The Trouble with "Respondents"

One of my big pet peeves is when men and women who work within a company insist on using terms that de-humanize the people on the other end of the product or service they offer. I'm not saying that they use demeaning terms, but they choose words that make it okay to treat your best customers as abstract numbers or demographics.

In the world of market research, the term most often applied to people like you and I who take surveys is "respondents."

It's okay to give respondents a 30 minute questionnaire to complete. It's okay to ask respondents to go though numerous and repetitive choice sets. It's okay to speak to respondents in formal, stilted language.

But would you do any of that to your college roommate? Your grandmother? Your child? Your neighbor? Probably not.

In fact, most researchers cringe at the idea of even testing their own questionnaires.

So before you put a new research study or product implementation or marketing campaign into the world, think about the specific people on the other end. We are all in the customer service business in one way or another, and none of us should be in the respondent business.


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