How to Tell a Story with Market Research Data

As business professionals, our lives often involve one or more reports packed with market research data every week, if not every day, providing an onslaught of facts and insights. Most of us have experienced the fatigue and boredom brought about by too many facts and too little learning.

So, how can we deliver effective market research data reporting and communication of information and insights in a way that captures the imagination and garners interest and, more importantly, inspires action? Storytelling.

The Importance of Storytelling

The most critical ingredient of effective market research reporting comes in the shape of stories. Storytelling is rarely given the attention it deserves. If research is both art and science, we need to blow the dust off the art elements including writing, presenting, persuading, visual arts, theatrical arts, and the art of storytelling.

For the last few decades, with the dramatic increase of data and information availability, the users of information frequently find themselves in a tough place to make any meaningful conclusions. Especially in the marketing research industry, the research buyers have been identifying the lack of “a story” in the delivered reports by research suppliers. The users of research cry that they do not want just scores and statistics, rather they want a story that tells “what happened” or “why is that important” based on those scores and statistics.

4 Steps to Telling a Story with Market Research Data:

It is necessary to use a set of principles to find insights and then outline steps to successful communication of market research data and insights to business end-users. Consider this method:

Step #1: Understanding

Context is everything. Before designing a research study, it is critical to understand the business’s objectives, current environment and situation, pain points, the stakeholders’ interests, and the use of information. Researchers gather context about the business and the research needs through the clients, their organization, and other outside sources before planning and designing the study.

Step #2: Planning

Design a research study with the “end in mind” and look at the process from the end to the beginning. First, focus on the business objectives, then design the way to deliver the information to meet those objectives, then design the analytic plan to provide this information, and finally design the survey instrument and the sampling frame to collect the data to be analyzed.

Step #3: Discovery

When the data is collected, an essential step is to review the data and discover the story hidden in it. It is a common failure of many market research studies that the researchers deliver a long report of results from the study, basically a dump of information, question by question, without focusing on a story to answer the specific research and business objectives. Instead, a discovery phase needs to occur, where the data is reduced to a coherent story that will answer businesses’ research questions.

Step #4: Communication

Finally, now that the data is reduced to a story, how do you tell that story in the most effective way? This is the last and most important element of delivering research results, as only effective communication of results will accomplish the goal of meeting the business’s research objectives.

There are many ways of making the communication of research story effective, but we will focus on three of those ways here to share some best practices we implement for effective business reporting: Use of visuals, colors, and dashboards.

Use Graphics and Charts

When reporting on market research data, visual components are the centerpiece. A busy reader will often flip through and look at the main diagrams and charts in a report, much the same way that someone flips through a magazine or newspaper and looks at the pictures (and maybe reads the captions). To get your point across in a report, make sure that the visuals are conveying the point—don’t hide your conclusions in the accompanying text. Moreover, neuroscience tells us that recall is also better when accompanied by visual elements—something to which the reader can attach ideas.

Visuals in research reporting are generally either “graphics” or “charts.” Generally, charts visually plot the size of market research data, while graphics show the relationship between concepts/objects or the ow in a process. This distinction matters because graphics are useful for helping show the structure of the story we are telling, while charts are useful for clearly showing the evidence that backs our story. We utilize these graphics to tell a clear and concise story.

Graphics “show” in one complete picture these connections, whether it is a chronological order, a cause-and- effect relationship, or an organizational structure, in a simple pictorial way, making it easier to comprehend and recall. While graphics narrate the story and provide a way to visualize the market research data, charts fill in the details and support the points we are making.

The traditional style of research reporting often fails to engage the attention and therefore the brain of the reader, resulting
in a lack of processing, memory and recall. There are ways to combat this problem, using editing and data density.

  • Editing refers to the process of cutting distracting content. Review the chart for repetition, for non-results, for unnecessary text that does not provide additional information, and for relevance to the main objectives. The editing step reduces long, repetitive charts.
  • Data Density refers to the quantity of market research data points that are shown in a given space. Instead of using repetitive charts to display multiple data series, we can use the idea of data density by combining multiple series on the same chart to improve the flow and interpretive richness of the report. When data elements are far apart in the report, insights can be missed. The human eye and mind are more adept at noticing patterns than we give it credit for, so dense data displays play to this strength of the brain and keeps it engaged.

An important step in creating better charts is focusing on the key elements and deleting the rest so as not to clutter the charts. Another way to increase data density is through interactivity. Interactivity means allowing the user (either a reader or a presenter) to interact with the data by making choices about what they want to see.

Convey the Story Quickly and Accurately

With increased amount of information available through various sources, it has become a major challenge for marketing research professionals to reduce the vast amount of data into meaningful messages for audiences. Many audiences find themselves flooded with just ‘data’ and ‘information’, overwhelmed with statistics and facts, and left without true insights that should inform marketing and strategic decisions.

To overcome this challenge, the key is to tell a story from the data. A coherent and clear story that is relatable to the audience will be more successful in capturing the audience’s attention, and will succeed in communicating the message by creating curiosity in the audience’s mind and engaging them in thinking.

Use of visuals is critical in presenting a successful story, but visuals need to be selected and constructed carefully to create the best effect on the audience. Editing and data density are key ways to improve the readability and effectiveness of reports. Interactivity uses the reader’s working memory to help them see localized patterns in the data.

These tools together make the evidence provided by the charts more powerful and relevant to the story. Understanding how people perceive and compare shapes in charts allows us to construct visuals that accurately and quickly convey the story.

Six Must-Dos for Executive-Level CX Reporting

Imagine you are a CEO in 2021. COVID-19 is rampant, lockdowns are everywhere, 90% of your staff are working from home, and your traditional customers are… not so traditional anymore. Each day brings a new challenge trying to navigate this unpredictable environment, as you spend 9 hours each day in back-to-back zoom meetings. Friday rolls around and your last zoom call ends at 6pm. You open your emails to notice 20 unread emails. 

As you read through them, you open an email from the customer experience (CX) team with insights from the previous month. The document is 15 pages, has 30 charts, a bunch of text, and a lot of numbers. You flick through each page, making sure the trend charts are not declining. You gauge that the numbers seem about normal, so you move on to the next email.

Do you feel excited about these extensive, exhaustive customer experience reports? Probably not.

Executive CX Reports Could Use A Shake Up

For most large businesses, this is quite common. Customer experience teams often ‘data dump’ their customer experience results into a fairly large, dense PowerPoint deck that is sent to the C-Suite once a month.These decks are usually time consuming to produce and may not even be read in its entirety. 

It is not the role of the CEO to analyse charts–that’s the analyst’s job. It is also not the role of the CEO to figure out an action plan to tackle each issue–that is the role of the CX team with each product or channel lead. 

The role of the CEO is to steer the ship. Like a ship’s captain, they will use their instruments to ensure the ship is sailing smoothly. A ships’ captain does not receive an in-depth deck on the engine’s health as they are sailing, and neither should a CEO. 

So, what kind of report should a CEO receive? Let’s take a look.

Must-Do #1: The Shorter, the Better

First up, shorten the report as much as possible. Best practice is one page maximum. CEOs should be looking at a scannable, summarised view that shows the high-level health of the company. 

Picture your report as an alert monitor. If there are any slight declining figures, the CEO will reach out to you for more information. But by this point, you and the product lead should have already identified any issues and drafted a plan of attack. To caveat this, if your NPS has dropped from 80 to 60 overnight, then definitely provide context on the reason why the drop has occurred. Most of the time, CEO’s will know this anyway, as it is probably due to a system outage that month or a negative media release.

Must-Do #2: Minimise Text and Maximise Visuals

The reports made up of mere bullet points are missing out on big opportunities. Best practice is to include infographics with as minimal text as possible. 

One of the most useful design tips to learn is the data ink ratio. This is where the “total amount of data ink” is divided by the “total ink to produce the graphic.” In essence, anything that does not help tell a story should be removed. 

It’s also important to make sure this one-page report is on brand. Your digital and marketing teams should already have branded icons and hex colour codes, so we would recommend reaching out to them for a template.

Must-Do #3: Only Include What the C-Suite Cares About

First and foremost, your report should include your northstar CX metric. This figure should be an overall score of all your touchpoints combined. It signifies the overall customer health of the business. 

Next, include customer churn numbers in the report. The number of customers defecting from your business is highly correlated to their customer experience with your brand. Make sure you include total churn numbers, not net flow of customers. 

Net flow of customers can mask the extent of customer defection due to the amount of money business pour into sales and acquisition. It is surprising how much money businesses spend on acquisition, yet they have the tightest rules for their customer service agents on what they can refund or grant as loyalty points. 

That leads us next to customer complaints and cases. CEOs need to be aware of the number of complaints that have been recorded, how long it takes to resolve them, and the satisfaction outcome of these complaints. 

What not to include? Agent friendliness, branch cleanliness, etc. Those questions are in your surveys to inform the front line and middle management, but are not needed in this report.

Must-Do #4: Show CX Scores Over Time

Showing a single score from an isolated month leaves a lot of key information out of the report. Instead, show CX scores over time so the CEO can see the trend. 

Let’s say you presented an NPS score of 60 with an upward green arrow showing a month-over-month increase of 2. Seems good, right? But, what if the business consistently had an NPS of around 80 for the previous 6 months? In light of this new context, the 60 score with the upward arrow is misleading. CEOs are interested in the direction of the business, not necessarily current scores. As I said before, their role is to steer the ship.

Must-Do #5: Include Customer Comments

CEOs need to be aware of what customers are saying. Copying and pasting your text analytics bar graph is not enough—there needs to be more context. Therefore, the data should be presented in an actionable and relatable way. 

We recommend segmenting your text analytics into three core categories: people, product/price, and process. These are three pillars that underpin an organisation and it is important to highlight the key strengths and weaknesses of each pillar. 

Make sure to also include customer verbatims of common themes. This turns black and white data into a real story with emotion. If a customer posted on your social media about an issue, include it, especially if it shows the pain point’s impact on the customer. Make sure you are showing common trending themes—your CX dashboards should already highlight these to you, so you should not have to go digging each month.

Must-Do #6: Show CX Impact 

Finally, it’s great to highlight the wins of the CX team. Include a section of positive initiatives the CX team has taken on to improve the customer experience or even examples of how frontline staff have gone above and beyond to solve a customer issue. This can help bridge the gap between the c-level and the people responsible for your direct customer experience.

At most organisations, the c-suite has probably never stepped foot in their contact centre. They often view the contact centre as something that has to be there and therefore, they might try to cut costs there as much as possible. To protect this asset, it’s up to you to change the perception of the CEO and highlight how these frontline staff financially contribute to the growth of the company by turning detractors into promoters. 

Wrapping Up

Best practice for exec-level CX reports is simplicity. Stick to a one-page, infographic-styled report that showcases key trending metrics with summarised common customer feedback. Speak with your customer success manager to set up dashboards that will have the information ready to go at any time! 

If you liked this blog, our new eBook will take your customer experience reports to the next level. Download “How To Tell A Story Using Market Research Data” for free here!

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