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An internal consultant at a healthcare company asked about ways to add value to many open-ended comments using a group strategic thinking exercise. Why was she asking? Because a market researcher at her organizations facilitates the same exercise with their leadership team every year.  The executives pick the critical few open-ended customer comments in response to how the brand can improve and what the brand best represents. Her sense was that the sameness every year caused them to overlook fresh insights that a new strategic thinking exercise would reveal.

New Insights from Open-Ended Comments

I shared four possibilities for new strategic thinking exercises they could use during an upcoming executive meeting.

1. Add flavor to quantitative data

Post the product or service attributes that quantitative research indicates are most important for signaling purchase decisions. Have the executives associate individual customer comments with the related attributes. The exercise will provide additional flavor to dry statistics. You can also distribute photos and/or a write-up after the exercise to easily share the insights more broadly in the organization.

2. Perform a ranking exercise

Executives could rank the comments based on how well they address the two key areas. They’d rank comments from the how to improve question based on how easy they are to address. For the best representation of the brand, they’d rank them based on the strongest testimonials. This ranking exercise also leads to creating content with impact beyond the executive meeting.

3. Identifying the next question

Have executives review a select list of comments. For each, note what questions they’d want to next ask to further clarify the response. The research person could use the most common questions as potential follow-ups for upcoming surveys.

4. Plot the comments in intriguing ways

Draw intersecting horizontal and vertical lines to form an x-y grid. Label the left point on the horizontal line as product; label the right most point, people. For the y-axis, the end points are major positives and major negatives. Have executives place comments on the grid and determine appropriate actions based on where comments land across the four quadrants.

Don’t miss the rich potential in open-ended comments

It’s easy for researchers to do the same exercises every year with executives. Yet, even if those exercises are still delivering value, don’t overlook the impact of introducing new ways to think about, categorize, and organize survey comments to uncover fresh insights. – Mike Brown 

strategic planning questions

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