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Some Assembly Required: The DIY Survey Paradox

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DIY or “boxed” products present themselves as feature rich, easy to use and can do a list of things for you and your research team. With all that they offer, there are also challenges that go along with them. So how do you get past the sales pitch and the shiny packaging to get to the heart of the solution and all the “fine print”?

Come with me on a metaphorical journey of boxed survey products where we’ll explore the pros and cons through the guise of the packaging disclaimer. It may very well be that these conditions, absences, and requirements are not deal breakers for you or your team. We’re only hoping to help you consider all there is to consider while making your choice.

Now, with that disclaimer stated, let’s begin our adventure.

Some assembly required

This is the easiest and most obvious of all of the disclaimers which is why it goes first. When using a DIY you need a “Y”! The Y can be Yourself, Your staff,  Your brother-in-law or Yvette from accounting…she’s got extra time. This can literally be anyone which is a blessing and a curse. So you have some choices to make. Will all of your project staff moonlight as survey programmers? Will it be your analysts? Will you draw straws or hold cage matches to decide who gets to (or gets to not) learn and use the new software? In addition to the choice of resource, there may be a nontrivial learning curve to proficiency. You don’t want your clients feeling like their survey was programmed by someone who is not well versed, like say… Yvette from accounting (no offense to Yvette or to accountants in general). Needing to have someone to build the survey leads us to our next disclaimer.

Additional fees may apply

The person or persons that get the honor of adding “survey programmer” to their resume needs to be paid for the time they spend doing the work. Maybe you even need to hire someone to program the surveys. This is often not a true consideration when evaluating the overall cost of the tool or of each individual survey. Bottom line, when you use a boxed product, you do not escape paying a programmer. This cost can take many forms. Perhaps your analyst has less throughput and you need to hire more. Maybe you pay for it with less polished and insightful reports because the time was put elsewhere. Or maybe you need to replace your superstar accountant because Yvette said, “Programming surveys is not in my job description” right before she quit. The cost for the actual work of programming a survey is never zero whether you use a DIY tool or hire a survey programming expert.

Batteries not included

Remember when you were a kid and you brought home your new radio controlled whoseywhatsit… only to find out that you were going to have to wait to use it. It needs AAAs and you only have AA. Or it needed C batteries! Who even buys C batteries anyway!? The point I’m trying to make is that you needed more than you were sold in order to use the thing that you bought. While many DIY solutions these days are cloud-based, some require you to have the infrastructure set up in order to run them and collect data. What? You’re not interested in becoming a web hosting company and support your new programming tool? That’s okay, the company you just bought from will be happy to sell you hosting for an additional fee. And much like batteries, you’ll need to continue to buy it if you want to continue to play. DIY solutions tend to be fairly upfront on this topic but if it is not mentioned or built into the pricing structure, you may want to ask.

To DIY or Not to DIY

Terms and conditions apply

To go along with the previous point about hosting for data collection. Not all pricing structures are created equal. Many DIY platform pricing is predicated on completed surveys. Rather than charging you for the machine or the bandwidth, they charge a small fee for everyone that completes your survey. This is usually somewhere in the range of $1. While this might work for your large medical study with 200 completes, it is less than economical for your 10-20 question pulse tracker study with 1000 per month. Again, just be aware of how you will be using the system and understand its impact on your pricing.

May require additional purchase

So you’ve decided to allocate your entire programming budget to this new platform and to all of the things needed to support it. You’ve gotten your team through the initial learning curve, accounted for the new cost in your pricing, everything is going fairly well. Then a quote request comes in asking for something that the system doesn’t do. Or you hire a statistician that has game-changing ideas that you cannot support. Suddenly, after all of that investment, you find yourself still needing an outside firm to keep yourself relevant. If you, your team, or your clients think outside of the box, the boxed product may not be able to cover your needs. If it does cover one advanced need it may not cover another and it might not make sense for you to have different packages for different needs. That becomes costly and complicated.

Not to be used with _______

There are plenty of words that can fill in the blank here. The one that might concern most researchers, businesses, and/or salespeople is “differentiation”. When it comes down to it, the best way to get more jobs, impress the boss, impress the client, and be a leader in the industry is to be different. It’s harder to be different when you are using the same tools that are available to everyone else. A firm that will work with you to help you create your own product or process with the help of technology gives you the ability to say with confidence, “No one else has this.” That is a powerful statement indeed.

Consult doctor before using

“I need a segmentation algorithm STAT!” That might be a bit dramatic. Maybe this should be “Consult expert before using.” We touched on this a bit at the end of the last section. Buying a survey package does not make the users of that package survey experts. It may take years for that to become the case and sometimes, if they have too much else to worry about, it never happens. Outsourcing to the right firm gives you access to an entire survey team. Their sole purpose on this earth is to help you create an impressive survey tool that wows your client and ease the burden on your respondents. A team of survey surgeons working miracles. These experts free you up to offer more and be creative with your research.

Check the back of the box

When you’re shopping for online DIY survey solutions make sure you read the labels and “check the back of the box.” In addition to checking the boxes and understanding the features and drawbacks, you might want to add outsourcing to the decision options. An informed and inclusive decision is a good decision, theoretically at least. Happy shopping!

To DIY or Not to DIY