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Customer Intelligence in the Mobile World: How to Achieve Mobile-First Research

Written by Alida

Published March 18, 2016

At Vision Critical, we’ve been focusing on the challenges created by the central role that mobile devices, both smartphones and tablets, now play in people’s lives. While the shift to mobile has created challenges for marketers and researchers, we believe the opportunities are even greater.

It’s hard to deny the impact the mobile revolution has had on business. Customers today lead a great part of their lives on their mobile devices . Increasingly, they buy and review products using their mobile devices. Customers expect your messages, discussions and surveys to be mobile friendly. Activities that aren’t mobile optimized reflect badly on the brand, reduce engagement and lead to an ever-smaller pool of people willing to help with research.

Why mobile-first research is the way to go

The best way to make your research mobile friendly is to adopt a “mobile-first” approach to your market research designs. If you start by designing your research to be effective and engaging on a smartphone screen, making it appropriate for tablets and desktop is more straightforward.

Some experts have been recommending “mobile agnostic,” or focusing on a breadth of devices. But that route typically leads to the lowest common denominator—a grey and uninspiring research approach. Mobile-first is a highest common-factor approach, maximizing the benefits of mobile.

5 steps for achieving mobile-first research

Here are five things you can do to ensure your survey projects thrive in the mobile world:

  1. Treat 10 minutes as a maximum, not an aspiration. 

Shorter surveys require a re-think of every step of the customer engagement process. With this approach, market research and marketing pros typically divide projects across more than one survey, forcing them to use existing information from other sources (such as previous discussions and surveys) and to hone in on the questions that matter.

One great way to implement this approach is via an insight community, where surveys and research exercises tend to be short and where customer intelligence professionals can easily leverage information from previous discussions and activities.


  1. Focus on mobile friendly questions. 

To take advantage of mobile-first research, try avoiding grid questions. For example, avoid a question that has eight brands shown as rows and asks the participant to select which of seven answers best describes each brand. Even on PCs, grid questions are considered unfriendly by many respondents and often result in people abandoning a survey. On a smartphone grid, questions are even worse, frequently requiring the participant to scroll vertically and horizontally to answer all the options.

Asking mobile-friendly questions also means using shorter questions and providing shorter answer lists.

Consider using shorter scales. On mobile screens, a three-point scale looks a lot more approachable than a seven- or a 10-point scale. If you require greater response detail, consider using branching. For example, the initial question might use a scale that described a service as Good, OK, or Poor. If somebody selects Poor (or Good) a further question (either an open-ended question or a further three-point scale) could be asked to gain greater sensitivity.

  1. Select rather than sort. 

Researchers often present a list of five or more items to customers and ask them to rank them all. For example, you might ask customers to rank items from most interesting to least interesting. However, sorting has critical flaws.

The concept of ranking items assumes that people are equally interested in the top items, the middle items and the bottom items—something that is often not true. The problem with the execution is that rank questions are typically too onerous on mobile phones, with too little benefit. If you have five to nine items, ask people to select just those that are relevant or interesting to them. In other words, ask them to identify their top two or three rather than asking them to sort the whole list.

  1. Avoid custom layouts. 

Use customer intelligence software that creates survey activities native to people’s operating systems, regardless of whether they’re using Android, iOS or something else. Researchers used to do custom scripting when trying to force a particular look and feel in their activities. But while that tactic worked well in the PC era, it’s not a mobile-first way of thinking. Custom layouts slow down the creation of surveys. Also, the results will not be consistent from device to device, and the look and style will not match the experience that customers’ expect from their device.

  1. Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes. 

Everybody involved in a research project, including both client and researcher, should experience every survey they use on their own phone. If the experience does not work for you, then don’t ask customers to undergo a sub-standard experience. Many customer intelligence platforms have automated testing. Take advantage of that feature, but remember that it’s not a substitute for experiencing the survey yourself.