One of the most important business philosophies in the world is customer satisfaction. This philosophy together with the qualities of service happens to be critical factors for the success of any business. It involves the anticipating and managing the customer's expectations, demonstrating responsibility and ability to satisfy their needs and creating value (Gronoos, 1990; Parasuraman etal., 1988). For any business to achieve this customer satisfaction, identification, anticipation and the ability to satisfy the customers' needs are vital. All the business enterprises which are capable of understanding the needs of their customers have an advantage over the ones that do not understand the customers' needs in that they are able to realize huge profits (Barsky & Nash, 2003).
This puts emphasis on the importance of market research to businesses that intends to offer well targeted and focused products and services. Good marketing practices are always characterized by customer satisfaction and the major objective in the marketing process as well as business is to provide value to the customers with the aim of making profits (Kotler P., Bowen, J.T., & Makens J.C. 2010). The formulation of viable marketing plans or the measurement of the company's existing plans is facilitated by effective market research.
The provision and sustenance of customer satisfaction is one of the greatest challenges that are facing the hospitality industries' managers during current times. For instance, the customers' demands for quality goods and services in this critical industry have increasingly become evident to many professionals (Lam & Zhang, 1999; Yen & Su, 2004). Therefore, good guest relationships are the industry's strategic asset (Gruen et al., 2000) whereas customer satisfaction is the foundation that supports the definition of business objectives. In respect to this, positive relationships are capable of enhancing high customer commitments which will eventually lead to increased rates of returns. This research paper compares and contrasts two different research methods which are qualitative focus group discussion method and quantitative research customer questionnaires method. In addition, it gives various arguments about the methods and it identifies their strengths and weaknesses.
Qualitative and quantitative research methods
Both qualitative and quantitative research methods play an important role in the current marketing research situations especially in assisting the researchers in analyzing and evaluating different people's behaviours, thinking and responses to particular issues. The research methods are used by many organizations in collection of data that is most reliable (Malhotra, 1999).
Quantitative research method was originally developed to be used to study natural phenomena in the natural sciences (Bryman 1988). This is due to its ability to use numerical forms of representation which can also be presented in forms of tables and graphs (Denscombe 2003). This method involves many different approaches to data collection whose main fundamental characteristics include the approach's concern on obtaining numerical information which can be analysed using statistics. This shows that the methodology is descriptive because its analysis does not involve the unstated contents/data (Silverman 2000, p 26). To describe it more, quantitative research methodology gives objective numerical data such as the percentage of customers who prefer staying in restaurants or hotel rooms. It lays all its focus to objective information rather than subjective information i.e. its topics focuses only on issues that are measurable and have impact on the bottom line. For example, quantitative research might seek to determine the percentage of customers who will not return to the restaurants or hotels in case the rates are raised or the percentages of customers who like the foods and services that are offered in the restaurant.
"Qualitative research is an unstructured and exploratory research methodology based on small samples that provides insights and understanding of problem setting." (Malhotra, N.K.1999, p.147). Besides, "Qualitative data are gathered primarily in the form of spoken or written language rather than in the form of numbers" (Polkinghorne, 2005, p.137). According to Polkinghorne, qualitative research methodology is to identify various individual's interaction and social meaning through gathering people, views, feelings, interests, attitudes, motivations and values. Further, this method is used by researchers to obtain the results through understanding how people carry out their activities in the society.
Because of this, the research method is more accurate the than quantitative research but it isn't the only tool that is suitable for population study identification (McDaniel & Gates, 2005). An example of the situations where qualitative method can be used is the research topic of employees' satisfaction in an organization such as a hotel where the involved researchers try to focus on the personal working environment, facilities and offices in hotel or follow the guideline from the satisfaction of the individuals based on their different feelings and beliefs (Donovan & Fang, 2004). However, the performances of qualitative research methodology focus on a small group of people (Cook & Reichardt, 1979).
In hospitality, qualitative research method makes use of observations, in-depth interviews, qualitative survey questions and focus groups/group discussion. Focus group discussion is a very powerful research tool that uses group dynamics to explore the significant issues of marketing. During the research process, the involved researcher invites a certain number of people who may be the existing organization's customers or potential customers to participate in the discussions depending on the theme. Sometimes, the invitees are rewarded for participating in the process. The researcher may record the discussions and take videos which will be used for further analysis. During the process, a skilled moderator is assisted by the group dynamics to obtain different perspectives from each participant as well as the collective views of the entire group.
Although the qualitative research gives rich and detailed information that is based on the words and personal experiences of the customers, it has one metrological limitation. For instance, many hospitality customers are always busy and have no interest of dedicating part of their time to participate in the research process. Even though the method's findings are valuable they can't be generalized. Therefore, other research forms are required to support the qualitative research (Bowie, D. & Francis, F,. 2004).
In quantitative research methods, "researchers have come to mean the technique of randomized experiments, quasi-experiments, paper and pencil objective tests, multivariate statistical analyses, sample surveys, and the like." (Cook, T.D. & Reichardt, C.S. 1979, p.7) The researchers identify what data and methodology that would be most appropriate responding to the questions and the analysis of the results when designing the research questionnaires. Because of this, they are compelled to use measured and statistical techniques to decide questionnaires.
According to Wong (1999), some of the examples of quantitative questions include how much, how often and how many (for example, the number of customers, room occupancy, sales satisfaction). Although quantitative research methodology can be used to analyse a large group of people, it is easily affected by error which leads to research failure. For instance, the implementation and evaluation of the numerical analysis becomes difficult due to the large amount of researches and many respondents (Wright, Manigault & Black, 2004). Therefore, a correct statistical method is required to reduce the possible errors such as sampling, investigator, administrative and responded errors.
In addition, "researchers need to be more attentive to measurement issues such as reliability, validity, and greater conformity in operational definitions." (Wright, B.E., Manigault, L.J. & Black, T.R. 2004), p.747). Carrying out quantitative research is more expensive relative to qualitative research. This is because sufficient information and specific statistical programs that supports its performance are required by the researchers. This calls for the use of many costly hardware and software such as statistical programme that run the tests accurately and super computers which are able to handle large amount of data (Wright et al, 2004).
In some situations, qualitative research can be carried out after quantitative research especially the quantitative research results to some issues that require further investigations. An example is where a customer satisfaction survey indicate that a larger percentage of customers don't like a hotel's food and services. In such a situation, qualitative research is used to explore the reason behind these customers' response. Based on the above analysis, quantitative research is suitable in giving more statistical information and conclusive findings but it also shows some inadequacies in other important aspects. In contrast, qualitative research has some of the strengths which are not found in quantitative research but it has poor organization and structure.
In conclusion, we cannot say that one methodology is better than the other. For instance, there is no single successful research that can only base on either one of the two research methods no matter the qualitative research or qualitative research. Therefore, a complete reliable and trustful research should combine both methods appropriately and the two methods are equally important. The aim of collecting data from customers is to look for best ways of increasing customer satisfaction. For this reason, hospitality industry invests a lot of money and time on marketing research strategies with the aim of increasing customers' emotion, mood, loyalty and quality of goods and services in order to attract more customers and in turn increase the company's profits.