"Pure" ethnographic observation can be so telling. It strips away the noise and clutter from what's really going on. I love the example of "Muffler Shop Clarity." One of our ethnographers sat in the shop waiting room to understand and get to the bottom of customer annoyances. Early in the process, she noted that the inability of customers to see their cars and the progress being made was a source of ever increasing anxiety. That was the major problem. Putting in windows in the waiting rooms was an easy fix.
So much can be learned from simple customer observation, but, with so many customers, observing them all is impossible. So, in situations where it's possible we often seek volunteered feedback from customers.
Point-of-Sale feedback ("volunteerism") has been employed for ages in the form of customer guest cards and 800 call-in numbers on receipts (now replaced by the ubiquitous website address). I've even come across a rather egregious example that required the customer to use his or her own stamp to mail in the survey! To be sure, POS data collection has been altered by mobile technology, yet it still depends of the voluntary good will of the customer to generate responses (leaving incentives out of the equation).
Much of the excitement over mobile research focuses on the recency of a sales or service evaluation and the instantaneous results. What seems to be overlooked in these discussion is the evident engagement of consumers with their mobile devices that inspires a level of volunteerism not seen before. And, what does this do for us? It increases base sizes (increasing not just the "delighteds" or the "discontenteds" as with other modes), and makes more complete and more representative results. More than that, the customer engagement with their mobile device produces more thoughtful responses.
Today, a mobile phone is like our keys. It is always with us. And, if it's not, you know exactly where it is....OK, my wife may not always. The point is, we like our mobile phones, they are personal to us. And, it's that "person-ability" that makes us honest and frank when we respond with them.
So when we can't observe all our customers or we can't do a census of them to improve our products or service delivery, we can get more with mobile technology and, the results takes us farther than we previously could with the POS "moment-of-truth."