5 Rules for Effective Customer Research That Make A Difference

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It annoys me when I ask clients what their customers say, and they tell me what they learned in a survey seven years ago! That’s too bloody long to go between customer research projects. The world has changed enormously in the past two years, let alone the past seven. Customer research should be a priority every year.

So, today I am covering the 5 Rules for Effective Customer Research That Make a Difference. Our guest is Sam Killip, a lawyer and Director of Customer Research from Attest, a consumer research platform. Attest strives to help organizations understand customers, and Killip says the online consumer platform taps into hundreds of thousands of consumers around the globe. On a practical level, Killip says their clients survey consumers to understand consumers’ views and what they’re doing, thinking, and feeling to feed into their customer strategy.

 To that end, the 5 Rules for Effective Customer Research That Make a Difference are:

  1.  Define the right method.
  2. Get under the skin of the customer.
  3. Cast your net wide.
  4. Respect the respondents.
  5. Do it little and often rather than large-scale.

Let’s take a closer look at each.

Rule #1: Define the right method.

You can get customer data in many ways and with various customer research tools. However, all have different methods, strengths, and weaknesses and answer different questions. So, before choosing one, you need to know what answers you need.

For example, customer feedback surveys are excellent ways to hear what customers say about their experience. However, if the answer you want is why customers buy from you, a survey response might not work. Those of you that have been with me for a while know that is because customers can’t always tell you why they did something because they don’t know themselves.

Rule #2: Get under the skin of the customer.

A small business, like a Mom-and-Pop store, knows its customers. These business owners knew what customers bought and why customers said they purchased it and also understood why customers really bought it. Often, the customers were people the shop owners knew personally from shopping in their small business for years.

A sizeable multi-location company or a global organization cannot have that relationship with all its customers. Instead, they must rely on customer research. Moreover, as Killip points out, there is a plethora of information about why customers do what they do. So, really knowing customers requires different tactics than mom-and-pop shop owners employ.

An example of an effective tactic is how car manufacturers market cars to different segments. Killip says that cars are, at a foundational level, not that different from each other. Sure, they have various features and styles, but one mid-sized sedan is not wildly different than another. However, the car industry taps into types of customers and what those customers want to buy.

For example, some drivers want to seem like James Bond, so car manufacturers with a car that fits the bill will market their car with that idea in mind. Other car buyers want to feel safe, so the car manufacturers will demonstrate how their cars’ safety issues keep the drivers and passengers safe from harm in their vehicles. Killip says targeted messaging to specific audiences illustrates how today’s brand can “get under the skin” of customers and use it to move metrics for the company.

Rule #3: Cast your net wide.

There are always some presumptions before you carry out research. First, you want to act on your opinion. That means you might check in with a couple of colleagues. However, that net is too small and leads to you having assumptions about your customer base.

For example, Tillip used to work with a financial institution, and if she were around, her financial client would invite her to help select their new creative—on which the financial company would spend thousands and thousands of pounds. This strategy was horrible, Tillip says, because they were thinking about what they liked, not what the potential customer wanted. She says their net was too small.

Second, making assumptions about your customers can narrow the net, too. For example, relying on demographics can lead you to make these assumptions. If you group your customers by their age, where you guess they live, and what you gather their interests are, you could miss out on the potential to expand that group. Worse you could be wrong.

So, in general, I would advise you to think broadly, give yourself opportunities to be surprised and learn new things. Plus, get excellent professional help with your net casting. Otherwise, your net could be missing what you wanted to catch.

Rule #4: Respect the respondents.

When we undertake research, we rely on the quality of the respondents we get. Moreover, it is critical to remember we need the respondents way more than they need us. So, no matter how much you compensate them for their time, what they bring to the relationship is far more valuable.

Therefore, the research experience should be engaging, enjoyable, manageable, and not confusing so that respondents can give quality answers to our business questions. If we skew it by bungling the experience, it won’t matter how much time and energy you spent on it. The most critical part of this exercise is to keep the respondents engaged.

Engagement can be challenging when you’re doing quantitative research. Focus groups are easier to keep the energy up during, as is a telephone conversation. Surveys are different; it’s a one-way conversation. You cross your fingers and hope that the study is interesting enough and clear enough that you will get a quality response. It would be best to keep surveys short, the questions varied, and the meaning clear.

Rule #5: Little and often rather than large-scale studies.

There are two main things to focus on here. First, an extensive report is not digestible or manageable. It isn’t easy to get the main points from such a large study.

Second, you need to keep the conversation going with customers. Attitudes, behaviors, and expectations change all the time. Demands change, too. Keeping the finger on the pulse of the customer is critical to read not only their vital signs but also yours.

This bit might be the most important regarding research. Killip agrees that it is rare that a massive research project is necessary. Instead, she thinks research is more useful when you can track changes over time. Therefore, taking a bunch of small snapshots and gathering little bits of data over time is essential to see trends and patterns. You will be up-to-date, and the research will be easier to digest and more helpful in drawing insights.

Moreover, frequent and small-scale research projects across a year capture the seasonal influences on your customers, Killip explains. For example, a financial client wanted to run an annual brand tracker and wanted to know if they should run it around the end of the tax year. Killip says their answer was both. Organizations need customer sentiment at noisy and quiet times. You might do well in the noisy period but not in the quiet period, and understanding both standpoints is essential.

However, it all starts with having the endpoint in mind. An organization should go into any piece of research with goals in mind about what they want to get out of it. Also, they should know what questions they are trying to answer, which will determine the necessary regularity and depth of the research. As a result, the whole process is more efficient and valuable and ultimately more successful.

If you have a business problem that you would like some help with, contact me on LinkedIn or submit your pickle here. We would be glad to hear from you and help you with your challenges.

There you have it. No promotions, no gimmicks, just good information. 

Think reading is for chumps? Try my podcast, The Intuitive Customer instead. We explore the many reasons why customers do what they do—and what you should do about it. Subscribe today right here.

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