In every industry, the most important step in an advertising or marketing plan is to complete research on what the issue is and try to get as much information as possible. However, if you are a small to medium-sized organization, you are well aware of how expensive research can be. Depending on the scope of the project, it doesn’t always make great financial sense to pay for research. If that is an obstacle you are facing, here are some simple research techniques that can be applied to your industry.

The first tactic you can implement is called complaining sessions. Complaining sessions are fantastic for two reasons: People love to complain and will most likely complain truthfully. The opposite is true when you ask them to list positive things about a product or service; consumers will most likely give generic answers. These sessions provide an opportunity to make up for mishandlings with consumers in the past. Especially in high-priced industries, the vast majority of consumers expect to have a flawless experience. When that flawless experience is not provided, consumers tend to be disgruntled and will tell you exactly why in the form of complaining.

Formal interviews with patients immediately after their appointment or interaction with staff are another successful tactic. Time is key because their emotions and thoughts are fresh. Generally, consumers would expect some form of compensation if a research firm conducted interviews; so if the participation is low, a discount or incentive may have to be used. However, even if some form of compensation has to be used, it may make more financial sense than hiring an outside firm.

The third tactic is people-watching. In terms of the healthcare industry, people-watching in waiting rooms would be your best bet. When consumers think no one is watching, it gives them a chance to be themselves to act and react how they would naturally, not how they think they should. For example, pretend as though you are another patient and watch closely how real patients come in and out of the office, sit down, what they do while they wait or how staff interactions happen. If at all possible it’s best to find a situation where no one knows they are being observed, the doctor or nurse included.

The best way to fix a problem is to know what the problem is in the first place and the best way to find out what the problem is to ask. There are expensive ways to ask such as hiring a research firm and there are less expensive ways to ask like people-watching. It really all depends on how big of an issue you are working with and the extent of your upcoming campaign. If it’s a steady decline in sales, it’s probably best to hire someone. However, if it’s because one certain product isn’t flying off the shelves then people-watching might be a good start. Either way, research and information are the first steps to solving almost any problem.