Mystery Surrounds Research

Article excerpt

Most businesses, in the current climate, would forfeit their proverbial eye teeth to get to grips with a new area of business. Despite bad publicity over the opinion polls, the market research industry is in this fortunate position. Two-thirds of the UK's bigger companies now run some form of customer satisfaction programme, offering many new research opportunities.

The researchers, however, are wracked with doubts about the ethics of the situation. Without implying criticism, this is typical of the research sector. They guard their code of conduct jealously, on both moral and practical grounds. The fact that research information about individuals is stored anonymously, for instance, exempts the industry from many of the provisions of the Data Protection Act. At the same time, as one professional confided, almost any new activity is alien to the code.

So what is the argument about? There is no problem about using established market research techniques to monitor how customers' perceptions of a company change, through face-to-face interviews or self-completion questionnaires. The awkward area is the measurement of changes, not in perception but in reality, through the burgeoning technique of "mystery shopping". This is where individuals pose as customers to assess everything from the friendliness of the staff to the cleanliness of a branch office. …

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