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DIY Customer Research: How to make it work and knowing when to outsource

October 15th 2018

We explain how to make DIY mobile and online surveys work for you, and when to recognise that you may need to draft in a professional market research agency.

In today’s digital world, technology is king, and research is no exception. This has prompted a new wave of affordable DIY research tools – such as Zoho Survey and SurveyMonkey – which allow researchers from large and small companies alike the opportunity to take charge by designing, issuing, and analysing surveys in-house, where before these tasks would have been outsourced to a third party.

It’s easy to see the allure of DIY survey platforms for organisations. The benefits include:

  • Affordability – A huge bonus for small businesses and start-ups, and for when resources are tight.
  • User-Friendly – Easy to implement, with options to select your question set, subject area and target market.
  • ROI – DIY customer surveys are more reliable than attempting to second-guess the opinions of your customers, employees, or stakeholders.

While there is no denying these advantages, it can become apparent early on in the research design process that creating and delivering an effective online survey that generates reliable, robust, and actionable data is harder than it looks. For this reason it is crucial to consider the potential risks before you proceed in order to make an informed choice about whether DIY research is the correct course for your business, or whether it might be better to consult with a research specialist.

7 things to consider before you start

1) The data you desire

The end goal of any market research is actionable, quality intelligence. DIY surveys often promise a stream of live data, but it’s what you do with it that counts. The ability to decode and translate your data into positive change for your business is the key to success here, and this is important throughout the research process, from beginning to end.

This includes:

  • Developing clear research objectives and a deep understanding of exactly what your company is trying to measure.
  • Selection of location and research demographic – e.g. age, gender, income, employment status.
  • Effective, user-friendly survey design
  • Deciding on your distribution method
  • Recognising and choosing the most appropriate analytic processes and techniques to extract the most valuable data and insights.

The level of insight you want and the complexity of your survey questions is a crucial consideration at this point. A DIY customer survey can be highly effective when gathering straightforward feedback – such as general satisfaction levels from customers relating to your brand or services – but when it comes to finding out how your customers really feel about the brand, and measuring their expectations precisely, a specialist agency familiar with effective survey design and execution will be more likely to return the quality insights and actionable results needed to proceed with confidence.

2) Choose your questions wisely

Creating a question set that is balanced and effective in drawing out the intelligence you desire can be challenging. The structure of your questions – i.e. the type of words, tone, and grammar you use – can play a major role in helping your customers understand exactly what information you seek from them. 

When considering your survey questions, consider the answers you might receive and how you will process that information. Will the answers to these questions help you achieve your end research goals?

As a rule, broad, open-ended questions will invite broad, open-ended answers that will take more time and consideration to sift through to extract the information you need. On the opposite side of the coin, closed questions – although easier to quantify – will not always provide the level of detail needed to produce rich, quality insights. The best surveys are those designed to include a mix of both.

Feeling confident about writing a productive survey with a range of questions, or having access to an insights team with experience of survey construction can make or break your research project, and help you get the most from your DIY questionnaire.

3) Eliminating Bias

Leading your respondents with biased questions, causing them to provide more favourable or non-favourable answers, will almost always skew your results. A good way to tackle this is trialling your survey with colleagues beforehand and listening to their responses and opinions.


Who are you surveying? Past customers? Present or prospective customers? Employees? There are new rules in place surrounding data processing and handling, following the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018. If your survey is asking for personal details from respondents – such as name, email, age, address) it is vital to ensure that your survey is GDPR compliant. New conditions under the new regulations, including

  • Asking for consent in clear terms
  • Explaining clearly what the data will be used for

Breaching these new regulations – even unintentionally – can lead to hefty fines. Therefore, is it important to fulfil data protection responsibilities before issuing any kind of DIY survey.

5) Consider your sample

So you’ve decided who you want to send your survey to, now consider your sample size. Bearing in mind that only a fraction of respondents are likely to engage, it’s important to think about whether your sample size is adequate to return enough data to produce the desired result.

When you choose your sample – even when relying on your DIY survey platform to pre-select your respondents for you – bias is an important factor to consider. Ensuring your sample is free from bias and made up of respondents with a genuine interest in your research questions is a vital step for success. Collating your ideal sample can be a complex, and time-consuming process, particularly if you plan to explore new markets. Also, if you’re pouring resources into entering a new sector or industry it is imperitive to be 100% confident that you know who your new target customers and where to find them. This is the starting point for any effective targeting strategy.

If you’re in any way unsure, consulting an MRS-accredited research agency, who can give specialist advice and aid you in selecting a suitable pool of respondents (wherever your target markets are in the world) is a sure-fire way to add value to your research and enable you to benchmark your performance over time.

6) Objectivity

Objectivity (or lack thereof) can make or break any research project, however big or small. Objectivity is more difficult to achieve when using DIY questionnaire platforms. When a survey is issues from a company directly, this may cause customers and/or employees to raise questions of impartiality and confidentiality.

If you’re researching on behalf of a smaller company and sending your survey questionnaire straight to your customers, there is the potential for response bias to creep in, as your respondents are more likely to respond favourably to a company with staff they deal with regularly, or first-hand. Outsourcing enables you to assure participants of privacy and confidentiality, and is more likely to result in honest, balanced feedback about your brand, products and services.

7) One size does not fit all

There is only so much customisation that can be achieved via a DIY research platform. Most research portals only allow a certain degree of personalisation in question sets and overall survey presentation. If you’ve built a brand that is distinctive, and want to ensure consistency in branding and messaging throughout your questionnaire design, it’s best to place your survey in the hands of an external agency who can tailor your research in line with your brand styles and values.

Next steps

If you’re concerned about any of the factors explored above, it could be time to rethink going it alone with a DIY research project. The most insightful, valuable, and actionable data comes from surveys that take each of these points into consideration at every stage of the research process. 

Unsure? It is well worth consulting with a specialist market research agency that can advise you, help you anticipate any issues and, if needed, step in to ensure your customer survey ticks all the boxes.

We’ve been delivering consumer insight for companies across the UK and abroad for over 30 years. If you’d like to know more about how our customer, employee or stakeholder research solutions can take your company to the next level, contact us today to discuss your needs.