippage in the perception of the client’s “No Questions Asked Return Policy”. The store hand been known for it and customers appreciated it. In fact, it was complete with urban myths—seems about everyone knew someone who knew someone about a customer returning a “box of rocks” and that the store gave them a refund on the drill that should have been inside the box.

Turns out, cashiers and other frontline employees were told to discourage returns. Why? Corporate policy was to charge returns against managers’ bonuses. However, Corporate had no idea that managers were pushing back in this way. As a result, the compensation policy was changed and a valuable customer benefit was revived. It also made the cashiers a little happier.