Phil Hearn: Blogger, Writer & Founder of MRDC Software Ltd.

Top 10 problems with market research software

Most software suppliers don’t like to face the fact that using most survey software for market research has problems. We have compiled the top ten issues that you may have to deal with because making a software purchase decision is not just about the functionality of the software. Software vendors are often prone to sell the power, functionality and ease of use of their products. I would argue that understanding the problems before purchasing a product is more likely to lead to a smoother and more successful implementation.

Before you buy, think beyond features

Software vendors love showing you the features of their products – as a software vendor myself, I’m no different. It’s easy when looking at alternatives that you are dazzled by features and buy the product with the most bright, shiny toys. Looking at what the real cost of using the software and the real benefit may seem more hard-nosed, but makes much more business. Much of this guide looks at things other than features and aims to take a business-like approach. So, here’s the top 10 considerations, in my view.

 Lengthy onboarding time

I’ve worked in the Customer Experience Management sector at times. The worst customer experiences are where expectation exceeds experience. Too many software companies sell on the ‘easy’ or ‘intuitive’ software ticket. The demonstration may make it look easy, but that might be for someone who has several years’ experience carrying out the demo on a simple project. Find out how much learning is needed to carry out your more difficult projects – that’s not to say your most difficult project, but something that has typical hurdles you have to clear. Onboarding costs software users money. If it meets expectations, then fine, but finding out that you need ten staff to take five days’ training to get started comes at a business cost, which may or may not be acceptable to you.

 Expensive uptake of the new product

I’ve already touched on the expense of onboarding, but this, I believe, needs a separate item in the list. Besides the time staff need to become proficient at using a product, you may need to consider the cost of bringing old projects into your new software platform. This process can be a quick export from the old/import to the new – or, several hours or, even, several days’ work for each project, which come with the risk of errors. Find out at an early stage and run a test.

 Productivity is not good

I’ve said this before in previous blogs, but most software buyers give too little consideration to productivity. A test project may not reveal how fast someone can complete a task when staff become proficient with the software. Are there some expert short-cuts? Does the speed moving around the software quickly save a lot of time when thoroughly familiar with it? Are there short-cuts for repetitive requirements? These are all critical questions. For many products, you might reasonably expect staff to complete tasks in, perhaps, half of the time after a few months’ experience. Is that possible? Or, does the software prevent that for some reason? This represents real money draining out of your business if productivity is not good.

 Support is inadequate

However difficult or easy a software product is to use, there will be a day when something is urgent, and your staff cannot solve a problem. You should expect support in several forms. Firstly, there should either be someone you can call or a responsive email/online support service. It would help if you had someone who will take the time to understand your problem and offer the best solution. This does not mean a chatbot that directs you to a misfiring and unhelpful FAQ! Secondly, you need good tutorials, either documented or, preferably, as videos. These should not just be the bare basics; there should be enough material to cover most problems you may hit. Thirdly, the software should have proper documentation so that you can find that elusive feature or syntax you need.

Too many features

I have found some software systems have too many features. What I mean more accurately is that there are too many features in front of you which are distracting. I am not saying you want fewer features; you want the essential features to be easy to select with the more detailed features safely tucked away. Interfaces that allow you to show/hide and adjust the user interface can improve usage significantly. I’m not too fond of cluttered user interfaces where 90% of the options are never or rarely needed.

 Having the right staff

The best-priced software with the most power may not be right for you. Ideally, you want the right staff to use a software product. You want a team who will be able to understand and make use of the features of the software. If they are over-skilled for the product, they will be less productive and probably want a large salary as well. At the other extreme, if they are unable to make the most of a sophisticated, high-end product, they will struggle to produce what you need.

 Handling tracking studies

The principle reason for putting tracking studies into this list is simply because most companies (understandably) do not use a tracking study to evaluate a software product. The software vendor may even claim that it is ideal for tracking studies. The reality is that tracking studies can be problematic when they change. How well can the product that you are considering, deal with practicalities? For example:

  • Questionnaire changes
  • Changes to individual questions, such as adding or removing a response
  • Re-ordering of questions
  • Changes to rating scales

In my experience, some software products handle this well; others struggle badly.

 Ready for the future

Your needs are likely to change over time. Some software vendors will be looking to the future; others live on their past reputation. The move to online data collection meant that there has been a significant shift in the most favoured software vendors in the last ten years. I believe this will continue as online reporting and online dashboarding gathers pace in market research. If you are buying software, you need to consider this shift. It is better to review it now rather than in a year or two.

Data transferability

While end-to-end systems are ideal if they do everything you want, there is an ever-increasing need for data to be easily transferable to other systems. Any software that makes it difficult to output data to other popular formats do not score well, in my view. The need to transfer data to other systems will keep increasing. Ideally, you want products that can make such updates automatic or no more than a button press. However, too often, I see staff struggling to massage data so that it can be imported or exported to other systems.

 Software updates

Finally, we come to software updates. Technology moves faster as time goes on. Therefore, you should expect your software supplier, in most cases, to be making software updates regularly – not once every few years. Looking at the track record of software company’s updates can give you a real insight into the direction the company is going.

So, how does MRDC Software score in all these categories?

I would like to be able to say that we score 10 out of 10 for each of these ten issues, but we don’t. Then, again, no software vendor does. As a company, we have focused on productivity in the last ten years; we feel that we have been successful in that area. Our more current focus is data connectivity. We want to make it as seamless as possible to collect, process and deliver data in any form. This means building automatic links to sophisticated online dashboard systems, automating reporting to PDFs or PowerPoint or, simply, delivering respondent data in a required format.

What scores does MRDC Software attain?

Firstly, we would like to know from anyone willing to score our performance on the above potential problems. We want to get all of our scores nearer to 10 out of 10. To self-assess, I believe that our mix of products means that we score well on productivity. We are currently working on a programme of developments to improve data delivery which will unfold over 2020, 2021 and beyond. We are seeking to improve our product documentation and to release another batch of video tutorials, adding to the vast library of help videos we already have.

Can we help further? Just ask.