The French Liars: why don’t we just ask our clients what they want?

Do you want to research the needs and experiences of your clients? Ask them. You’ll rely on their willingness to answer your questions. And you’ll have to assume their answers are accurate and sincere. But are they?

Bad questions, dishonest answers

You don’t need to have a great deal of experience as a researcher to recognise that you’re best not asking just any questions. ‘How long are you prepared to wait?’: the answer to this question is easy to predict. No one wants to wait. Are your questions contrary to the interests of your clients? Because if they are, you shouldn’t expect to receive honest answers.

Nonetheless, we regularly see surveys that include questions such as: ‘Are you prepared to pay more for the same service?’ About 2% of respondents answer ‘Yes’ to the question, effectively demonstrating that a section of the respondents did not understand the question. Or that they didn’t even read it. And of course, this doesn’t mean that the other 98% wouldn’t accept it if we were to raise the price.

Questions based on fact … Answers based on anything but fact

Even for highly factual questions, where the respondent has no direct interest in giving one answer or another, the reliability of answers is disappointing. Orange, the third largest supplier of telecommunications in Europe, has experienced this first hand.

In a survey of the roaming habits of their French clients, they established that of all clients who claimed to use roaming services ‘very often’, more than 60% had not actually used them even once in the past year. The respondents were given the nickname ‘The French Liars’, a notion that serves in many research teams as a warning not to assume too quickly that respondents give honest answers. Not even to highly factual questions.

As such, only ask the questions that you are really interested in seeing answered. If you don’t gather answers and feedback, you may feel as though you’re making decisions blindly. And that may be the case. But you’re sometimes better being blind and using a cane to find your way than it is to think that you can see, only to run off a cliff.

Written by Horst Remes Customer Strategy Expert @ Onestone