Custom market research panels (panels built from organisation’s own databases – typically customers or subscribers) are, quite justifiably, often promoted as tools that can provide cost effective and timely research. However, the benefits of an organisation having its own customer panel can go deeper, with the panel itself having the potential to drive a customer centred culture. Sustainable competitive advantage comes from being in tune with customers but many organisations find it difficult to get employees to think and act with customers’ needs at the forefront of their mind.
A custom panel can help bring employees and customers together as a channel where customer opinion can quickly and easily be sought and fed into the decision making process. Surveys of members provide information to address specific needs but panels can also provide another layer of information. By developing the panel into a community, members have their say and initiate their own conversations, both between themselves and with the organisation, through tools like discussion forums. This provides the business with a channel for “open listening” where content is driven not by the organisation’s agenda but by customers. By listening to customers in this way companies can spot trends and address issues before they become major problems.
The success of a panel as a driver for cultural change does depend on its promotion across the organisation. It can’t be the sole property of the market research team but must be accessible to all with market research specialists either within the organisation or the panel provider acting as advisors and quality controllers.
As mentioned earlier the promotion of a customer centred culture provides businesses with a competitive advantage. It should also be a platform for market researchers to raise their profile and act as facilitators for businesses and customers to connect rather than as gatekeepers of customer opinion. Custom panels are one of the most effective tools we can use to do this.