In many ways, the rise of mobile as a feedback channel mirrors the introduction of online surveys ten years ago. While the adoption of any new channel will certainly raise a similar set of issues, this is where the similarities end.

When the switch from paper or phone to online surveys happened, customer engagement was not yet recognized as a business imperative. Market researchers were the primary users of surveys, and they could consciously choose to switch or not. The survey designer had control: respondents were either offered online as an option, or they weren’t.

The Choice is in the Audience's Hands

Today, the choice between mobile versus web is not in the hands of the researcher but in the hands of the respondent. Ten years ago, Web meant PC but today for many, Web means mobile, and mobile can mean an app or a browser.

At the end of 2011, there were six billion mobile subscriptions, estimates The International Telecommunication Union. That is equivalent to 87 percent of the world population and is a huge increase from 5.4 billion in 2010 and 4.7 billion mobile subscriptions in 2009. Because of this jump, you simply can’t assume that you know how a survey will be viewed.

A beautifully-designed feedback interface, which has so much impact on a computer screen, may not be what your audience sees. If they’re viewing on a mobile device, they might be subjected to buttons, check boxes and grids so tiny as to be virtually unusable, and certainly not engaging.It’s therefore critical to remember that the new breed of “super consumer” expects to be engaged with in an interactive and dynamic manner. Surveys that were clearly created for another platform, and in effect, another consumer are simply not good enough.

Organizations that want to derive the greatest benefit from the mobile survey channel need to ensure that surveys are automatically rendered into a format that takes advantage of the user-friendly interface provided by the latest mobile devices, whether it’s the iPhone, Blackberry, Android or another device.

Given that we cannot ignore mobile in comprehensive Voice of the Customer programs -- because our customers are already there -- what are the advantages of embracing it as a channel?

New Audiences

The ability to engage via mobile gives companies access to key demographics which previously were difficult or impossible to access, specifically:

  • Young people,
  • Respondents from emerging markets such as India, Latin America and China, and
  • Busy business people.

New Research Options Drive Deeper Insight

In addition to improving respondent experience, mobile opens up a new world of opportunity. For example, mobile gives you the option to request feedback during or directly after an experience to provide “in-the-moment” insight. You can also encourage consumers to provide a much richer response by enabling them to take photos and video clips to show you exactly what their experience was like. Furthermore, geolocation opens up a world of opportunities by enabling you to track exactly where the respondent was at the time of answering.

New Access Opportunities

Our working lives are changing -- we are all “time poor” and multitasking experts. Respondents are less likely to complete surveys sitting at their PC either at home or in the office, preferring to use their commuting time or time that would be otherwise deemed as “unproductive.”

Learning Opportunities

Surveys optimized for mobile devices usually allow users to save answers until later (in case their commute ends before they complete the survey!).This feature appeals to users who will ultimately complete subsequent surveys. In general, user enthusiasm will be higher, since those who feel they’re getting more done on a device won’t see the survey as overly interruptive to their days.

Alongside the opportunities there are of course risks; we need to be wary of sample bias and understand the implications of differences in response due to channel. But overall the biggest risk surely is that completion rates nose dive because we have not created a rich user experience that consumers have come to expect from the mobile environment, dramatically reducing survey reach and missing out on the valuable insight mobile surveys provide to drive customer engagement and loyalty.

Title image courtesy of Brian A Jackson (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more about using mobile tactics to reach your audience:

-- Mobile Content Strategy: 5 Pitfalls to Avoid by @ahaval