The location is IMAX Theatre, London, the date is 4th April 2000. The launch of Confirmit in the UK. I’d just been recruited to the new London office by Tore Haggren who was setting off on his mission to take Confirmit around the world. At the time, we were a relatively unknown software company with big ambitions. Our key speaker at the launch was the MD of another relatively unknown but ambitious company…called eBay. They’ve done rather well, too.
In 2000, the dotcom bubble was bursting and businesses that were web-based started suddenly became very vulnerable. Fortunately, Confirmit had a fantastic product behind it and there was an increasing appeal in using automation to reach new people. This meant that a solution that could turn the internet into a new research tool had tremendous promise. It was also the era of a new focus on customer loyalty – all the major retail brands were developing loyalty schemes and there was a new interest in better understanding customers. Research and Voice of the Customer were already becoming two sides of the same coin.
There were challenges, though. Online was not considered to be a bonafide Market Research methodology, and only the most innovative of MR agencies were seriously looking at implementing it. The mistake that many researchers made at the time was to take existing telephone questionnaires and simply re-post them as online questionnaires. This created a poor respondent experience and probably slowed down adoption of what was obviously a hugely promising data collection channel. In fact, the very same issues took hold when mobile was becoming a mainstream channel much more recently!
What really made online take off was the development of online, professionally-run panels which helped drive improvements in the quality of surveys. Confirmit’s panel solutions came along around the same time and panel remains one of the core components of the Confirmit Horizons platform today.
What’s changed most in my 16 years at Confirmit is the speed of development. In the past, it was entirely standard to wait a year for new features to be developed and released. Now, we release new features almost every week. This is a response to market demand, of course. While research projects used to have a 3-4 week lead time, clients of MR agencies now expect immediate insights and as a provider, we need to give our customers the ability to meet those demands. Putting new capabilities into the hands of researchers as quickly as possible is vital.
Another huge change is the sheer complexity of the programs that are run. It’s now a given that almost any research or Voice of the Customer project will be multi-channel and multi-lingual. Global brands can interact with their clients anywhere and at any time and the industry has become much more respondent-focused in order to try to retain response rates.
The changes are huge and I can’t imagine having witnessed them anywhere else. Back at our first big team kick off in 2001 (hiking up a glacier in Norway, of all things!) I had a real sense that I was part of a proper team, and an international business. There were 50 of us from the US, UK and the Nordics and we knew we were heading towards something big. But I don’t know that I would have foreseen the sheer scale and speed of the changes that we’d be involved in.
The question is, of course: what’s next? Internet of Things, emotion detection – so many things that seem like “the future” are already here. Whatever comes after them, we’ll be ready for them too. Bring it on.