This week we continue to look at Using qualitative and quantitative research in your quality management system.
This technique is a one-to-one discussion between a skilled interviewer and a single respondent. It is difficult to be prescriptive here, as it is quite possible for interviews to investigate a narrow topic in depth, or a broad topic in less depth.
Quite often an interview will be timed to last for about an hour, but it could go on longer if the respondent is interested and willing. In-depth interviews are useful when probing motivations, attitudes and needs.
They are advantageous when the subject matter is sensitive, confidential or embarrassing, when social norms may be in question, or when a detailed understanding of a person's behaviour is needed. They are most often used with professional consumers, such as industrial buyers.
The method is particularly valuable when it is important to get at subtle, idiosyncratic differences and shades of meaning. It has been found to generate more and higher-quality ideas than many other methods. In-depth interviews are more expensive on a per person basis than focus groups.
The interviewer must be highly skilled, and even then may experience difficulty if more than four or five hours a day are spent interviewing. Another problem is that the large amount of disparate data generated can lead to difficulties in analysis.
This is because the researcher has to find a way to make sense of a number of interviews which may have covered slightly different areas, in different ways, depending on what the respondent wanted to say.
To overcome this problem, some interviews will use a checklist of questions to ensure that they cover basically the same areas each time, although this can lose some of the depth and original ideas and thoughts which respondents might have. As with many aspects of research, a balance has to be struck.
The premise which underlies observational techniques is that the best way to find out what people do is to watch them doing it in natural settings. Observation does not rely on self-report, or on co-operation from consumers. It may also be the only way to gather information about behaviour in situations in which consumers are not themselves aware of their own behaviour.
Observation can be either with or without the knowledge (and consent) of the observed, and may be direct or indirect. For example, you could watch how people go about making a purchase, or look at the results of their having made the purchase. You could record only certain predefined aspects, or everything that happens.
Underhill (1999) uses the technique of observation extensively in the USA to help retailers make decisions about where to stock merchandise and how to design their stores. For example, a major jeans manufacturer wanted to know how its product was sold in department stores, so in one weekend Underhill's company observed what was happening in four stores. It tracked a total of 815 shoppers and observed many more, using both video and time-lapse cameras.
By the time the study was complete, it had analysed the percentages of customers who used the various paths into the jeans section of the store. Once that had been worked out, it was clear that many of the signs were badly positioned.
Some customers were interviewed to reveal how their attitudes and opinions correlated with their behaviour, for example to see if young shoppers with good education levels, who said they depended on brand names when choosing jeans, read the price tags as well.
The study was much broader than described here, but you can see the power of observation from this example. You can also see that this observation study generated both qualitative and quantitative data, which were analysed together to gain even greater insight into what was happening.
Observation on its own cannot reveal the feelings, attitudes and beliefs that underlie consumers' behaviour. Further, many situations are not easy to observe in a systematic way — it would be unwise to try to observe the use of toothpaste in a truly natural setting!
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