Now is NOT the Time for Radio Silence with your Customers

A Guide to Conducting Research in the Age of Covid-19: Part 1

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D.

As companies continue to grapple with Covid-19, the market research industry has hit a brick wall. Like a beachball at a rock concert, the fundamental question now being bandied about in global market research departments is “should we be conducting research during a pandemic?”

The answer is yes. And no.

As focus group facilities and UX labs sit empty and idle, quantitative, web-based research is still being conducted. But should it? And, if so, under what circumstances?

Recent communications from sample suppliers indicate that survey response rates are up over 10% for studies currently in the field. Generally that would be good news. But like the rest of us, consumer and B2B research participants have been fundamentally altered by this pandemic—so, would their opinions be different now than prior to this catastrophe? Most likely. Why does this matter? If you are conducting studies involving normative data, for example—these types of studies would likely result in analytical blips.  For example, right now is probably not the best time to ask why a consumer would purchase one brand over another, as supplies are constrained, and channels exist in a somewhat altered state.  Given this, it is likely better to wait the virus out than to collect this type of information.

On the other hand, now is also the time to be reaching out to your customers. Why? Because their working environments have radically changed for the foreseeable future. Their decision-making processes, needs, purchase barriers, mindset, and the way they use products have all morphed. Case in point? Zoom; the company is struggling to serve unanticipated meteoric demand as the consumer platform of choice for social distancing mitigation, not to mention distance learning plans across the nation.

As Geoffrey Moore, Chairman Emeritus at our partners, The Chasm Group, has advised, never waste a crisis. Other clients have taken notice and are now asking their customers the following:

  1. How has your environment suddenly changed?
  2. What are the new or increased challenges you are facing due to the current situation?
  3. Will this change how suppliers are evaluated and chosen?
  4. How have service and product needs changed and how can they best be served now?
  5. How, if at all, has your brand been affected?
  6. Who is losing or gaining share of mind?
  7. What are the new services and or products that have suddenly emerged as needs to be filled?
  8. To what extent do you expect these changes to remain once this crisis has run its course?


To this end, here is how we are serving our existing customers during this ever-evolving crisis:

  1. Telephone interviews with existing customers to provide rapid feedback
  2. Web-based surveys designed to understand changing environments and perceptions
  3. Mixed-mode research to incorporate both qualitative and quantitative feedback
  4. Creating communities or advisory feedback systems for ongoing checkpoints and discussions


As a body language master and qualitative moderator, I can tell you that in-person interviewing yields significantly more information than remote methods, but phone and video remain powerful alternatives for quickly collecting many types of data—especially now.

Merrill Research provided critical data and guidance for clients during the Semiconductor and Home PC Meltdown (1985-1986), the 1990-1991 Recession, the Early 2000’s Recession, and The Great Recession (2007-2009). We can help your company stay agile during these uncertain times. Contact Merrill Research today. Stay safe.

Stay tuned for our next blog on remote interviewing techniques available during these challenging times.

For additional information on COVID-19 visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Coronavirus information page.