Top 5 features online panel companies require from survey tools!!

online panelsThe Rime of the Ancient Mariner – “Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink”, I guess beautifully summarizes what full service online panel companies FACES now a days. With the bombardment of so many software tool vendors in the market it is becoming increasingly difficult to choose the right ones. Many a times the dilemma is aggravated by the fact that the online panel companies themselves are not explicit about their requirements. The article illustrates top 5 features what online panel companies look for in their survey tools.


Ask any survey programmer – INTERLOCKING QUOTA can give you sleepless nights anytime.

The worth of any survey tool is majorly determined by the fact as to how easily and effectively you can set quotas in your surveys. The quota management is an integral part of any survey and even a miniscule error might result in a complete disaster.

I believe here traditional survey tools score over DIY tools – in the former while there is a robust quota management features the latter has limited options to play around with.

Here are some basic features required in Quota Management:

1- Should be able to control sample overages.

2- Should be able to control incentive overages.

3- Should be able to control complex quotas.

4- Should be fully user customizable.


The initial survey programming tools were meant for the ‘techies’ – even the basic functions required advance programming knowledge. Then came the DIY survey tools which were primarily targeted for ‘researchers’ or the ‘non-techies’. Most of the clients with little or no coding background got on hooked to the GUI interface offered by the DIY survey tools.

Slowly but steadily even the traditional players in the survey tool business are introducing the user friendly platform for designing questionnaires. The future of survey tool business is in creating a platform which will be able to create complex surveys – without touching a line of code!!

The following features are a ‘must’ for a good user experience:

1- Range of layout and question options to choose from.

2- Drag & Drop features.

3- Quick creation of simple to complex surveys.

4- Should be able to support multilingual surveys.

5- Multi-modal data collection facility enabled.

6- Scalable and robust database management.

7- Should be SECURE and RELIABLE.

8- Cache of most frequently used question types.


Most of the online panel companies’ look out for ‘bundled services’ platform – where in along with questionnaire designing features they can manage their panel community also.

I believe it is more convenient to design a survey, fetch the data and enable data processing from a centralized location. It is advisable to buy a survey tool where there is a close integration between the designing and community management.

The survey tool should be able to build upon the user profile with data from various surveys and use this knowledge to better cater the research surveys to the RIGHT target audience. Also the tool should enable the recruitment & profiling of panel members in a phase wise manner to avoid respondent fatigue. An ideal survey tool should have robust inbuilt incentive system – when set should be able to process the reward points automatically – without much of assistance from the panel manager.

An effective survey tool should be able to streamline and automate most of the daily tasks – updating panel records, data import & export, sample selection etc.

Scalability is the most CRITICAL function required in a robust survey tool i.e. it should be able to handle simple to mammoth panel communities sometimes running into millions of respondents.

The survey tool should be able to handle any kind of customization efforts – the users should have the freedom to manage the panel management system as per their requirements.


Although the DIY survey tools have reasonably handy reporting features but if you want complex and advanced reports you have to opt for traditional survey tools available in the market.

The ‘output’ of any survey research project is the REPORT from which eventually market researchers would deduce inferences. It is therefore imperative to have a survey tool which is loaded with ‘state of the art’ reporting features.

Some of the ‘must have’ reporting and analytic features for a survey tool:

1- Should be able to generate power point reports.

2- Users should have a complete control over the reporting features.

3- Should have customizable and in-depth dashboard features.

4- Should have automated reporting features.

5- Should be scalable and secure.

6- Should be able to alert the user in case of any discrepancy in the data set.

7- The reports should be fully customizable.

8- Integrated reporting should be enabled.


I believe that there are many potential online panel companies who would love to start survey programming units but are deterred by the huge costs especially for the complex ‘one stop shop’ traditional survey tools. The DIY survey tools although are within budget most of the time but lack advance features to handle complex projects.

The online panel business is mostly ‘sample only’ driven – for any online panel company the ‘full service’ features require a humungous amount of cash and man power investment. This is a BIG deterrent for many potential online panel companies who are looking to expand their service suits.

If the bigger traditional players in the survey tool business can come up with a flexible and effective pricing model – I am sure they would have many more clients in their kitty!!

Now you have a choice. You can comment, share, or implement. I prefer if you implement, but I’ll appreciate all three – Akshay Kanyal