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Current impact of Covid-19 on survey response rates and anticipating the future

Here’s my take on things that impact the research industry now and what you might need to consider when planning an opinion survey.

As a novel start-up in a poorly-researched space, we needed to validate the problems Whirli is solving. Sapio Research were fantastic partners from start to finish – creative in brainstorming angles, careful in designing the questions, and rigorous in analysing the results. The research brought a wealth of insights, backed by hard figures, for our business decision making and for us to talk about publicly in the press.

Nigel Phan

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I’ve been asked regularly about how our business is being impacted by the current Corona virus situation.  Many of our clients have been through the fear stage and like us are keen to repair our wounds and look to the future.  So here’s my take on things that impact the research industry now and what you might need to consider when planning an opinion survey.

Scenario planning

McKinsey’s scenario planning, assuming the virus can be contained, says that the time it will take the world to return to its pre-crisis GDP state is Q1 2021, with Eurozone actually being Q2 2021. – If the virus isn’t contained globally it’s more likely to be Q4 2022, with the Eurozone not emerging until Q4 2024. As the US currently proceeds into free fall its probably not a surprise. 

Some industries will come out of it better than others.

Much of our work is B2B survey work, and as noted earlier we’ve had to put a number of European telephone programmes on hold. So, we’re monitoring the fieldwork situation carefully (and business sentiment), as many clients are itching to develop content relevant to informing the situation now, just like The Boston Consulting Group has done.

BCG itself has forecast that the earliest likely UK lockdown end date will be 3rd week in June, but potentially 4th week July, with the situation similar around much of the world. Other than China which is, fortunately, coming out of the other side, as is one of the first European countries that was first to shutter its economy, Denmark.

Online survey response rates are up

Although the requirements for social distancing have pretty much brought traditional qualitative research practices to a halt, online forums and surveys are booming. APAC, in particular, is seeing a resurgence of activity over recent weeks

The increase in survey responses year-on-year is also a positive and it’s a great way to stay connected with opinions in a safe way.

What you need to consider – consumer interviews: now is a good time for online consumer fieldwork.  

What you need to consider – business interviews: Be mindful of potential extension of online fieldwork days as the impact of furloughing and job loses changes firmographics.  

Telephone surveys will be tentative for a few more months 

It ready does depend on your target audiences, as telephone interviews among Small Office Home Office workers are as possible now as they were before. However, many projects are being put on hold and will be fighting for resources when the markets recover.   

One of our partners will shortly be piloting a multi-country survey (9 markets) with opticians – but the fieldwork allocated to it is 8+ weeks. 

What you need to consider: prepare the research tools and questionnaire relevant to telephone interviews now, but anticipate a much longer fieldwork period. – Start slowly but don’t expect international work to run at scale until early June. 

Interpretation in context 

When events are fast-moving people aren’t always conscious of the impact on them and it can be difficult to reflect objectively on past behaviours when stressed. So now more than usual it’s important to give them a frame of reference for questions. We can offer advice on this if needed. 

Even after things have settled down it will be important to be mindful of the pandemic start date.  This is particularly important when doing international studies. So as morbid as it is to watch the daily figures changing, hopefully, the Worldometer will say around for a while so we can pinpoint exactly when things to hold in each geography.   

What you need to consider: the stage of infection rates at the time of fieldwork. 

Anticipating the new normal

Time will tell how best we need to adapt to the new environment, but its likely to be consumers behaviours and confidence that is likely to lead the changes. Here are a few things from McKinsey to consider when putting plans in place.

What you need to consider: looking at the bigger picture, not just reviewing the changes happening within your own industry. 

Helping you keep your finger on the pulse we’ve launched a business opinion barometer, and the first summary now ready to download for free.

Every cloud has a silver lining 

McKinsey’s final point above regarding sustainability is an unexpected benefit that Greta Thunburg couldn’t have dreamt of. The reduction in pollution over China due to the lock-down is surely going to have longer-term environmental and health benefits as well as currently saving lives. Not all changes are bad. 

Things are changing constantly, so we welcome your questions and thoughts. We will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on telephone and qualitative research for as long as this situation lasts and I’m happy to chat about how the great and good see things impacting your business, so please feel free to reach out. 

What you need to consider: staying at home and listening to government advice.

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