Reporting the Friendly Skies
The task of marketing research is to assess information needs, to provide this information, and to help the decision make!”in making the right decision. That is what United Airlines, tbe Chicago-based airline company, has understood with its ongoing in-flight customer satisfaction tracking program. Each month, 192,000 passengers among 900 flights are selected and surveyed, using a four-page scannable form. The survey covers the satisfaction of passengers on both “on-the-ground services” (flight reservation, airport service) and “in-the-air services” (flight attendants, meal, aircraft). The attendants distribute the forms early in the flight, so that passengers can take time to fill in the questionnaire.
Each month the internal department of marketing research at United issues a report summarizing customer satisfaction. The report is also posted on the Internet and available online to United managers all over the world. Because of the large size of the sample, the data are very reliable (representative) and all departments of the company use the report
• The marketing department to make strategic planning, product positioning,and target marketing decisions;
• The finance department to measure the success of its product investments;
• The airport department to evaluate ground service, including speed and efficiency of check-in (service representatives, waiting lines);
• The executive management to evaluate the performance of United, both internally in achieving its goals. and externally compared to the competition
The result of this high-powered customer satisfaction report is that all departments at United Airlines are customer oriented.This helps the company to differentiate itself in an environment where all companies have the same schedules, the same service, and the same fares. In winter 2009, United Airlines reduced the prices of many of its routes when its surveys showed that many passengers were looking for low fares in an uncertain economy}
Importance of the Report and Presentation
A report is a written and/or oral presentation of the research process, results, recommendations, and/or conclusions to a specific audience. For the following reasons, the report and its presentation
are important parts of the marketing research project:
1. They are the tangible products of the research effort. After the project is complete and management has made its decision, there is little documentary evidence of the project other than the written report. The report serves as a historical record of the project.
2. Management decisions are guided by the report and the presentation. If the first five steps in the project are carefully conducted but inadequate attention is paid to the sixth step, the value of the project to management will be greatly diminished. .
3. The involvement of many marketing managers in the project is limited to the written report and the oral presentation. These managers evaluate the quality of the entire project based on the quality of the report and presentation.
4. Management’s decision to undertake marketing research in the future or to use the particular research supplier again will be influenced by the perceived usefulness of the report and the presentation.
Focus Group Moderators’ Ghostwriters Can Shortchange Clients
Thomas Greenbaum, president of a market research company focusing on qualitative research. notes a disturbing trend in recent years in the focus group service sector. Greenbaum, of Groups Plus, Inc., of Wilton, Connecticut . asserts that some moderators of focus groups misrepresent their worle to clients because their reports are actually wrinen by ghostwriters who did not participate in the focus group sessions.
According to Greenbaum, perhaps more than half of moderators use ghostwriters to develop their reports for clients. Often, junior researchers learning the business or part-time employees write these ghostwritten reports. Greenbaum criticizes such ghostwriting because the nonverbal reactions of focus group participants, or group synergy, cannot always be accurately reported by those who merely listen to audiotapes or view videotapes of focus group sessions. Greenbaum calls upon moderators to be forthright with clients about the authorship of focus group reports, and calls upon clients to be more demanding of their contracted research teams. “Although some people in the industry defend ghostwriting by saying they always review the reports before they are sent to the client, or perhaps even write certain key sections,this practice must be looked at carefully by clients who use focus group research,” Greenbaum said. “If the clients know in advance that their reports will be written by someone else, it is clearly less of a problem, but they still do not get the best effort from their research consultants.”
Researchers differ in the way they prepare a research report. The personality, background, expertise, and responsibility of the researcher, along with the decision maker (OM) to whom the report is addressed, interact to give each report a unique character. In short or repetitive projects, an extensive formal written report of the type we describe here may not be prepared. Nonetheless, there are guidelines for fonnatting and writing reports and designing tables and graphs that should be generally followed.!
The title page should include the title of the report, information (name, address, email, and telephone) about the researcher or organization conducting the research, the name of the client for whom the report was prepared, and the date of release. The title should indicate the nature of the project, as illustrated in the following example.
Global Guidelines on the Title Page
Use client language in title-avoid “research eze”:
• “Practices Followed in Selecting Long-Distance Carriers” is better than “Long-Distance Service Study”
• “Customers’ Reactions to an Expanded Financial insurance Relationship” is better than “Relationship Study”
Letter of Transmittal
A formal report generally contains a letter of transmittal that delivers the report to the client and summarizes the researcher’s overall experience with the project, without mentioning the findings. The letter should also identify the need for further action on the part of the client, such as implementation of the findings or further research that should be undertaken.
Table of Contents
The table of contents should list the topics covered and the appropriate page numbers. In most reports, only the major beadings and subheadings are included. The table of contents is followed by a list of tables,list of graphs, list of appendices, and list of exhibits.
Approach to the Problem
This section should discuss the broad approach that was adopted in addressing the problem. This section should also contain a description of the theoretical foundations that guided the research, any analytical models formulated, research questions, hypotheses, and the factors that influenced the research design.
This section is normally the longest part of the report and may comprise several chapters. Often, the results are presented not only at the aggregate level but also at the subgroup-(market segment, geographical area, etc.) level. The results should be organized in a coherent and logical way. For example, in a health care marketing survey of hospitals, the results were presented in four chapters. One chapter presented the overall results, another examined the differences between geographical regions, a third presented the differences between for-profit and nonprofit hospitals,
and a fourth presented the differences according to bed capacity. The presentation of the results should be geared directly to the components of the marketing research problem and the information needs that were identified. The details should be presented in tables and graphs, with the main findings discussed in the text.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Presenting a mere summary of the statistical results is not enough. The researcher should interpret the results in light of the problem being addressed to arrive at major conclusions. Based on the results and conclusions, the researcher may make recommendations to the decision makers. Sometimes marketing researchers are not asked to make recommendations because they
research only one area but do not understand the bigger picture at the client firm. If recommendations are made, they should be feasible, practical, actionable, and directly usable as inputs into managerial decision making. The following example contains guidelines on conclusions and recommendations