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The Open End Text Response Isn’t Dead, It Just Needs Reimagining.

When market research moved predominantly online and away from phone or paper surveys, one of the first question type casualties was the open end text response. Without the prompting and encouragement provided by a researcher, open end text boxes simply became a hurdle to impatient survey-completing respondents. Three or four word responses became typical, and what had been a source of valuable insight began to become a token gesture.

Jump forward a decade, and more surveys than ever are now conducted on mobile devices. The rise of instant messaging and short response driven apps such as Twitter, What’sApp and SnapChat has marked a huge shift in our communication style, and the value the open end text response adds to surveys has been further minimised. 

But before this question type is declared dead and buried, it’s important to consider why it was developed in the first place. With the ambition of limitless potential to allow respondents to offer their thoughts without constraint, to share their opinions, to tell stories and to provide much-needed context to support our quantitative findings, it was designed to help us better understand the stories behind our respondents’ views. However, as typical responses dwindle to the insightless we’ve all waded through gems such as “the colour” or “it was quite good” it becomes clear that open end text is simply no longer fit for purpose.

So what does the future hold for this much-maligned question type? Ultimately as we all strive to reduce the length of our surveys, anything that fails to add value will be destined for the research scrap heap. But surely, as ticking boxes rapidly replaces telling stories, the time to act to reinvent open end text and resurrect the value it can provide to our survey tool kit is now. But how?

The first innovation to bring open end text squarely into the here and now comes from one of the leading voice of the customer platforms, InMoment. Their active listening text boxes are intelligent and contextually aware, using machine learning and AI to review typed responses and encourage respondents to expand on their answers, replacing and improving on the traditional role of the telephone or paper researcher.

So, a respondent who types ‘I had a great meal but the service was poor’ might be prompted with a reply of ‘sorry the service was poor, can you tell us more about what happened?’ This elicits a much more detailed response, such as ‘I had a great meal but the service was poor. We had to wait 20 minutes for someone to take our drinks order, and then after the meal it took ages for our bill to arrive once we had asked for it’.

With this prompting and the introduction of gamification through a interactive response strength meter similar to that seen in password technology, InMoment has seen substantial increase in length across all responses. More importantly, they have removed around 60% of the almost useless two to three-word responses, which are now far more detailed.

The second innovation is the video open end, something I have been heavily involved with in the last three years at Voxpopme. I believe video has the potential to become a widely adopted question type for Market Research, Voice of the Customer and Employee Engagement as it offers more to the researcher and is a natural way for a respondent to share their opinions.

By replacing the standard text open end response with the option for a respondent to record a short video we see a number of benefits. Firstly we get more - whether looking at character length or unique topics - when allowing people to talk naturally (typically see 6-8x more content and 65% more themes with video).

Secondly, with video we benefit from a very rich medium that really engages stakeholders. The power of video should not be underestimated in its ability to drive action. With video you see raw emotion, which helps tell a more compelling story.

We know that not everyone will be comfortable recording themselves as part of a survey and participation rates will vary from study to study, but they typically are around 7%, with this increasing upwards of 25% within communities and dropping to 1% in large scale VoC surveys.

My view is that the open end response is far from dead, and that these two exciting innovations can ensure that real value is achieved through this question type. So by leveraging innovation we can both consolidate our survey design and ensure that the benefits of the open end response are not sacrificed.