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Market research is a powerful tool for understanding customers and making decisions. As “The Changing Face of Guest Feedback” (SAM March 2012) notes, the tools for taking your customer's pulse have never been better. Unless you match your methodology to your goals, though, research can lead you astray.

It's crucial to know whether the survey population is representative of your overall customer base. Customer satisfaction surveys are useful, but rarely represent your total market. It takes truly inclusive, representative research to help you assess and evaluate decisions that affect your whole business.

Customer satisfaction surveys (which provide tactical level feedback) are a subset of market research (which supplies strategic level information). The distinction is important. Customer satisfaction surveys typically target those who have used specific services or facilities, such as F&B or ski school, and this feedback can help those departments fine-tune their service and offerings.

However, it takes a broader market survey to deliver results that represent your entire customer base, which can help guide big-picture decisions such as pricing modifications, capital improvements, or advertising/marketing strategies.

Ask yourself who will respond to the survey, and, by extension, who is not represented in the results. If you do a base-lodge survey, for example, you miss those who eat at the condo, in the car, on the lift, or skip lunch entirely. How much does that matter? Consider the following real-world examples:

  • A Colorado area did an online survey—tapping just some of its clientele—to gauge food & beverage preferences and inform design of an F&B facility. The results showed clear preferences. But when responses were weighted to reflect the area's known demographics—based on a more representative survey—they pointed in a different direction. The area changed course and built a facility much different in size and format from the initial plan, and more in tune with guests' needs.
  • A New England area wanted to grow visits through capital improvements. The area surveyed a representative sample of all existing visitors on specific proposed improvements, to identify those that would most encourage repeat visits. The results helped guide decisions, and the changes led to increased satisfaction, a safer on-mountain layout, and higher repeat visits.
So take care in gathering customer feedback. It pays to know what your survey research program can and cannot deliver.

[This is a summary of a larger piece on the subject, which can be found attinyurl.com/skiresearch.]

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