It's a marketing director's dream come true: a fast, paperless, user-friendly way to conduct opinion polls that, instead of requiring days or weeks for someone to enter the answers into a computer and tabulate the results, reports them instantaneously.

That's the new InTouch Survey system, a Word-based software program developed last year by the Winter Park firm, TouchPoll of the Suncoast, and marketed locally by market research professional Ed Edsel and his wife Joan.

Mote Aquarium will bring in an InTouch kiosk this month to capture demographic information about its visitors. A volunteer will staff the computer screen and invite people to participate in the self-administered survey. "We want to know the age, the number of people in the party, whether they're Florida residents or first-time visitors to the aquarium, which exhibit they like the most or least and how they heard about us," says marketing manager Carol Harwood. "We'll be able to capture names, addresses and phone numbers, and we'll be able to capture all that information in about a minute. The best part was we'll get the results immediately." Harwood says such information is vital because it helps her better understand Mote Aquarium's audience, and therefore better define her marketing strategy.

The Sarasota Committee for Economic Development, Homebuilders Association of Sarasota, Sarasota Association of Realtors and Creative Dental Resources have also used InTouch since the Edsels introduced it here last year.

At the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce annual Small Business of the Year awards luncheon last summer, Edsel and his team used hand-held versions of InTouch (they're also available in traditional stand-alone PC format) to survey 140 of the 500 attendees in just one hour's time. Chris Manring, chamber spokeswoman, says they wanted to find out who goes to these kinds of events: Were they chamber members and if so, for how long; was this the first time they'd attended this event; and what kinds of seminars did they want the chamber to offer in the future? "It helped us strengthen next year's program," says Manring. This was the first time the chamber has conducted this kind of spot survey, she says, "and we'll definitely do it again."

InTouch software is interactive. "Depending on how someone responds to a question, it may branch them to a different question than the person before them," says Edsel. "If they say they found out about you in a magazine, for example, you want to know which magazine. It allows you to probe deeper." In the chamber's case, says Manring, they were able to ask different questions of company owners, versus, for example, human resources directors.

Businesses can hire the InTouch team for a one-time event (the cost starts at $950 per day, including developing and conducting the survey, and providing the analysis); rent the systems and conduct the surveys themselves (starting at $500 per day); or lease the software and purchase the hardware (a one-year lease is $3,000, coupled with an average one-time $1,800 expenditure for the touchscreen computer hardware). The latter option, Edsel says, is for companies that want to survey their customers every day of the year.

Edsel claims touchscreen surveys are 10 times faster to conduct than the old-fashioned clipboard or telephone methods, and the resulting data is up-to-the-minute. "InTouch can work for any company or business that needs feedback on its product, services or customer service," he says. "Banks, hotels, health care providers, libraries, retailers, political pollsters and on and on."

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