When IIBN asked Louise Ward, Operations Executive at Empathy Research to take part in an interview. Louise said it’s great to be invited to this interview by IIBN. Support teams don’t often get a voice in business press and I’m delighted to be given the chance today.

You can visit Empathy Research website here

We asked Louise to put into her own words what the Empathy Research business does.  

Empathy Research is a Market Research Company and in my Managing Director Declan O’Reilly’s words “We’re in the people understanding business.” At Empathy we are passionate about connecting brands with a real understanding of how people feel, think, and behave. We do this primarily through online panels, but we are a full-service agency.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

Well I’ve worked in market research for 17 years in various roles, but my specialisation is Field Management. I joined Empathy in September 2019 in a wider operations capacity to support Declan and the team.

My main priority is to support them in any way they need so that they can get on with the important role of servicing our clients. Seeing the bigger picture in business whatever your level is extremely important, and I like to keep my ear to the ground to share information to the team about the research world and our key clients.

In terms of my goals, I realised on returning to the workplace after an extended break to focus on my children during which I acquired a BA at DCU in their distance learning programme, that I wasn’t out to scale the heights but saw work satisfaction and my talent in support. I still love to plan field projects when they come in and contribute to the company however I can.

What are your biggest challenges? 

Well we are all going through challenging times now! We are all working to adapt our roles to distance working. My personal challenge is to keep abreast of changes in technology that could benefit our work practices and just to be adaptable to address any need requested by the team. I worked on the digital transformation team in Failte Ireland before I came to Empathy and was bitten by the Microsoft Teams bug. I am keen to bring the full capability to our workplace eventually.

How do you keep your team motivated?

Right now, it is ensuring we all have everything we need to work comfortably at home and to connect regularly. We are extremely lucky that on that fateful Thursday when we had the government announcement that we could all just pick up our laptops, plug in and continue to work from home. But we must all remember that we are working from home during a crisis and not just ‘working from home’. It is still a new situation that we are all adapting to.

What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?

Market Research is adapting quickly. Online panels quickly flipped to asking members how Covid-19 was impacting them and focus groups traditionally held in business suites and hotels moved to Zoom. The door to door aspect is a huge question but I see many competitors offering new solutions and it is adapt to survive! Our clients still need to ask questions, so we need to come up quickly with new solutions.

What new trends are emerging in your industry? 

Well, as I said, Zoom focus groups have been around for a good while and consumers filming themselves for video diaries for example, but from necessity these techniques have taken off exponentially and from what I hear the clients really like them. Over the next six months I expect to see rapid changes and those who don’t move with the times and offer these solutions will unfortunately just get left behind.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

I’d always liked the idea of a balanced home/ workplace work pattern. With the increased trust given to staff from their managers from this #wfh experience this can only become the new normal. Our team has become ‘closer by being apart’! Market research is by nature a rapidly evolving business even in normal times and experimental approaches are encouraged so it has always welcomed change.

Are you finding any skills gaps in the market? 

As someone who worked up the ladder joining a field department in a London agency from school, moving up into research and then into International research I find that quite senior researchers can often have quite a lack of understanding of the whole picture of market research as a business from not understanding how the contributing departments all operate. The basic journey during training of spending time working in each department; field, IT operations, shadowing a mentor just adds such value and understanding to the training of new staff. There is no replacement for getting on the ground experience. Accompanying an interviewer on a door to door project to see the ‘live’ responses from the ‘man on the street’ can be quite an eye opener to a new exec on the team!

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed? 

Success is what satisfies you personally. Accomplishment of an aim suggests we plan our lives and from my own personal experience my life has been a combination of unplanned events, luck, and spontaneous decisions. I fell into market research after the suggestion by my father who worked in a major London Advertising agency, we left London spontaneously when we started our family to move to a very different Dublin in 1994, my husband spotted the advert from an agency looking for field staff after I’d finished my degree and was thinking of returning to work and a past colleague connected with me on LinkedIn about a one off project that brought me into my current role with Empathy Research. I suppose what drives me is a desire to help other people succeed; as my husband says, we’re not all made to be number ones.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business? 

From my mum’s best friend on saying I wanted to be an Air Hostess (as they were then called): “they are just flying waitresses Louise”, from my dad on telling him I thought I’d like to be a Probation Officer: “It’s not the most glamorous job Louise”, from my mum “don’t write anything down Louise, once it’s written you can’t take it back.”

On a more serious level, I’m not great at giving advice but I believe in continuous education, learning from your peers and making your voice heard whatever your position in the company. I sound out ideas with my husband who is great at seeing a clear solution to a problem that you are stuck on.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Joining Empathy last September came after a year of temping contracts. I loved the freedom and variety of roles and meeting new people all the time. I couldn’t believe how grateful people were for what seemed to me such tiny ways I was helping them and my experience in Failte Ireland in particular was extremely positive. I didn’t think I would take another permanent role but I’m very happy to be working with a very talented group of people and with a very forward-looking Group MD in Empathy.

During the Covid-19 crisis, the democratization of business through open webinar access has meant that we can get access to really high caliber speakers we would not normally have been able to and also get to ask them questions. The recent FT Global Boardroom and the Marketing Institute of Ireland are great examples.

What’s next for your company?  

Empathy has just taken on a very experienced new member of staff Stephen Rust who joins us from V360 to head up a new project. Declan has lots of plans for the company and it’s great to work with someone who is willing to listen to the opinions all his staff and ask us to contribute.

What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2020?  

As mentioned before, every business is adapting to survive and really the opportunities have never been more. Whilst on the one hand we are seeing the tragic layoffs and we will see many future closures, on the other hand LinkedIn, of which I’m a great fan, is full of companies with new product developments for the needs of the new way of working so I am always hopeful for the future.

On a personal level, I am secretary in the APAI (Association of Professional Administrators of Ireland). We have just had our first Zoom event and were delighted how it went.

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

Well Declan has great plans for the company but I’m sure most of the readers agree that this time next year most people just want to be in a job. We need to be ready to adapt to the changes in our business, our country and in the world at large. It’s a time when we need to make our own luck and I’m ready for the challenge!