Most companies survey end customers. Many survey employees. But what about partners? Too few organizations have comprehensive feedback initiatives designed to gather insight from the field.
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) is one company ensuring that it listens closely to its field agents and acts on the insight it gathers. Through its Field Voices community panel the insurer gathers agent feedback and promotes dialog among the agent community. In fact, since launching the panel about two years ago, the company has conducted more than 70 surveys, the results of which have helped to inform advertising, marketing, and product development decisions.
Prior to launching the Field Voices community panel the company took somewhat of a haphazard approach to surveying its agents. According to Nicole Byrne, market insights research manager for Mass Mutual, three years ago the sales and distribution teams said they needed three issues resolved: too many disparate surveys, a lack of coordination between surveys and timing, and unbranded surveys that left recipients doubting their authenticity. Their goal was to coordinate and brand surveys so recipients would receive more relevant, timely surveys that they were certain were real. Additionally, the research findings would help senior management make fact-based decisions. "A panel brought all those pieces together," Byrne says. "And, having a panel is a cost-effective way to collect this kind of information."
The community panel, powered by Vision Critical, is composed of more than 1,400 field agents. There's some turnover through normal attrition, Byrne says, so her team runs ongoing campaigns to encourage new agents to join. Additionally, there are both internal and field advocates who promote the benefits of participation.
For those agents who do participate, there are three key benefits: "They like participating to be involved, be heard, and make things happen," Byrne says. In fact, without incentives for participation, survey response rates within the community range from 30 to 75 percent based on the topic and timing. "We realize that time is money for our panel members," she adds, "so we don't survey during the annual sales drive, for example. We know the agents need to be selling."
One reason response rates are so high is MassMutual's closed-loop approach to surveying the panel. Agents are informed in advance of the survey length (generally five to 10 minutes) and how the information will be used. "We then share back the results of how the feedback was used, which is huge because it hits on why agents participate in the first place," Byrne says. Additionally, her team uses initial profiling questions to ensure that participants get only the surveys most relevant to them.
Byrne's team works closely with its internal business clients to select and prioritize panel surveys. Internal business clients will come to Byrne and her team with an issue or topic they need input on from the field. The team prioritizes surveys by aligning them with the company's strategic objectives. The surveys most closely aligned with current objectives will have a higher priority.
To ensure actionable insight, Byrne's team collaborates with clients on survey design. "We work with the end in mind," she says." What decisions are they looking to make? We create questions that address those key needs so the information is actionable and they can make decision based on it."
The company has queried its Field Voices panel on such items as potential products, advertising campaigns, and marketing programs. Specifics and results are proprietary, Byrne says. However, she notes that one success is how information from the panel is integrated with consumer insights to inform MassMutual's ad campaigns and give the ad team a holistic view of the market.
Byrne and her team aim to keep the panel successful by keeping it relevant and engaging. "The team-internally and at Vision Critical-will try new things and see what works. For example, we ran a refer-a-friend program to recruit new participants. You always need to try to innovate with your panel like that and in other areas like the types of questions you ask. You need to keep the experience engaging for the members."
The keys to ongoing success, Byrne says, is to keep making sure that they're providing senior management with the information they need to make fact-based decisions and to keep members engaged. "It's a partnership, not a one-way conversation," she says. "Showing that we use the feedback, and how we use it, has helped us to recruit other members because they know they can be involved, be heard, and make things happen. It's been a great experience."