Delegates on my training course often ask me about analysing qualitative data, usually in the form of verbatim comments from customers. Compared to quantitative data, qualitative data often seem bulky and time-consuming—surely there must be an easier way?
Sadly there isn't, really. There is no software with a magic “code all this data” button, and even if there were it would be a drastically bad idea to use it. This is an area in which a human brain needs to be employed for any real insights to emerge. Mind you, so is quantitative analysis...but that's a post for another day!
There is software designed to make your life easier when it comes to analysing qualitative data. Collectively these programmes are known by the stunningly unwieldy acronym CAQDAS*. If you want a full list you can find one at the ASC website (caution—ugliest website ever). Prominent names include NVivo, Qualrus and The Ethnograph.
While they can't do the analysis for you, computer programmes do give you tools that make your life easier. You can get your computer to produce a word frequency count and concordance (key words in context), as well as to search for key phrases. But this kind of automated work is rarely very interesting.
CAQDAS software really comes into its own in easing the process of building up a coding frame and then using that to generate theory. Many CAQDAS programmes are built around an academic approach known as Grounded Theory, which is great for inductive reasoning in your PhD thesis but, frankly, probably overkill for your customer satisfaction survey.
Whatever software tools you use, effective analysis of qualitative data will always take time and care. Coding is a back-and-forth process that takes frustratingly longer than you expect. Above all you need to remember that coding can take you away from the depth of the underlying data—the codes are there to help you think, not to convert your data into arbitrary quantifiable categories!
* Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software or sometimes QDAS or QDA for short!