Episode 16: Market Research & COVID-19

Stories of Market Research: The Insightrix Podcast
Episode 16: Market Research & COVID-19
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This episode of Stories of Market Research is different than the episodes we’ve produced in the past.

Usually, The Insightrix Podcast looks to speak with business leaders and research professionals from all over the globe to discuss different aspects of the market research industry. Episode 16 – Market Research & COVID-19 focuses more on our company, Insightrix Research, to tell our own story of how we’re adapting our business and our operations to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In the episode, we speak with Insightrix Chief Revenue Officer, Shonna Caldwell, to get news on how other organizations in the insights space are adjusting to the circumstances, how Insightrix is adapting and adopting technologies in our research and our operations as well as how participants are responding in terms of engagement and response rates.

Later, we speak with Lang McGilp, Insightrix Research Director, to look into how Insightrix is adapting its research methodologies and technologies to doing research during the pandemic, get some rules of thumb to follow when designing surveys in times such as these and learn how doing some forms of B2B research may be highly beneficial to organizations looking to determine how to respond both during the crisis, and after it.

And both Lang and Shonna share how they’ve been getting along working from home and adjusting their work habits to isolation, and how this may impact work routines moving forward for themselves, as well as the teams they manage.

Finally, we touch base with Chris Twa, our IT Support and Systems Admin, to hear about how Insightrix was able to mobilize its professional staff and entire call centre operations to a remote working arrangement.

If you have ideas for topics that you would like to see discussed on Stories of Market Research: The Insightrix Podcast, or think you know the perfect guest for a future episode, send us an email at podcast@insightrix.com. We’d love to hear from you.

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Episode Transcript

[EPISODE INTRODUCTION]

[DUNCAN] Most of us will agree the past months have been anything but normal. We’ve all had to adapt our behaviour to what have been completely unprecedented events and adjust to new ways of living and doing business.

In fact, over the past few months, we’ve probably all heard the phrase ‘the new normal’ more than a few times.

As the world tries to adapt to the COVID – 19 virus, many organizations have had to change their ways of doing business, either physically distancing themselves from their clients or closing their doors entirely or perhaps a combination of both and the business of market research is no different.

Hello, my name is Duncan McGregor, the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for Insightrix Research in Saskatoon, Canada, and your podcast host.

Just like the world may be some degree different than it was in February, this episode of Stories in Market Research will also be a bit different than those we’ve done in the past.

While usually, we’ve spoken to business leaders and research professionals from all over the world to discuss different aspects of the market research industry, this episode will focus more on our company, Insightrix, to tell our own story of how we’re adapting to this new normal we’re all looking to acclimate to.

In the episode, we’ll speak with Insightrix Chief Revenue Officer, Shonna Caldwell, to hear about how Insightrix and others in the industry have reacted to the crisis, how we’ve adapted our business and the technology we employ, effects of the current climate on participants and on Insightrix business operations and more.

We also checked in with Insightrix Research Director, Lang McGilp, to hear how Insightrix is adapting it’s research methodologies and technologies to doing research during the pandemic, rules of thumb to follow when doing research like surveys and focus groups and how doing some kinds of B2B research may be more important now during the crisis than they’ve ever been.

Both Lang and Shonna share how they’ve been adapting to a remote work arrangement and discuss how the arrangement may impact their work habits for themselves and the teams they manage moving forward.

Later in the episode, we touch base with our resident expert in IT Support and Systems Administration, Chris Twa, about how Insightrix was able to mobilize its professional staff and entire call centre operations to a remote work arrangement.

Should we be doing research at all right now, or do we just hit pause and come back when this is all over? What about data quality and response rates? And topics – are there any that are off limits right now? Will market research be able to adapt and thrive in this, the new normal?

All that and more in this episode of Stories in Market Research: The Insightrix Podcast.

[OPENING THEME MUSIC]

[INTERVIEW SEGMENT 1]

First, I spoke with Shonna Caldwell, Chief Revenue Officer at Insightrix, about how ways of doing business have been changing, as well as how the market research industry itself is reacting to the events of the past weeks.

[DUNCAN] Hi Shonna, thanks for coming on the podcast.

[SHONNA] Thanks for having me.

[DUNCAN] No, it’s great to have you on. You know, you meet regularly with our clients and you’re pretty plugged in with what’s happening in the industry, so speaking with you is going to be really great.

[SHONNA] Yeah, it’s good to be here.

[DUNCAN] Well, speaking of the industry, what has the COVID – 19 crisis meant to the MR industry as a whole, like what have we been hearing from others in the industry?

[SHONNA] That’s a good question, I mean, it has meant like I guess any other industry, that things have obviously become uncertain, companies are treading lightly into the future because things have changed and are changing rapidly, I mean in some cases they’re even changing hourly. For example, at Insightrix, we look to drive innovation and technology and the impact that that can have on market research, and I mean, well until a month ago, we like everyone else were considering these things as new or maybe add-ons traditional to methods, whereas now, innovation and technology has quickly become kind of the face of how we need to do business, not only during these uncertain times, but most likely it will be the way forward once we kind of emerge from this period of  isolation, so in the  case for many businesses, and not just Insightrix, but also for our clients. So, when we think of like, the impact of COVID on market research, data has become more important than ever, I would say. Although there are questions out there about whether research should continue or the impacts of COVID – 19, has it had any impact on response rates, what type of research should be done. All of these things are very valid, and I think you’ll notice from the sector for most research inquires as well,  and they would all agree that during the crisis, it’s just as important as ever to do research. So, typically collecting data on public opinion, tracking changes in behavior because I mean all of our behavior has kind of been forced to change in how we even operate our daily routines has changed, so even things like checking in on employees, engagement techniques, measuring the impacts of COVID on mental health. Like, all of these things are now kind of forefront for us, and we need to be thinking about them and the impacts that they’re having on our brand and our brands reputation, especially during this global crisis.

[DUNCAN] Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. You’d think at a time like this, you’re going to want more information and not less, right? Now participants are a huge part of the research project. How have they been reacting to the crisis? Have there been any changes in our response rates or engagement.

[SHONNA] Yeah, so for sure participants are crucial to market research, and to be honest, I think at the beginning we all might have thought response rates would go down or that it could be harder to reach people, and I strongly believe like this sense of caution was driven by our automatic current state of unknown so this was new territory for our clients and for ourselves and for the industry. Obviously, we haven’t dealt with a global pandemic before so for example, when we were seeing offices shutting down, people were in the midst of setting up their home offices, people were being laid off, things like that. So, when it first kind of came into effect and we were forced to change, I think it was just automatic that we went into this so no one knew if this was going to have an impact on our research, but however looking at current studies that have been in the field, and some of the research, qualitative and quantitative that we had going on, this wasn’t really the case. Maybe for a few days we saw a little glimpse while people were setting up getting used to their new normal, but we started monitoring response rates in all of our studies and those which targeted the general public, especially using our SaskWatch panel were found to be running as usual so that could be a change that people are now at home with a little bit more time on their hands, were doing research, were looking for an opportunity to kind of express their opinions a bit more so I think in one aspect though where we did see a bit of a disruption, but it wasn’t for long, was when we were looking to continue some of our studies where we had qualitative research going on and that was to book kind of those in depth interviews with business professionals, so now more than ever we’re kind of forced to be a little bit more flexible, work around schedules, be accommodating, you know, if someone needs to cancel an appointment and maybe switch that around because as you know, things change.

[DUNCAN] Yeah.

[SHONNA] Daily, so I think that was the biggest change, but it wasn’t any impact on response rates. It was just you know, as market researchers, in general we needed to be more flexible and accommodating, and a bit sensitive to the situation going on.

[DUNCAN] Now you talk about how it’s important to keep doing research right now. I’ve heard some agencies that are just shutting down during the crisis. They can go just resume operations when it all blows over. What are your thoughts on a tactic like that?

[SHONNA] Yeah, this is a tough one. Because I think every company has been forced to make some difficult decisions in the last few months, and it’s obviously not an ideal situation, and when it comes down to it, I think all companies are trying to do the best they can, and what is best for their operations. So, I’m hopeful that businesses will resume, and that companies who have shut down will come out of this ahead, but it’s hard to say. I think all of us can say that we hope businesses and companies, individuals likewise will be able to do the same, but these are uncertain times and things are changing quickly so I think it’s just important to know that we’re making valuable decisions that will maybe have an impact on how we’re currently doing business, and could have an impact on how we come out of this later so to make sure that those decisions are informed.

[DUNCAN] That makes sense. Now, how have we been adapting our business to continue to serve our clients right now? Like what are some of the options that we’ve explored?

[SHONNA] I think because it’s important to know a bit about kind of where we stand as a company, so to understand the perceptions of our brand, companies understand that collecting feedback on opinions of the public on their businesses and their response, especially right now to the COVID – 19 situation could have an impact on how customers continue to use their brand in the future. How maybe they marketed their products or their services and how they communicate with customers. So, this goes back to a bit of my previous point about collecting data and the importance of collecting data, and the importance of making those informed decisions. So, using market research to collect kind of those important nuggets of information to help provide evidence to some of the decisions, so it helps you to have something to kind of fall back on. Once ahead, we’re looking back on decisions that we’ve made, and at least if we have some of those statistics that helped us make those decisions, then it’s a little bit easier to know why we did that.

[DUNCAN] Gotcha. Now, you talked earlier about adding new technologies and adapting old ones to help us do research. What are some of the ways that we’re doing that right now?

[SHONNA] Well, a major achievement I think we’ve done, especially at Insightrix, is we’ve managed to move our entire on-site call centre off-site. So with all of our callers now working from home, we were able to get them set up with the appropriate technology to ensure that all of our telephone interviewing and studies that involve telephone interviewing can remain the same and our studies can operate as normally as they would have. So, that was a really big achievement and I think we did that all in a matter of a week so that was moving let’s say 25-40 staff off-site to working from home and being able to continue with operations.

[DUNCAN] Yeah totally. And I imagine that not being able to do a lot of research face to face has been a bit of a hindrance. Have we been adapting any of our technologies to do that?

[SHONNA] For sure. So, we’ve been using things like video conferencing, and Zoom which a lot of companies are using now to talk to clients, hold conference calls, as well as even internal meetings. The one area in which we’ve now used this now to enhance one of our traditional research is within in-depth interviews and focus groups. So, we’ve also incorporated kind of a video testimonial question into some of our surveys, and that’s giving respondents the opportunity to either upload a video or a photo about a specific topic that we had been talking to them about and it just adds a little more personalization to the research using online communities and portals, so for instance, we have a young persons panel now which we’re actively engaging with them on a weekly basis, in some cases a daily basis about kind of their opinions of COVID – 19, and certain situations that are happening. And then most recently, we’re exploring at Insightrix the opportunity to do an ethnography study and so that will be looking at targeting about 20-25 Saskatchewan residents, and using a diary mode where they would upload kind of experiences, pictures of maybe their home offices that they’ve had to set up, daily routines or activities that families have been doing to help keep them busy, and how they’re coping with the current situation.

[DUNCAN] Now, are there any benefits to doing online research rather than doing stuff face to face?

[SHONNA] Well, I think collecting research with an online sample is just as relevant as ever, and it obviously serves a purpose, especially when you’re looking to target the general population or to target a large sample size. Another benefit of online research, something that we’ve been helping clients with for years, but is member or employee engagement type research so if you have a list within your organization and you wanted to illicit feedback from say that internal list of members or of those that have actually subscribed to your association, it’s really easy to put that through online research by through like an email template or something like that. Another benefit, and especially during the situation and COVID that we’re going through right now, is using online methodologies to help companies continuing to collect feedback so, especially when it comes to qualitative research. So, moving traditional focus groups online where you can have your moderator have like a Zoom conference call, but you could run it based like a simulation of a focus group room, but it would all be done online. So, that’s something that we’re also looking to explore.

[DUNCAN] That’s really cool. How has the current situation affected business operations for Insightrix itself?

[SHONNA] Well, to be honest, I guess other than working from home, spending more time on video calls, and maybe using the phone a bit more to talk internally, rather, whereas before we could just swivel our chair around and maybe talk to each other in the office, I think business has continued at Insightrix. I think we have seen the biggest adjustment in our team meetings, and ensuring that we all still connect with each other, but everything you know other than maybe those first few days like you said where most companies probably went through the same thing that our staff was trying to set up at home, get used to the new normal, and I think we were even just having this conversation prior to this podcast, but using Slack and using other technologies and the availability of staff, I think we’ve been managing it really well, and I can say from my personal experience with managing a team and working with other employees in the office, and I think we’ve done a really good job. Business seems to be operating as per usual.

[DUNCAN] That’s really cool. Now, working from home, it’s been a bit of a challenge, but like you’re saying, it’s kind of something that we’ve all been getting into too. What’s been the best part for you?

[SHONNA] Honestly, I think I can say that I’ve actually really enjoyed working from home. As I mentioned, I don’t think I’ve spent this much time on the phone before.

[DUNCAN] Yeah.

[SHONNA] So, of course at first that was a bit of an adjustment whereas before like I said you could go and just talk to someone in the office. Now you’re actually calling them, and I have found that, you know, meetings are maybe going a little bit quicker and more efficiently because we are on the phone so that could be a positive thing. But I think the best part about it is that I’ve noticed that its really softened our interactions with each other. I think as a company, as a whole, when dealing with different employees and a team that you’re managing, there’s an understanding that we’re all kind of going through this together, and can check in on each other, and to just you know, I think it’s, there’s less unnecessary stress of the business and that kind of thing happening. I think we’re all trying to push forward and make sure we come out of this ahead, just like anybody else.

[DUNCAN] Has there been any part you wish you could change?

[SHONNA] In terms of something I would change, I mean other than the typical Saskatchewan weather. Although today is actually a really nice day, but for the last month it just felt like January, so it’s kind of dreary being stuck inside and it’s grey, but I think it would just be, you know, I miss seeing everyone in the office, so if we could change, and we could you know. I mean connecting over Zoom and video conference is great, but it doesn’t replace that kind of that personal connection that you kind of build being in an office setting as well.

[DUNCAN] Yeah, totally. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a lot of folks, so it’s speaking of which, it’s nice to catch up.

[SHONNA] Yes, for sure it is – very much.

[DUNCAN] How do you think that this crisis might affect your work habits moving forward?

[SHONNA] Interesting – I’m not sure how much it’s going to impact because it’s hard to know exactly what working conditions are going to look like.

[DUNCAN] Fair enough. Fair enough.

[SHONNA] But I do think that every single one of us is probably at some point had to re-evaluate how we do work, now that we’ve, are being forced to into kind of a new working kind of environment. One thing that I know that it has helped me is definitely prioritizing things and so I think that will be something that I can at least take with me is kind of knowing how I dealt with that a little bit on this, and making sure that those most important priorities are the same get your attention first when we come out of this.

[DUNCAN] Well, that’s awesome. It’s been really good having a chance to catch up with you.

[SHONNA] Yeah, it’s been really fun. Thanks.

[INTERSTITIAL MUSIC]

[DUNCAN] In our next segment, I’ll be talking to our Research Director, Lang McGilp, about some of the ways that the unprecedented events of the last month have affected our practice of doing research and more.

[INTERVIEW SEGMENT 2]

[DUNCAN] Hi Lang. welcome back to the podcast.

[LANG] Well, thanks for having me back.

[DUNCAN] Oh, it’s great to have you back on. Especially with the current goings on. I imagine our clients have had a lot of questions over the last month or so. What are some of the more common questions you’re hearing from our clients?

[LANG] Yup, for sure. You know, it’s been a bit of an evolution that I’ve noticed. You know, when things really started to unfold in mid to late March, you know the first question was, “Hi, Are you still there?”, and we’re like, “Yup, We’re still here. we’re still doing stuff. Research still continues.” Second is, “OK, I’ve got some projects in the field. What do we do? What should we do about them?”, and so we kind of answered those questions in saying “let’s carry things through and not to worry, we can take a look at the results afterwards.” The third sort of level, we heard was business to business research so what because businesses are particularly small and medium businesses are being hit quite hard, and unfortunately having to temporarily shut down. Is it even appropriate to be contacting them right now, so we’ve had to work through that quite a bit. And then after that it sort of , the next layer of things was, OK, we’ve got ongoing tracking studies, we’ve got metrics and targets that are being set, what do we do about those, you know, is there going to be a blip or is there going to be strange feedback that we’re going to get. Is that going to impact things, and so the next sort of hurdle that we’re, is sort of where we’re at right now, is when is it appropriate for me to start a new study, and is this the right topic to be discussing with people right now. So it’s been sort of a staged, kind of layered, I’m almost calling it like a, like a, a, like a video game where you go through one layer and then you go through the next and the next, so we’re kind of on level 5 right now.

[DUNCAN] Hey awesome! How close is that to the boss? So, we’re doing a lot to adapt our research right now to the current crisis. Can you speak to me for a second about how we’re doing that? Because usually we do a lot of research face-to-face, like focus groups or interviews – how are we adapting that to an online space?  

[LANG] Well, so in that case, you know obviously anything that had been scheduled or planned to be in person just simply needed to stop. And so in some cases, there was a pause or a delay if it was a kind of a sector or industry where you know, there was such a disruption that it’s not really appropriate to talk to them such as, you know, travel related information or something like that. But in other cases, we were able to navigate and shift to more of an online environment. We’ve got a couple of different techniques that we’re pursuing with that. We’ve been doing chat-based focus groups for quite some time now, over ten years in fact, but it’s been more sporadic. I think Now, it’s really coming through as a strong thing. We even saw, before all of this crisis unfolded that there was a greater interest in moving towards chat-based groups. So basically, you bring a group of people together and recruit them. They’re all online at one moment in time. As a moderator, we have all our questions pre-planned, pre-organized. We post them to people, and then they, almost like instant messaging, in a large group. They all just provide their responses, and go through that way, so that’s proving as a really smooth transition method to get going. We also have been doing more video-based focus groups as well, and it’s similar to a Zoom or you know a Webex or a Skype meeting that people have probably done with co-workers or loved ones or friends and that kind of thing. It’s the same, generally the same kind of environment where we get people to come in, and you know we’re kind of seeing each other through our webcams and asking questions and go along through that.

[DUNCAN] What’s working the best out of it?

[LANG] I think it really depends on the methodology and what the specific research objectives are.

[DUNCAN] OK.

[LANG] In some cases, a chat-based group is actually more helpful because the dynamics of the group are diminished you know, in an in-person group, and even in a video based online one. You know, there’s certain personalities that perhaps are a little more vocal, extrovert’s kind of ring out, that kind of thing, so some mitigation efforts that need to happen on there. In a chat-based group, it’s all about people’s names are tied to their posts. You don’t really build that same connection of who said what, so you don’t have the same kind of group dynamics. Introverts feel far more comfortable you know, just you know, contributing in a chat based environment so if it’s a sensitive topic, or something of that nature, the online chat based works well, or if you’ve got you know people from around the world, you’d be a little concerned about latency and things like that, it works well.  A video based group works better when you’ve got a really complex topic that you’re going through and there’s need for the moderator to break things down and explain things in greater detail, which can be sometimes a little tedious to do because you’re dependent on how you phrase things when you send a post. In terms of you know, circling back to that, I mentioned the two focus groups always is an option. There’s a couple others that I was thinking of, and one is you know,  online communities, so that’s bringing people into an environment where they can have an asynchronous discussion where basically not everyone’s online at the same time, but you recruited them to participate in a specific activity. That gives you the benefit of doing it over the course of a few days where day one you introduce the topic, day two, you get into the beat of it, day three, you do the wrap up, and you know it doesn’t have to be just three days. There’s all variations and combinations, but that’s a very handy approach as well to gain feedback from people from all over the place and the other thing that we’re seeing more is like ethnography based kinds of things, so rather than go and observe people or ask them things, you can harness the benefits of technology where they can document such information through a mobile browser. Or sorry, a mobile app, and that way then they can document where they’re doing this or where they’re doing that or take pictures to illustrate usage of things within their homes so, those kinds of things are definitely you know emerging more so as well.

[DUNCAN] I can see that being really, really useful. OK, so the surveys we’re running. We’ve always done a lot of surveys online, but I imagine we’re adapting them to the current climate. What are, what kind of surveys do you see that may require a little bit of tweaking?

[LANG] Well, that’s a good point. We’ve got surveys that are related to say a customer experience that’s just taken place. It’s important to remain sensitive to the respondent, who might be going through some hardship you know, whether it’s employment or income loss within the household or even perhaps if it’s a business person, feedback on you know things when they’re not able to operate, so we’ve definitely layered in some information in the beginning of our surveys in those cases, to really say, Hey you know. We know these are unusual times right now. It might feel odd to be getting a survey from us, but it’s in times like these that it’s even, it’s really important for us to be able to get your feedback to make sure that the service level is meeting your needs. So, you know, definitely in those post-contact surveys, that’s where there’s value in having that kind of thing. You know, if there’s surveys that are more general in nature, and then there’s really not that much connection with what’s going on with the crisis, I don’t see a great need to bring that topic up. So, it really, it does vary and depend on things.

[DUNCAN] OK, any rules of thumb to keep in mind when you’re designing a survey right now?

[LANG] I think the key thing is to make sure that what we’re doing with people, to make sure it’s relevant in their daily life. And we can say that it’s always important but there’s sometimes when we want to learn information from people, and there’s greater benefit for us than there might be for them as a consumer or as a customer, but in this time right now, it’s probably really important to make sure that we can convey to people, “I need your input right now because it will help this or that down the road,” so that they can say, “OK, now I know why they’re taking the time.” We actually see that in the open ended comments we get from respondents where they’re completing their surveys, and say do you have any final comments, and they’re saying we really appreciate company XYZ taking time out of their day to ask me for my input, asking how my experience went.

[DUNCAN] Now, participants are a really big part of the research projects. Their emotional state might have something to do with the reliability of the data that you’re getting. Does the emotion actually, and their stress level impact the data you’re gathering right now?

[LANG] You know, that’s a question that we’ve sort of  heard a few times, and so far, I haven’t really seen any great deal of evidence to suggest that people are in a difficult  mind frame which would impact how they would contribute to a study. In fact, I was just on the phone with a client earlier today, and they had gone through the results within they even found quite deep. They even commented that, “it looks like people stay quite on task throughout the survey, and made an honest effort, gave quite a bit of detail in their answer options,” and I would also support kind of what we’re doing just in general, both participation rates and engagement within both qualitative and quantitative research is increasing. I think it’s probably because you know, a lot of us have extra time on our hands being at home and  not taking kids to activities or you know, having to travel for work or whatever it is so there’s, there’s ability for a little bit more of that kind of interaction.

[DUNCAN] Do you see data changing day to day with the situation changing every day?

[LANG] It depends on the kind of questions you’re asking. So, in terms of say an  experience post-contact or something like that, no, if it’s you know,  I’m not seeing a change occurring there or even just general opinions on things perhaps such as food or brand impressions of an organization unless an organization is really actively involved in or impacted by the COVID crisis. Where we are seeing some pretty big shifts is at Insightrix we’re doing a weekly what we call a barometer of Saskatchewan residents and how they’re feeling and it’s quite stark, the opinions and changes, both in the level of stress of people are reporting that self-declared stress on a week by week basis. We’re seeing that number go down at a high rate, and even the outlook for the coming weeks ahead. You know, two weeks ago, we had 60% of people feeling that the weeks ahead were going to be worse than better, and now just two weeks later, fast forwarding I just pulled numbers this morning and that number was from 62% down to about 25 so a really sharp change, just something that I haven’t seen you know, throughout my years working in research. I haven’t had them go that dramatically different.

[DUNCAN] That’s cool. That shows value trending in the data right especially at this time when you’re dealing with the situation changing so often.

[LANG] Exactly, and that’s probably why we’re doing this to just see is there a shift in people’s mind sets and that kind of thing. Even within that barometer survey, we do have one question asking about people’s self-reported state of mental health, and we were kind of thinking that there might be a little bit of stress on that, and maybe if things start to improve or if that might change. It’s the one question that doesn’t have any shifts to date over the weeks of tracking so even though the stress levels are going down, outlook for the weeks ahead are improving, self-reported mental health has remained constant and actually fairly positive so I think it just shows the resilience or resiliency of people to deal through the various adversities that happen and try to remain positive. I think that does help support the idea that you know, customer satisfaction tracking studies and things like that, may seem not too much of a change because of what’s all going on.

[DUNCAN] We deal with a lot of companies that work predominantly in a B2B space as opposed to a B2C space. Should they be doing research right now when a lot of companies have been forced to close up shop?

[LANG] Yeah, that is probably one of the, as I mentioned earlier that’s sort of like level 3 of the questions you’re asking. It’s very, very prominent. Yeah, there’s, again it depends on the situation and the scenario, but I think it’s important for organizations to pause and think about should we be talking to them? Why or why not? What are the benefits of doing so? What are the drawbacks? So, obviously the drawbacks are appearing like you’re insensitive by asking them information when they’re going through some real hardship. But on the flip side, as I sort of mentioned earlier, to collect their input during this time of difficulty can help give immediate feedback to our clients to help adjust and alter their decisions or the way they do business going forward or even just get a sense of are the efforts that they have made, are they resonating with people and I think what we’re seeing is right now, the open ended qualitative on the surveys are becoming almost more important than the tracking metrics with the quantitative, which is typically what people look at since there’s targets associated with those. Those ones are almost taking a less emphasis on, but it’s really those open-ended questions that gather feedback. And the other one is that looking at the data more quickly, like even daily, logging in, checking in. What are we hearing right now. It’s, we’ve seen the desire to have results faster has been a trend for many years, but I think this is just amplifying that, that people want that immediacy.

[DUNCAN] Cool. Now, you mentioned earlier about customer satisfaction research being something that we should be carrying on. Any other kinds of research that you can think of?

[LANG] That should be carried on?

[DUNCAN] Yeah.

[LANG] You know, I think it really comes down to again, the kind. Like, if you’re doing new research on new product development for example, of businesses, it would be, if it’s again, relevant and connected, perhaps it’s, you know, say you’re wanting to talk to businesses about a new fast food or a delivery service of their, of their food to customers. Obviously, there’s many players in that, so it might not be the best example, but something like that is connected and relevant. Something about like, “Hi, I’m a company. I provide services to organizations like yours. What do you think of my brand name? Does this make sense?” That might not be the best thing to ask when people are worried about making sure they can keep all their employees on payroll right now. So, it really does come down to the kind of work that is being asked of them.

[DUNCAN] So, listening to clients and understanding their needs is really important right now. That’s what I’m hearing.

[LANG] Well, you know, that’s interesting cause I think listening to clients and understanding their needs is important all the time.

[DUNCAN] Right, right.

[LANG] I think that’s a hallmark of being a good partner, a research partner, but you know, it certainly is really important as we’re going through unchartered waters to make sure that we’re, we’re validating that we’re going on the right path. But, at the same time it’s, we should always be listening to our clients. 

[DUNCAN] Are there any specific ways we’ve helped our clients lately? Through listening and responding to their needs?

[LANG] Well, you know, in one case we had a weekly tracking program and there was uncertainty…this was about 3 weeks ago, we were uncertain whether we should be talking to businesses, and it was kind of one of our you know, early on examples of that, and we looked ate the results like I said on a daily basis, polled them, gave them to the client, gave some specific examples. It was perfect timing because that client was in a meeting with their superiors, said, “Oh, I got this.” Literally turned the phone around, showed it to them, and I think that really helped say, “Oh yeah, OK. We validated. We are OK to continue and do this kind of thing.” So, you know, that’s another one. We had another case just yesterday where a client was wondering, they’ve got some internal stakeholders feeling they should launch their advertising campaign that they had originally planned, and it’s, it’s on sort of a sensitive or and emotional topic and you know the concern was, is now the right time to kind of bring an ad out that might trigger some, some feelings or emotions among people about more of a sad nature, and so you know through some secondary research and some other nuggets that we’ve gleamed from other studies, we were able to give a little feedback, and say, you know, a lot of advertisers are adapting what their messaging is right now, to put it in context and so if you just run an ad that’s sort of been in the bag and was ready to air anyway, without that it could maybe not necessarily be perfectly received. So, you know, that’s another element where we’re leveraging that relationship and the industry knowledge and our own learning as we’re going through this unchartered territory together.

[DUNCAN] Unchartered territory is right. I know we’ve all gotten – had a few stories that getting used to working from home. Some parts are really good, and other parts are challenging, right?

[LANG] Yeah.

[DUNCAN] For you, what have you noticed has been the best part?

[LANG] Well, you know, obviously the no commute.

[DUNCAN] Right.

[LANG] You know, I’m in a smaller community so I’m only saving 20 minutes on each side, so there’s, I think there’s the benefit that you know, I literally said to my wife this morning, I said, “OK, I’m gone now,” and I just turned and walked down the hall and closed the door. Now I’m at work, and so I think that’s, that’s kind of been a nice bonus. We’ve got great connectivity, strong networks, so that access to information on the drives really isn’t hindering efficiency or anything like that. And I think the other benefit is because we’re all working in a, working with our clients to carry things forward. We’re focusing on the most important stuff, so I’m finding meetings are more focused or, and both with clients and with us internally. You know, there’s that healthy idle chatter, but it doesn’t get excessive or you know even with a meeting we’re all doing a more diligent job staying on task and that kind of thing, so those are definitely some of the key benefits of it.

[DUNCAN] Yeah, totally. Anything you wish you could change?

[LANG] Well, I’ve moved to my third location within the house.

[DUNCAN] Right on.

[LANG] From where I work from, and you know, the spot that I’m in now is great, but it’s also my TV room, so when I go to sit down and relax and watch a show just before bed, I do happen to see my monitor and my laptop over on the side, and I wish I could kind of put a you know, little screen on top of that a little bit, to say oh yeah, I’m not, my brain is off right now.

[DUNCAN] Yeah. I’ve noticed that too. It’s like the weekend will roll up, and it’s having a hard time differentiating between a Friday and a Saturday.

[LANG] You know, I found Good Friday to be one of those interesting days because it’s a stat, but it didn’t really feel like one as much because of that, and of that exact same thing.

[DUNCAN] So, moving ahead, do you think what you’ve been up to right now might affect your current, I mean your work habits moving forward.

[LANG] Yeah, there’s a couple key things. I think the first is certainly work from home more often, when there’s a demand or a need to hunker down and focus in and get something done. You know, I think we’ve, this has proven that people can be highly effective and efficient at home so I can see that being something that perhaps, there’s a little more flexibility. The second is you know, often when you’re in a work environment in an office, and you’ve got a question, you might just get up and go over and walk and talk to that person, or you know, shout at them if they’re kind of within ear distance, and you’re interrupting them and you’re interrupting yourself of course, and so there’, like there’s an element that’s good with that, but I think the other thing is, we can’t very easily do that now. Like, we’ll send an instant message or we’ll send an email or, if we really need to, we’ll call or text someone, but I think this has enabled us to say, you know what, I don’t need an instantaneous answer on this from this other person right now. I’ll use another method and then they can manage their communications to get back to me on that, so I think it’ll actually make thing a little more efficient in an office environment going forward.

[DUNCAN] Yeah, I’ve noticed communication has been a lot more, what’s the word I’m looking for, to the point, right?

[LANG] Yup.

[DUNCAN] And you have to consider your communications before you send them so, yeah, there’s that too. How about the team you manage?

[LANG] Yeah, you know, we do daily huddles in the morning. We did them before, but I think the value of them is just that much more amplified right now. We use, you know Zoom is our method of interacting so we all get to see each other and you know, get the energy, the smiles and the laughter off each others faces and those kinds of things, so I think that’s really, really important to keep, touch base on, and lots of instant messaging back and forth. Slack is our tool for that, and there’s a great deal of just pinging back and forth for those kinds of things, stuff that doesn’t have to be in an email in a documented format. You know, hey, I’m out of the file. Can you take a look now, that kind of stuff. So, I can see that being really helpful for our productivity.

[DUNCAN] You know, It’s been really great hearing your perspective on all this stuff. I really want to thank you for coming back on the podcast

[LANG] Oh, my pleasure for sure.

[DUNCAN] Awesome.

[INTERSTITIAL MUSIC]

[DUNCAN] Our final guest is Chris Twa, our local IT Support and Systems Admin, and We’ll be talking about some of the challenges and opportunities he faced, moving the entire Insightrix professional staff and call center to a remote work arrangement.

[INTERVIEW SEGMENT 3]

[DUNCAN] Hi Chris, thanks for coming on the podcast.

[CHRIS] Yeah thanks. Thanks for having me.

[DUNCAN] It’s really great to have you on. As a response to the current COVID – 19, we recently moved many of our staff off-site so they could continue working remotely. What did we do to help our professional staff move to remote.

[CHRIS] Actually, we were pretty lucky. We had, we had a staff that was a lot of staff users have been working remotely in the past, and the main technology that we’re using to go remote was VPN, Virtual Private Networking, and VPN is designed so that a remote computer can connect to another network in the sense, the Insightrix office network. And so we had a number of users that were familiar with the technology. They knew like the limitations, they knew, like they had this experience with it. So, a lot of it was very straightforward, but some parts were a little bit more complicated.  There were some users that didn’t have it. Insightrix was very proactive on this, they wanted to get as many people out of the office as quick as possible, and so that surpassed actually our laptop fleet so we had to you know, make do with switching desktops over to VPN whereas normally we had just done it with laptops.

[DUNCAN] Yeah, for a while there, it was almost impossible can buy or steal a laptop anywhere right so it’s good that we were able to.

[CHRIS] It was interesting, and there we saw that too, like in the distribution channels where, you know, like say lower end laptops that are generally say more used by students and home users and whatnot. Those are still available, but business grade laptops, like they’re gone. Like, you just couldn’t find them.

[DUNCAN] And you’re doing IT support now for our professional staff as well. How’s that going?

[CHRIS] It’s good, actually. I like, I like it. I know it’s, you know, there’s always some difficulties when you’re doing remote support. For example, sometimes it’s hard for, for staff members to gauge how busy you are because you know, they don’t have any, they don’t have any visibility, they don’t know and, but I think all in all, I’ve felt it goes, has gone pretty well. Insightrix has a ticketing system for managing that, so those requests, they were always supposed to come in that way anyways. You know, but now I kind of enforce it and that because there’s no just going into the office to grab that. It’s, it’s been good.

[DUNCAN] You’ve been able to do a lot of your fixes remotely I understand.

[CHRIS] Yes. Yep, so we have ways so that we can access like centralized control, like administrative control for people who need access to systems, and controlling that flow, so we are able to access that remotely ourselves. And then, as far as for things that need to be done on the desktop computers, we have tools that, that we’re able to use. We had kind of a urgent approval was required for use of one of these tools, but you know as I said though, this is tempered by the fact that most of these computers, many of these computers had been successfully used remotely for a while now. So, there wasn’t all of a sudden like boom, we’ve got to set these up all differently. Like they had already been used, it’s been. They’re computers from before so we had a huge uptick in the number of support requests.

[DUNCAN] Now, we don’t just have a professional staff at Insightrix, we actually have a large interviewing staff that work in our call center, and we’ve had to move them to a remote work arrangement as well. How is that going?

[CHRIS] That was definitely the most challenging part. We had to, we have an in house VoIP system and,  which was actually already kind of on the horizon…in the twilight, and so we’d just started the process looking at replacing it. And you know, suddenly, it’s like you’re, you know you’re driving the same car for years or something like that, and you’re thinking about getting a new one, and then at the last year of it’s life all of a sudden it’s like we’re actually need this car to act like a semi-truck or something right. Like, There’s a dramatic change, in requirements that happen very late in life. So we, yeah, we had to adapt and yeah, we had some ideas about how we should do it, and we’re lucky in the sense that we had a bit of flexibility from Insightrix as to what the requirements could be, and we were able to achieve those requirements from moving all the staff home. I think the biggest challenge was the IT part of it was significant, but there’s a huge challenge just from a human resources angle. Like you know, getting, getting all these people, like computers and instructions on how they’re going to do their job in a significantly different manner, making sure, you know those little things like you got six people in your house watching Netflix, you know, then you might not be able to do your work from home. And, we’re paying you to do your work at home, so it’s like how are you gonna, or how is the staff going to manage that, Rather than it being our responsibility for internet, it’s their responsibility. So, there was a lot of challenges in, in that aspect, but I heard actually that things have been going very well.

[DUNCAN] Awesome. Awesome. Stuff like internet and stuff. How did we overcome those problems?

[CHRIS] Yeah, I think we did, we’ve been pretty lucky, I think. A lot of credit has got to go back to our call center staff, in that people have been very honest, with it. People have been able to, I mean you know how it, what it’s like working remotely, right?

[DUNCAN] Yup.

[CHRIS] Like it’s, there’s, there’s tons of challenges, and these call center staff, I mean, they have these challenges. Like they can’t have their kids asking for something while they’re on the phone. You know, it’s just they can’t have that, so the fact that they’ve been able to kind of pull this off, I mean really the, again the credit goes to them. They’ve been, they’ve been, you know forced to, you know supervisors have been very forthcoming with what they’re expectations are, and the call center staff have generally been very good at meeting those expectations.

[DUNCAN] Well, it helps that we have really great people. Moving a, well frankly, moving a company into people’s houses isn’t something people do that often. Is this something you’ve ever done before on this scale?

[CHRIS] Definitely not on this scale. I mean, yeah, this is, it was a, it was kind of organized chaos. Like, it’s weird you know to, I mean you know, you’re a professional as well. You don’t really feel like your job, there should be adrenalin. We’re not professional athletes or anything, but yeah, I mean you like it’s a rush, you have this huge problem and I mean we set up this call center in it’s current implementation is probably around 5 or 6 years in, and really the current one was an outgrowth of a very similar model that existed for at least two or three years prior. You know, we just essentially had to switch nine years of experience in a week, and so it was, it was very dramatic and it was, it was exciting, and best of all, it’s, it worked out.

[DUNCAN] It’s always best when it does, right?

[CHRIS] Yeah, for sure.

[DUNCAN] Right on. Well, thanks for coming on the podcast, and sharing this stuff with us. It’s really informative for me. I never really get to see the nuts and bolts of how it actually happens. Usually, I just you know, make IT requests, so it’s really informative. Thanks for sharing.

[CHRIS] Yeah. Not a problem

[DUNCAN] All right. Have a good one.

[CHRIS] You too.

[INTERSTITIAL MUSIC]

[DUNCAN] And there you have it. I’d like to thank Insightrix’s own Shonna Caldwell, Lang McGilp and Chris Twa for coming onto the podcast to share their own personal remote working experiences and for telling us how Insightrix is adapting its practices and its operations to this new normal.

If you have any questions about how Insightrix is continuing and adapting its operations to doing business through COVID -19, you can send us an email at info@insightrix.com.

And we’d like to thank our loyal fan base. If you have any ideas for topics or guests for our upcoming podcasts, or if you’d like to comment on past episodes, drop us a line at podcast@insightrix.com. We’d love to hear from you.

If you’re a fan, please review and subscribe to our podcast on YouTube, Apple Podcast, Spotify or anywhere else you get your podcast content. We’d appreciate it a lot. It’ll help get the show to more people like yourself, awesome folks with an interest in market research.

Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back in a few weeks with another episode of Stories of Market Research: The Insightrix Podcast.

[END THEME MUSIC]