Why Quantitative Surveys Fall Short When it Comes to Crafting a Superior CX


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What do your customers really want? Finding out isn’t just a matter of asking. It’s about asking the right questions – something that Forrester Research says most companies fail to do.

Take quantitative surveys, the No. 1 tool that organizations use when developing customer experience (CX) strategies. Conventional wisdom says they’re a gold mine of customer insights that can form the basis of any customer experience action plan. Not so, according to former Forrester Senior Analyst Deanna Laufer. In fact, she warns against this short-sighted approach.

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“Surveys are not enough,” Laufer warns in Anchor Your CX Strategy in Customer Understanding. “They may tell you the ‘what’ and ‘how’ but not the ‘why’ of customers’ behavior needed to envision future-state experiences. Firms with extremely or moderately effective CX programs, on the other hand, conduct more qualitative customer research more frequently to inform their CX strategies.”

We agree that it’s a mistake to rely too heavily on only quantitative surveys. That’s why we advise clients to include ample amounts of qualitative research, including in-depth interviews, focus groups and ethnographic research. Those tools provide a holistic view of the CX and complement journey mapping work. As an example of one recent client, we did just that. We conducted in-store intercepts to gain incredible insights while also working with the client to target specific customers of theirs for in-depth interviews. We then invited customers to shop the client’s retail store and other stores of interest in the area while we tagged along. The insights gained from this qualitative and ethnographic research then fueled and informed a much broader quantitative survey sent to thousands of customers.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen far too many instances where a company is looking to gain customer feedback to inform strategic decisions, but it ends up only with feedback about the current way of operating. That approach is process improvement and not strategic development. Big difference.

We’re not the only ones emphasizing the value of ethnographic research, either. As Intel Research’s Ken Anderson wrote in Harvard Business Review, “By understanding how people live, researchers discover otherwise elusive trends that inform the company’s future strategies.” His company used those insights to better understand how PC and TV habits converge.

At a high level, we feel the right approach consists of five steps:

1. Explore – Through secondary research, we explore the entire ecosystem of the customer to understand their world. We develop hypotheses about key moments in the customer lifecycle to get a holistic view of the customer.
2. Immerse – Using primary research techniques such as focus groups, we uncover customer attitudes, behaviors and habits and validate the key customer interactions.
3. Expand – Based on what we’ve now learned, we expand the reach of our research to include quantitative methods of validating what we’ve uncovered while also ensuring new insights can be gained from the broader audience.
4. Synthesize – Using CX tools such as journey maps and personas, we visually communicate who the customer is and represent their emotions along the key touch points in the lifecycle – adding the insights and metrics from our research to back up any assertions.
5. Communicate – We finalize all the previous work in a detailed format that includes insights and recommendations. Posters, workshops, and presentations all help to socialize the final deliverable.

If you’re serious about learning more, download our complimentary copy of Forrester’s Anchor Your CX Strategy in Customer Understanding report. It’s packed with examples of how brands such as Airbnb, Trane, and Virgin Mobile took a fresh approach to research – and how that paid off. Let us know what you think: Connect with us.

Tim Carrigan
Tim Carrigan, Consulting Vice President at Andrew Reise Consulting, helps clients develop and deliver on their customer experience strategies. He recently co-authored the Customer Experience Fiasco, Learning from the Misguided Adventures of a Customer Experience Executive, now available in hard copy or Kindle version through www.Amazon.com. More information on the book, along with other customer experience case studies and guides, is available at www.AndrewReise.com. Follow Tim on twitter (@timjcarrigan)


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