A trend of more fickle consumers is underpinning growth in market research across Europe, which is good news for an insights software company like Qualtrics, one of the so-called tech "unicorns" with an Irish presence.
"Consumers are more fickle today. They will change brands more quickly, which means companies have to understand more quickly what is going on," says Dermot Costello, managing director of Qualtrics Ireland, which employs 170 people in the two floors it occupies near Grafton Street in Dublin.
The trouble is that companies surrender competitive advantages just as fast as they gain them, notes Costello: “Your customers can change very quickly, and your employees can change very, very quickly in a company that is not looking after them.”
A "unicorn" is defined as a privately held company with a valuation above $1 billion. Qualtrics fits the bill, but unlike many of its peers, it is both profitable and is based not in Silicon Valley but Provo, Utah.
The Irish office has been open since September 2013 and though much of its second floor is currently devoted to table tennis, hammocks, a bar area that actually looks like a pub and other recreational paraphernalia, Costello anticipates that Qualtrics will eventually need more desk space. It is targeting 250 staff by the end of the year.
The Qualtrics sales pitch, which has already won over about 40 Irish clients and close to 1,000 across Europe, is that its product allows companies to take its market research in-house, with data that they can control.
The platform encourages clients to analyse everything from the customer experience to brand tracking to "employee engagement" so, for example, a large multiple retailer could use it to try to pinpoint the reason why a particular store is underperforming. Qualtrics global operations manager Donnchadh Casey tells the story of a US airline with an early-morning service that rated poorly for customer satisfaction.
The airline, a client, identified the fact that the airport’s coffee shops were closed as the source of the discontent and “quickly made the decision to hand out coffee at the gate”.
Ah, caffeine. The solution to so many problems.