Creating experiences useful to people interested in understanding their customers | Top 100 CX thought leader | Top 5% Global Podcaster | Livestreamer | "Going Live: Livestream your podcast to reach more people" author |
Consumers, customers, or whatever else you call people you do business with are humans – meaning there’s more to them than a transactional behavior. And holistic insights can help us understand the human that our customer is.
“We need to start seeing each other as human beings again,” said Nikki Lavoie, EVP of Strategy and Innovation at Savanta, on an episode of the market research podcast “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “The moment we realize that you were someone’s baby and think that every person you bump into on the street was somebody’s baby, it changes my interaction with them. And if I think of this person who was super rude to me on the Metro, maybe they just lost their wife. So we really need to get back to humanizing each other.”
But how do we get to a holistic insights approach that keeps the human experience front and center? In this article, I discuss the following:
“Human experience is about that we go beyond thinking of people as users, customers or employees,” Nikki said. “Human experience considers some of the intersectional pieces of a person’s lived experiences.”
Take somebody’s interaction with a digital product. First, you likely look at what they are doing and then also need to look at why they are doing that specific action, including what other factors in their life currently are affecting them.
“Human experience integrates all the different whys,” Nikki said. “Human experience is also trying to understand what a person’s socio-economic status has to do with their impact when they are interacting with the user interface.”
The human experience has several layers.
For example, let’s say an app developer focuses on short-term engagement, which is going up. But the nonstop use of the app is driving users crazy over time.
“Now they throw the phone into the ocean and aren’t using your app at all,” Nikki said.
Understanding and valuing the human experience also keeps short-term goals and long-term impacts in perspective.
As Reggie Murphy, senior director, UX research at Zendesk, said, humans are complex and full of contradiction – another reason why it’s so important to look at the totality of their experiences.
Holistic insights are about the overall experience involving a brand. That includes how customers interact with digital properties, customer service, and the employee experience.
It’s all intertwined, and the employee experience, for example, can impact the customer experience, Nikki explained.
“Holistic insights are about the triangulation between the different axes,” she said.
Ultimately, all those things – perception of the product and brand, personal experience, and even perception of employee experience and how that reflects on customers can impact the customer’s decision.
The traditional customer journey relates to how the customer makes decisions related to a company.
“But there’s so much before then and after that,” Nikki said. “Holistic insights are also talking about taking those things into consideration.”
Holistic insights also include the integration and impact of:
“It would be easy for me to say, ‘Let’s just get everyone involved in insights around the table,'” Nikki said. “We all know that’s easier said than done. And even when you do that, it doesn’t necessarily present the solution.”
Try a company-wide scorecard
Come up with indexes and put the different goals and objectives into something resembling a company-wide scorecard, Nikki said. From there, the top priorities of the various departments should be viewed and measured against each other.
“It should inherently provide a more comprehensive roadmap,” she said.
Some of the needed information is likely already collected one way or another but needs to be analyzed and triangulated differently.
The need for ongoing research
And for what’s not yet known, Nikki recommends a mix of:
Foundational research – explores real human problems that hadn’t been researched.
Exploratory research – creates hypotheses versus testing them.
Ethnographic research – where researchers observe consumer behavior.
“There needs to be a company-wide commitment,” Nikki said. “The need is that we always need to understand how people’s behaviors are changing.”
“Even if you learned nothing,” Nikki added. “You learned that we are still on track. There’s no disruption that we need to be aware of.”
Understanding the totality of the human experience through holistic insights can help us understand our customers better and bring more value to their lives with our products – a goal worth going after.
In the simplest terms, customer empathy means that employees can truly understand what customers are going through. That could be because they’ve gone through the same or a similar situation before themselves. Or because they can see their perception and experience.
It’s not “ah, that’s not my problem” but more of “I hear you. Let me help.”
Customer empathy often has a negative connotation to it. Yet, we must empathize with these customers we are sending through this horrible phone tree.
But customer empathy can also be positive.
In a nutshell, it’s about the ability to share their feelings. Realistically, it often comes back to the areas that companies can and should improve on. When somebody is happy with an experience, you can certainly feel happy for them, and it feels good. But when it’s a negative experience, we need to figure out how to fix it.
All of us, in one way or another, wear the hat of a customer at some point. We talk with companies that offer the products we want. At times, we have to call when there’s a problem. Other times, we are so happy with our customer experience and the company’s responsiveness.
With that in mind, we should be able to relate to customer experiences, but sometimes we don’t when we are at work and are on the other side of the relationship.
“Sometimes we leave our own consumer experience behind,” said Priscilla McKinney, CEO at Little Bird Marketing. “Maybe we even leave a bit of our humanity behind. I sit at my desk and put my marketer hat on. ‘OK, the client needs this revenue and get this message out, so I’m doing this offer or this campaign.'”
But, she continues, the employee can’t lose the connection to the consumer. And their own experiences on how people should be treated. That’s where customer empathy comes in. We can connect better with our customers when we genuinely feel what they need and how we can help.
Certainly, frontline staff needs to be empathetic to customers and use the best language and problem-solving skills to show that empathy.
But really, anyone in a company needs to be empathetic, including market researchers. Reggie Murphy, senior director, UX research at Zendesk, calls that being an empathetic researcher.
To be an empathetic researcher, these three steps help:
At the end of the day, it’s coming back to figuring out what the actual problem for the consumer is.
Why is empathy in business hard?
Rob explained that we are all born with empathy – that it’s like a muscle.
“It has to be trained,” he said. “And if you don’t train the muscle, what happens? The muscle is flabby. It’s flat.”
Rob said that part of the reason people lack empathy is that they haven’t practiced it. For example, children are scheduled so much with activities and have been since perhaps the 1990s that they aren’t doing the activities that build that muscle.
“It was taken away that downtime that kids had just to be bored,” Rob said. “When you are bored, you naturally do more activities – like role play. Whether you are playing with dolls or action figures or going into the backyard and playing cops and robbers.”
Those are empathy-building opportunities because kids play like they are actually in those characters’ shoes.
“When you take away opportunities for people, for kids to do that, their muscles aren’t going to be as strong,” he said, adding that technology is also distracting from empathy-building tasks. Empathy specifically started declining in 2001, according to studies, he said.
Then we have social media, which is about self-validation and is often about making yourself appear in the best light.
“Social media is very much me directed as in making me feel good and not about showing empathy to others,” Rob said.
Sometimes it’s about how we connect with consumers. Are we reading their open-ended responses, or are we seeing a summary chart of what the group of consumers thinks as a whole? Consider different research methods to reach different goals.
There’s a real human being on the other side of that research. There’s not a ton of empathy in charts and graphs.
Reggie added that empathy in business and research can also be hard when we don’t understand our own biases, and we all have them.
“We are all human beings, so we all have cognitive biases,” Reggie said. “We all have lived experiences, belief systems, and values. The way we live our lives. For every project that we work on, it’s important to understand our own biases and check those at the door.”
To truly understand the consumer, Reggie said, it’s important to be “hyper-observant.”
Without empathy, it’s harder to collaborate, be a good team member and even ideate well. All these areas can have an impact on customer experience. Lacking empathy also makes it harder to listen to customers and understand problems and improve.
“Good luck trying to create an advertising campaign if you don’t understand the person you are trying to advertise to,” Rob said.
How to be more empathetic in business
Stop just checking tasks off the list is one thing. Let’s stick with the marketer example. Getting their marketing done isn’t the same as being empathetic, said Priscilla.
Making customer empathy an official program can also help. For example, Reckitt’s “Outside In” program brings customer voices inside the company through video surveys.
“In essence, it’s an empathy program,” said Elisabeth. “It’s that sense of what people are thinking and feeling.”
Keep in mind that you aren’t necessarily the people that you serve, she said.
“The more we can give exposure to other ways of life, it can help us connect with a broader group of consumers,” Elisabeth said.
Research can be very ad-hoc, and this is something that is ongoing and trying to understand what’s important to consumers.”
Elisabeth explained that the program works for Reckitt because it’s “light touch and easy.”
Research that gets close to customers used to be harder and more time-consuming, she said. But now, video surveys can be launched in moments, and a survey can be done in hours with a geographically diverse audience.
“At the crux of it, insights is about empathy,” said Jay Lister, head of insights at Reebok. “Seeking out the diversity of thinking and culture is the way to do that. You need to be choosing to be curious.”
Really, we need to empathize with the people we serve.
“And understanding them at a deeper level than just the superficial,” added Rob.
People also should be nice and helpful, in general. I’ve talked to a company before and I wasn’t their ideal buyer. And they weren’t my ideal vendor. The salesperson was super rude and let me know about that fact. No need for that, really.
But understanding your ideal customer profile can be helpful. Their opinions and their problems should be more relevant than those of somebody who will never work with you or buy your product anyway.
“When you market to everybody, you market to nobody,” said Priscilla. “That’s why you need to say on platforms like Voxpopme’s, ‘I need to talk to a specific group. That group is going to get me the insights I need.”
Really listen to the stories and understand how consumers use your product and why.
“Sometimes people will say during the research, ‘well, they aren’t using the product right,'” Priscilla said. “Um, no. The user is using the product exactly the way the user needs to be using the product.”
“If they are buying it, who cares?” Priscilla said. They are finding the best use for themselves! With that, keep in mind that the ideal customer profile can evolve.
“There could be a whole new niche of customers, but your own assumption might be keeping you from seeing them.
Creating surveys with the customer in mind
Showing empathy also means creating our questions and picking our wording with our customers in mind. For example, don’t send unnecessarily lengthy surveys.
“We are invested in the process,” said Annie Pettit, chief research officer at E2E Research on an episode of “Reel Talk.” “And we forget that on the other side, we are talking to somebody who just got home from work, trying to cook dinner, and there’s a five-year-old tugging on their pants. They got whatever to do. This is the life of real people. They are not doing questionnaires because it’s part of the job.”
How we think of respondents also can make a difference. Don’t think of them as “samples,” said Annie. Think of them as people.
Rob advised asking open-ended questions that aren’t leading. Don’t ask the question that gets you a specific answer, but go to where the respondent’s answer is taking you.
And in qual, it’s is all about empathy, said Rob. It’s about listening, hearing, and understanding your customer. Empathy is essential.
To get started with empathy, dismantle your judgment, said Rob.
Dismantling your judgment allows you to listen deeper and not judge what the person is doing and saying, which is different from what you would be doing or saying.
Reggie said no matter the medium, it’s important to truly listen, including to the pauses, watch the body language when possible, and in the case of a live interview, build rapport to open the opportunities to dig deeper when it makes sense.
Results ✅ How to share customer feedback with employees❓
How to share customer feedback with employees is certainly a question worth addressing to get the most out of our consumer research. Grabbing employees’ attention, of course, is one thing, but then the message has to stick. There are dangers to not sharing customer feedback well internally.
In this article, I share the top ways to share customer feedback company-wide so your research can have an impact.
Why it can be challenging to share customer feedback with employees
Everyone is busy. So are employees.
And just because they “see” a message come through doesn’t mean it made a lasting impression. That’s where a multi-channel approach and repetition come in.
If your employees go to an office, consider looping videos of customer feedback in a physical space. Depending on the area, consider the right volume level to have a positive but not distracting impact. Include captions in the video as well.
Company conferences and events
Consider kicking it off with a powerful soundbite of customer feedback when you hold a company conference or event. Think of it like the cold opening they do on Saturday Night Live. The sketch just starts. The same strategy can be used here.
Using a motivating, fun, or even eye-opening quote can be a great way to get people’s attention and get the meeting started.
There might also be other places where it makes more sense to run a customer soundbite during the conference or event.
When was the last time customers came to a board or executive meeting? Doesn’t happen much – if at all. But it can with video soundbites from customers. So again, you could run a one-minute highlight video of customer feedback to kick off the meeting or show it at another point during specific discussions.
Project or team meetings
Certainly, we should share customer feedback in the right project meetings. And that’s not just confined to new customer feedback but consider what feedback you already have and what topic is being discussed in a specific meeting. Then, bring the customer feedback soundbites and analysis that makes the most sense.
“My driving force still is to communicate with different parts of the business,” said Diane Haluszka, senior director of customer service at PVH, which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, discussing the importance of attending meetings and sharing the latest insights. “Do not be afraid to mention it to anyone that will listen. Once they understand the different views and perspectives they will bring you to that table.”
New employees have a lot to learn when they join a company. But don’t forget to share with them the impact their job can have on customers. An easy way to do that is to share several customer feedback clips to give them an idea.
In addition, positive customer feedback clips can get them even more excited about starting their new job.
With all this powerful research being conducted, it can also be helpful to create one place where it’s all housed. People can then use this place to search for specific answers and see if customers have already offered feedback on that topic.
Customer feedback is way more powerful when it can impact the company. And that impact can be achieved when it’s socialized across many levels of the company. But for that to happen, we have to ensure that the customer feedback is shared in a way that works for employees.
Many organizations face the problem of having a ton of data that can’t be easily accessed, let alone getting usable insights. As a starting point, it’s good to have centralized data. But how can companies get there, and what are some barriers?
At the most basic level, centralized data means that information about customers is stored in one location. There it can be accessed by different stakeholders in a company.
To make the centralized data super useful, analysis and even next steps should be offered, said Diane Haluszka, senior director of customer service at PVH, which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.
“Assess the data using text analytics and dashboards and reporting to outline whatever your necessary trends are,” she said. “And then work with your cross-functional business partners to improve what aspects of the journey that they own.”
“But you have to get that data into a system,” she said.
Why do companies struggle with centralized data?
Several reasons come to mind:
Different departments and people hold different types of data
Legacy workflows have created silos
Some gatekeepers hold onto controlling the data
Others across the company don’t even know the data exists
“It’s a constant effort to find this information, or it’s seen as a gap that has been filled by somebody else,” said Hannah Shamji, a customer research consultant, on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “Communicating is so critical, so you have this shared foundation.”
Having centralized data can also help teams be more efficient.
“You don’t want to fall into the pit of saying, ‘oh, I don’t know where this is, so let’s just do the research again,'” said Hannah.
“I think it has to do with the different sources,” Brenna said. “If you are getting the data in different ways, it’s housed wherever it came from. Then it takes an extra step to move it into a centralized location.”
Think of it this way: “If your report is due on Tuesday, you are not going to turn it in on Wednesday to take the time to move data into the right spot.”
The key is having the right system that works for your team as a whole and makes processes easy.
“It is so hard to manage the long-term goals and the short-term deadlines,” Jenn added. “I can relate to that. You aren’t going to miss a deadline to follow an administrative step.”
Laura Eddy, vice president of research and insights at Realtor.com, put a historical spin on it:
“From what companies used to have available to all the inputs now. It can be really challenging,” she said on “Reel Talk.” “How do I get all these sources to play together to actually tell a cohesive story in a way that can help stakeholders make informed decisions?”
Even with centralized data, teams still have to prioritize what insights are most relevant for a given situation.
“Assess up front before answering the question,” Laura said.
Merging different types of research
“All data is unintelligible with the wrong questions,” Brenna said.
Understand what you are trying to uncover, ask those questions about the data, and start looking for insights that can help you make decisions.
That’s another reason why centralized data is so important. If everything is in one centralized, searchable place, it’s much easier and more efficient to ask those questions.
“It has to come from that specific question, or we are just swimming in this ocean of data, which is overwhelming,” Brenna said. “Hone your questions. You want to be spearfishing and not just cast a wide net.”
Qualitative and quantitative in understanding our customers
Part of centralized data should include quant and qual research.
Quantitative research works well if you want to understand the what. What are people doing?
Qualitative research works better when you want to understand the why.
“Quantitative research gives confidence, and qual gives understanding,” Brenna said. There are reasons to use either, Brenna explained. “And I’ve married quant and qual over the years.”
For example, Brenna said, doing a cluster analysis with surveys and then “bringing that to life with qual.”
When it comes to advances in both areas, there are always new things to learn, Jenn added. From how surveys are done and how we reach people to video surveys.
“Bringing that all together takes years of experience,” Jenn said. “It’s fascinating to see the evolution of the industry.”
“There’s an intellectual curiosity that I see in my colleagues,” Brenna added. “They are just hungry for more information. And then digest that and share back what they heard. Sharing back the top three things after reading 3,000 open-ends takes practice. I don’t think you can do it unless you are curious about what those 3,000 open-ends say.”
Turning centralized data into usable insights
But centralized data has to go beyond a repository of information, said Global insights expert Jill Burnett on “Reel Talk.” She said that we must ensure the correct information can be pulled out at the right time.
“We were calling it knowledge engagement,” Jill said. “How do we engage the rest of the organization in what we are learning?”
An insight becomes necessary in this scenario: Brenna explained that a stakeholder or client comes to you and needs to solve a business problem. That could include:
We need more people to remember our name.
We need more engagement with a particular product.
“Whatever their internal problem is, it’s usually not from the customer perspective,” Brenna said. “The insights’ professionals’ job is to look at ‘what does this look like for the customer.’ And then go out, ask, and find out.”
Brenna explained that you could apply the same dataset of responses to different business problems for various stakeholders.
“Think about the client side. That happens all the time. You have marketing stakeholders and creative stakeholders for the same ad test,” she explained. “They need to know different things.”
It’s a balancing game, of course, of the needs of the customers and the needs of the business.
“The insights function being the translator between those two is fascinating to me,” Jenn added.
As you jump into the analysis, make sure you are clear about “what you are saying and what you aren’t saying,” Brenna said. That comes back to knowing what the data can answer, what it can’t, and what it means.
Reading between the lines of customer answers is another thing to consider, and that must be done correctly.
“After doing interviews in this space for ten years, I can tell what they are holding back,” Brenna said. “But you also don’t want to come off like you know everything. Remember that you are working with smart people, and some don’t take it well when you come in and say that you know everything.”
Sometimes, when data centralization isn’t available, teams build Band-Aid approaches that can work for a while but aren’t effective and can create more work. Global search and centralized data are better and more accessible.
“You can search all projects, four years of interviews,” Brenna added. “For example, you can see what people think when they talk about ‘home’ or ‘family.’ You can search for any word, and it comes up with all the interviews anyone has ever done.”
When work is completed for stakeholders, insights professionals show their work, and “they can see the answer for themselves, just as we are empowered to find that answer for ourselves.”
How centralized data will help with reaching business goals
Nonetheless, getting data in one place from the start can help your organization get valuable insights and make it easy for internal stakeholders to access and use to build better relationships with your customers.
And more centralized data is something executives want, said Ross Wainwright, CEO of Alida – a Voxpopme partner – on an episode of “Reel Talk.”
Ross said there are many different data sources, and many CEOs have told him they need the reporting in one place.
Oftentimes, starting and maintaining any kind of strategy, can come back to mindset. Being customer-centric is no different. It starts with having a customer-centric mindset and ongoing strategies to ensure the team is actually customer-centric.
“When I started in the industry in 2010, the only people talking about customer centricity were researchers and insights people,” said Jenn Mancusi, former host of the market research podcast “Reel Talk. “And there is such a demand now from these other departments, and the C-level, the finance department, and certainly marketers and innovation teams are way more interested in talking about it now more than ever.”
But, as global insights leader Jill Burnett said on the market research podcast “Reel Talk,” almost all organizations say they want to be customer-centric. But saying it or wishing for it, isn’t enough. The question then becomes: How do we sustain a customer-centric mindset?
Being customer-centric means that all decisions keep the customer top of mind, and really decisions are driven by what the company knows about its customers. What is best for the customer, what do they need, and what can we as a company do to help them fulfill their needs?
Companies with a customer-centric mindset keep the customer and their needs in mind when making all decisions.
“For me, it just means I put the consumer at the forefront of everything,” said Diane Haluszka, senior director of customer service at PVH, which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. “It’s really about advocating for your consumer to make an experience, a product, a communication better. But not only better but also adaptive. I must adapt to the ever-changing consumer demand.”
Customer centricity really comes back to understanding our customers, knowing what they try to accomplish, and helping them fill that need. Without a customer-centric mindset, it’s impossible to build a long-term relationship with the customer base.
But to understand that, companies need to have useful conversations with customers, for example:
“Most performance advertising is about the brand and most people don’t care about most brands,” said Emmanuel Probst, Senior Vice President – Brand Health Tracking, at Ipsos, and author of “Assemblage: The Art and Science of Brand Transformation.”But very few brands demand a following or devotion.”
But Emmanuel continues, “people care about something meaningful to them.” And that’s where customer-centricity comes in. How can your brand help customers achieve that meaningful experience?
“Brands can be part of this process,” Emmanuel said. “Brands can make a positive impact. Brands need to be transformative because the consumer is the hero, and the consumer is looking for more.”
There are plenty of customer-centric examples out there. For example, when YouTube TV announced that it will carry out-of-market NFL games, it announced that consumers could even buy the package as a standalone without any other subscription – something that wasn’t previously offered.
The customer-centric mindset can be learned by walking in the shoes of the customer. Certainly, that can be achieved by talking to the customer and analyzing their actions. But it can also be done by actually going out and experiencing the product themselves, which Bacardi did.
Sometimes, it might mean bringing in different leaders and teammates or filling different roles.
“So that was my question, to La-Z-Boy ‘why are you doing this?’ and basically it was coming down to ‘we want to become a consumer-centric company,” said Jorge Calvachi, director of insights at La-Z-Boy. “What does that mean? So, we continue to peel the onion that way. But at the end of the day, consumer insights is about changing the mindset of people to continue to grow and learn so that they can make decisions themselves.”
Starting and maintaining a customer-centric strategy
It all starts with the understanding that it’s necessary to be customer centric. From there, somebody needs to own the strategy and implementation. And once we’ve started, it’s important to use the right practices and technologies to ensure we are hearing the customer. That could include:
Leadership reiterates the importance of putting the customer first
Training on how to put the customer first and what does that even mean?
Customer-centric organization structure
To have that customer-centric mindset, we must have the right people in the right seats. That means a customer-centric mindset must be a top-level strategy and goal. In other words, somebody will have to be the executive sponsor.
Then for it to percolate throughout the organization, we have to tie it to specific goals people try to reach. For example, if the call center manager gets judged on how quickly agents get off the phone, they will likely focus on reaching that goal. But if the goal is to solve the customer’s problem satisfactorily in the customer’s eyes, a phone call might take longer or, with the right listening skills, could still be quick.
To accomplish that, we need to integrate the customer-centric mindset into operational processes, goals, and measurements. And that starts at the top and touches every level of the organization.
“I truly believe customer service sits on a gold mine of unsolicited feedback from our consumers,” said Diane. “That provides us insights into what we are selling and how they are shopping.”
To really integrate this feedback, Diane said, it’s important to:
understand your customer (that includes customer information at the fingertips of the rep)
see the context and reason for their call or outreach to out
integrate feedback platforms so all departments can draw on the information
To be truly customer-centric is a differentiator. It can help companies understand their customers better, bring them into the process earlier, and ensure that product updates and launches are in line with customer needs.
“It’s on insights professionals to change the delivery model,” Rick said on an episode of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “It’s a huge priority and hasn’t always been delivered the way it ought to be.”
What is market research technology?
Market research tech (sometimes called ResTech) are the software solutions that companies can use to enable them to do market research quicker, differently, and more efficiently. Examples include:
“It’s been really disruptive to a lot of legacy organizations,” Rick said.
That makes understanding our customers even more important. But the insights profession has grown much more slowly, he said, adding, “That doesn’t make any sense, and market research hasn’t done the job it needs to do.”
Using the most cohesive technology can help insights professionals move quickly and show impact.
“Our market research cloud allows our customers to be in constant connection with their customers, prospects, and users through solutions that allow them to accelerate decision-making,” Rick said.
Traditionally, Rick said, companies wouldn’t naturally “marry” approaches. And there certainly is enough data in many organizations. But how do you make the analysis easier?
One way is to have one place for the data and use machine learning and other technology to make processes easier. Keep in mind that some processes that once worked no longer work in a “data-abundant world,” Rick said.
“There are limits to human scale and to comb through data,” Rick said.
Market research technology can help make that possible.
“There’s no reason that qualitative research, once it’s been processed, can’t be used as structured data,” he said. “We ask survey questions to get structured data from unstructured thoughts.”
It’s data overload right now. And if we can get that right, how do we marry it all together. A mountain of data isn’t useful on its own. It’s useful when you can summarize some new insight into one sentence to say, ‘This is what this means to our business, our customer.’ That’s where the insights team can shine.
And then use the new processing capabilities of market research technology to turn insights into action, Rick added. With the help of technology, we can get the results, not in six weeks or even six days, but in six minutes, Rick said.
Automatically transcribes all video feedback answers.
Categorizes answers and sentiment.
Market research technology — Voxpopme’s platform, for example — can provide feedback fast. On a Valentine’s Day project, I was able to get 100 responses in just a few hours. They were automatically analyzed for sentiment and topics. I could quickly skim through machine-generated scripts.
“Even smaller companies are now equipped with the tools to innovate on product and go-to-market strategy, just as fast or faster as enterprises are,” he said. “Market research needs to accelerate timelines and get user feedback to stakeholders in a much more user-friendly way than is done today.”
The evolution of market research technology
Rick predicts that market research technology will move to additional roles — like UX designer, marketers, and others. Those people then can push buttons and quickly get the insights they need to make decisions in real-time or near real-time.
Companies often use dozens of different technologies. Using an integrated system also can simplify operations and privacy concerns, Rick said.
“Chief information officers are trying to reduce the surface areas where customer data is stored,” Rick said.
Different platforms working together also is important. For example, Voxpopme has an extensive partner network that includes Fuel Cycle.
Integration of different software solutions is an ongoing process.
For example, some Voxpopme customers also use Zoom to gather customer feedback — in addition to the Voxpopme platform. So we’ve built an integration that allows for easy uploads of Zoom videos. Once the video feedback has been imported, our platform automatically:
Makes it searchable with all of a brand’s other research projects.
Final thoughts on market research technology
Market research technology — like all technology — continues to evolve. It should make life easier for insights professionals and others who are trying to understand their customers.
That’s how we started Voxpopme and how we are continuing our journey — with our customers, partners, and the customer experience community — to use market research technology to create better experiences for our customers.
This real-life example from Basel Fakhoury, now CEO at User Interviews, might top the list of putting in the effort. First, he needed to connect with travelers to get their input on a new product. So he bought refundable JetBlue tickets to get airside at Boston Logan International Airport and talk to travelers.
Basel had his audience for the research nailed. Unfortunately, finding research participants for him meant going to the airport. So before ever starting, be clear about who we are trying to reach, why we’re trying to get them, and where they hang out.
This could be as simple as just declaring which one of our Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs) we’re trying to connect with.
But also be clear about the limitations of each strategy, as well. For example, talking to travelers at Boston Logon might work. There are many to approach, and even if most decline to chat, you can still get some feedback. That wouldn’t necessarily work at a smaller regional airport.
When you look at panels and communities, you might have 2 percent of the population represented, he said.
“Sometimes the question is how many consumers can we find?” he said. “And with the qualitative research that we do here, we usually look for dozens or hundreds. So we can get deep insights from just a few of our responses when you use short videos.”
Who you should talk to, depends on what you are trying to accomplish, said Greg Ambrose, a Toronto-based strategy, loyalty, and research professional. Sometimes that might be general consumers, early adopters or long-time customers.
“Sometimes it might be one-on-one conversation, shadowing or observation,” he said.
Brian said to avoid “yes” or “no” questions in a screener.
“They are very easy to answer and can tempt a respondent to answer less thoughtfully if they are just trying to qualify themselves as quickly as possible,” he said, adding that sometimes respondents try to be agreeable and answer “yes.”
Do you buy bottled water?
Which brands of bottled water have you purchased in the past month:
I don’t buy bottled water
“That forces them to think more about their answer, and not only do you know that they buy bottled water but also the brands they buy,” Brian said.
Be clear about the goal
Are you just trying to understand a few use cases? Are you trying to make significant changes in the company, the product, or something else?
Sebastian Schuliaquer, insights director at Kellogg, said on a “Reel Talk” episode that he is trying to make complicated business decisions based on the research he conducts. So it’s necessary to remember how to get the insights you need to make those decisions.
Also, he reminds us to know what insights already exist within the organization. The wheel does not need to be recreated if it already exists.
Different research studies work well in different situations. It all depends on what you need to find out. As we mentioned, quantitative research will get you the what, and qualitative research will get you the why. There certainly are several options:
And sometimes, unfortunately, it’s not as simple as picking one type of research over another, said Raj Manocha, CEO of Methodify, on an episode of “Reel Talk.” It’s not uncommon that you need more than one source of feedback to solve your problem, which means you might have to do a combination of these. Of course, finding research participants will also be on the list for all those types.
“You have to mix those panels up to solve different things,” he said. “You have to be okay with multi-panel approaches because people aren’t answering the exact same way. And then it comes back to the quality of your survey.”
What will be the length of the research?
Basel, as we discussed in our design-thinking article, said research should happen on an ongoing and iterative basis. He said that if you think of research as a data point in your decision-making, there are plenty of ways you can insert it along the way.
Research recruitment: What’s the incentive to participate?
Then let’s figure out what’s in it for the participants. That could be a monetary reward. But depending on the brand, it could also be some brand experience. So to answer that question, it comes down to what motivates the specific people you’re trying to reach.
Do they prefer a gift card or do they prefer a discount, or do they prefer some other kind of brand experience? Some people might see it as an incentive they can help their favorite brand. Others might find that rude if you mention it as their only incentive.
Either way, there has to be some incentive for people to participate.
“It is the Wild Wild West right now,” said Raj. “The challenge right now is what’s the value back to the consumer to give feedback?”
Also, keep in mind what are the participants’ preferences. For example, would they instead answer a video survey, hop on a call or answer a text-based study?
Recruitment strategies for finding research participants
Talk to who you already know
Sometimes we can make recruitment strategies too complicated. Why do I have to find new participants if I should just be talking to my current customers? It’s something to consider, and of course, it does depend on your project. If an intimate knowledge of the product is necessary, only customers can help you there.
Working with a recruitment agency
You could consider working with a recruitment agency that can find the right type of participants for your study.
Software solution with built-in audiences
Market research software platforms like Voxpopme have built-in audiences that allow you to quickly get valuable and usable consumer feedback.
Use the right technology to improve research recruitment
Reach people where they are – that’s likely their phone. The collection might also become more in the moment. For example, a quick video survey pops up after you take a specific action. Then it will ask you, “why did you just take that action?”
“That will resonate much more with consumers and is much more profound for marketers and insights professionals,” said Raj. “You are asking the exact question that you need. It’s not 1,000 questions of fluff and becomes much more powerful.”
You can also run auditions for people who want to participate in a video research study to ensure they are the best fit for the study and the study is a good fit for them.
Daniel Berkal, SVP of Research at The Palmerston Group, said asking video audition questions is an useful research recruitment strategy to ensure the right people end up participating.
Once you’ve found the right participants, make sure to offer them a good experience.
“I’ve likened participants to the polar ice caps,” said Lisa Wilding-Brown, CEO of InnovateMR. “Once they are gone, they are gone. I think we all have this collective responsibility to design really great survey instruments that are representative and inclusive and as engaging as possible.”
The best way to build your market research project is a personal choice. I hope the options I outlined are helpful and give you some ideas for making the recruitment process easier and the insights you need to make the right decisions.
“Even if you have the wrong data available, somebody will still make a decision. They’ll just base it on the wrong facts. That’s why it’s so important to commission the right study with the right people.”
Market research traditionally has often been reactive – and reactive research is necessary for many projects. But what about proactive research (which some call proactive insights)? What is proactive research? When should we use it, and how do we implement it so it helps with a customer-centric approach?
“Insights people, in general, tend to be more reactive,” said Kyle Papanikolas, global insights senior director at McDonald’s, on an episode of the market research podcast “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “And what I mean by that is somebody comes to you and says, ‘hey, I have a business problem I need to solve.’ Or ‘I have a point I’m trying to make.’ Could you help me support it? And then we go and get the answers that they need.”
But, in addition to these requests, there are plenty of other areas that don’t get studied but could be explored and drive business results through proactive research, Kyle said.
What is proactive research?
Proactive research means that we – the insights professionals – probe areas of customer behavior, feedback, and other communications, and the activity doesn’t stem from a request.
In other words: Researchers, marketers, or anyone who needs to understand the customers are proactively researching areas that can help improve the customer experience.
Kyle said pressure, the volume of research requests, and resource constraints all play a factor here. People have many questions that need to be answered through research, and then there’s a limited amount of projects any team can take on.
In addition, Kyle said, some researchers are more on the introverted side of personalities.
“And I’m that way in many ways,” Kyle said. “So you feel like you have to wait for somebody to ask you something before you go ahead and do it.”
In addition, entire days are spent answering people’s questions or pulling data (i.e., reactive research). Kyle said that doesn’t leave much – or any – time for proactive research.
What are the advantages and challenges of proactive research?
“Proactive research can take you in many different directions,” Kyle said. “But I would say it’s kind of fun to go outside the bounds of the typical day-to-day stuff.”
Kyle added that proactive research can also build credibility within the business for the insights function. For example, at McDonald’s, the team has a monthly meeting with executives and can share some of the results from proactive research in those meetings.
“The biggest advantage we’ve seen is that this has opened up a lot more doors for us to do other things,” Kyle said, adding that the executive team and the rest of the company are acknowledging that they can do more than reactive research.
Staying on top of things
Greg Ambrose, a Toronto-based strategy, loyalty, and research professional, said that proactive research also tries to anticipate what questions the business might need answered in the near future.
“The only way you are going to do that as a research professional is when you fundamentally understand the nature of your business, what matters to the senior leaders across your business and where the business is going,” he said on “Reel Talk.”
Occasionally others in a company might find the proactive research results interesting but then return to what they’ve always done.
“That can be a bit frustrating and is a challenge of proactive research,” Kyle said.
Another challenge can be to pick the right area to focus on with proactive research. For example, does it make sense to choose a narrower topic or go more comprehensively, or should we explore the market outside the company’s vertical?
And when you go too broad, people might say that’s interesting, but Kyle said people might say, “I don’t know what it has to do with McDonald’s.”
“So now what we do is go broad and say ‘what’s going on with humans in that space – like gender inequality, for example – and then we find a way to bring it back to the business in a meaningful way to where people will say ‘oh, now I get how that applies back to my business,'” Kyle said.
Getting the buy-in
Research can have an impact when people use it in decision-making and implementation. That can happen when people take ownership of it.
“What I’m not doing is researching over here in the corner and then say, ‘hey, food will look like this in 10 years,’ but what I actually do is I partner with many different functions and bring them along the way. Then, hopefully, they feel ownership and accountability when the results come out.”
Becoming a strategic partner to add the lens of the consumer
Creating a culture of proactive research elevates insights teams to becoming strategic partners in the business. Ultimately, that can help the company drive more results through customer-centric decisions that are informed by research.
“In all my years of research, the goal has always been that we want to be strategic partners,” said Jill Burnett, a global insights expert. “But the reality often is that we tend to be more reactionary.”
What’s the lens of the customer?
The lens of the customer is to understand what the customer wants and needs and how they see things. That can be accomplished by understanding them – for example, through conversational insights – and genuinely empathizing with what they are going through and what their Jobs to Be Done are.
Some companies signal this by having an empty chair in the board room, but it goes deeper than that. Companies have to understand what the customer’s journey is.
“It’s our role to show how we bring that,” Jill said. “If you are an insights manager and you don’t think you have the room, you might have to get scrappy on how to do that.”
Making insights actionable
“We have to make sure our insights are actionable, and we have to show the link between what decision-makers are struggling over and are pondering with,” Jill said. “It’s on us to make the link with the business and with the strategic outcome.”
Once others see the value and that it can make their jobs easier, the strategic partnership has been formed, said Jenn Mancusi, Voxpopme’s chief revenue officer and host of “Reel Talk.”
“A lot of us research nerds would be happy just pouring through data all day and never come up for air,” added Jill. “But a lot of it is talking and understanding the needs. And being so connected and so integrated with the business that you are able to make those links.”
The relationship might be mostly transactional because of a level of convenience. For example, when a specific product is just fine and is the only one available in the immediate vicinity of the consumer
The relationship is deeper and the consumer has a real emotional connection to the brand.
“You really want to understand the customers you have and even the customers you don’t have,” he said. “Why are they engaging with you? How is their frequency changing? What are their motivations, needs, states and attitudes?”
When consumers start shopping around
Loyal shoppers and consumers, in general, may start exploring other brands for several reasons. And that can happen more quickly and commonly with emerging brands entering the market, disrupting events like the pandemic and other trends influencing industries.
Greg adds that it’s also never been easier for consumers to move to a different brand. Want to switch from one streaming service to another? That’s possible after any month, for example. Good customer experience wins here, Greg said. The companies that add restrictions on top of restrictions for the customer that wants to switch might see short-term success, but it’s not a long-term strategy to keep customers, he said.
Customers’ pain points, their Jobs to be Done, and it’s necessary to understand what impacts their buying decisions, Sherwette explained.
Look at the trigger that would encourage people to buy. For example, Sherwette mentioned the goal of relaxing. Well, there are a ton of products of different types that can help with that.
A larger volume of products than in the past can make the buying decision harder and contribute to the loyal shopper’s demise.
“In order to get anyone to do anything, it all comes down to two things,” Sherwette said.
Those two things are:
How motivated are people to do a specific task? Are they motivated at all to make their buying decision in your company’s favor?
“You either want to avoid pain or seek pleasure,” Sherwette said. “Or you want to melt in with others from a social perspective.”
And not all problems carry the same priority, said Jenn Mancusi, host of “Reel Talk” and chief revenue officer at Voxpopme.
“You might be trying to solve ten different problems at any given time,” she said.
Ease to take action
The second part of moving forward with a buying decision is how easy it is to take action. For example, let’s say you want to take a medication class but have to fight through traffic for an hour. That’s not an easy purchase.
Consumer behaviors change, and we sometimes need research, so people believe the change is imminent or already happening. Even Google conducted research in 2011 to prove that people used search engines to make shopping decisions. That research was then released in the Zero Moment of Truth publication.
“This was around the idea that people have a path to purchase and where does search come in in that path?” Rebecca said on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “And what we saw was that there was no path. Everybody took very different steps in very different orders. It was a much more complex story than marketers were hoping for.”
While Rebecca and her team were looking at that path, they also noticed an increase in consumers willing to try different products.
“There were a lot of reasons for this,” she said, breaking it down into these areas:
Many markets and companies have stepped up innovation over recent years. Consumers assume that the next time they buy a new item – say a toaster oven – it will be better than the version they bought 10 years ago.
“Consumers will assume that there have been significant updates in toaster oven technology,” Rebecca said. “So people go out and see what’s new rather than going out and buying the same brand from before.”
And the concept of innovation has spread across many product verticals – from toaster ovens to foods to most everything people can buy.
“How consumers come across brands in their shopping process is quite different,” Rebecca said, adding it’s not always consistent even for a specific person.
Some shop on social media for some products but shop elsewhere for other products, for example.
The need to be informed
Rebecca said her research found that three-fourths of consumers want to be as informed as possible before making a decision. That means they research, check out brands and see what others say about the product.
“What all this chaos has done is create an anxiety-ridden shopper who wants to make sure they are making the best choice,” Rebecca said. “In the past, you’d go to Sears and get a Black + Decker because that was the best product on the market. That was the one everyone went to. But now there are so many challengers and so many options that I might wonder, ‘is that the right one?'”
The difference in loyalty by generation
Rebecca said there’s a big difference between the generations born pre-online shopping and post-online shopping.
“For those growing up post-online shopping – the Gen Zs – their brand loyalty is incredibly low in comparison to Boomers and Gen Xers,” Rebecca said. “Millennials have adapted to this new way of shopping but are still carrying some old traditions and patterns.”
The way generations after Gen Z will think about brand loyalty is going to look very different from older generations, Rebecca said.
How can brands connect with that loyal shopper?
It certainly does start with understanding the market, the target consumer, and how the company’s product can stand out in the vertical.
“Brands have to do very specific research to their category and their consumer to understand how they are thinking,” Rebecca said.
Rebecca calls the phenomenon shopper promiscuity – the act of being open to using other brands and following through with that purchase. But the more brands can truly understand their target consumers, the more likely they are to build that ongoing relationship with loyal shoppers.
Also, understand how loyalty looks in your specific vertical. For example, soda drinkers as a whole are very loyal to specific brands. But certain other verticals have a loyalty rate of under 20 percent. Understanding the industry average can help us understand what is or isn’t a good goal.
“And then where does your brand sit – are people over-indexing or under-indexing when it comes to promiscuity?” Rebecca said.
Build a community around a product consumers love
Jason Alleger, former consumer insights and strategy at Traeger, said on “Reel Talk” that the company has been successful by building an authentic community around a product that he says the average owner uses 50 times a year.
“Traeger is a lifestyle brand,” he said. “I get to meet people who named their baby after Traeger; get sent pictures of people’s Traeger tattoos; I get sent obituaries where their Traeger is mentioned; get sent wedding invitations, and people say ‘we couldn’t imagine spending the day without you guys.'”
“I’m leading insights for this brand that is such a part of people’s lives that people are naming their children after us,” Jason said.
Jason said the brand had earned that place in people’s lives through product innovation, integration into people’s lives, and fostering community.
“People are sharing recipes and are trying to become better cooks,” he said. “By us fostering that community, it drives that brand.”
Understand why people purchase
Consider research including the people who have recently purchased or even returned for another purchase. Ask them about their need, she said, as opposed to questions focused on the brand.
Certainly, it can be harder to keep shoppers loyal to our products than in the past, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try understanding them and working on building that ongoing relationship.
For brands to keep understanding customers, they will likely also want to evolve the research methods used. In other words, how do we move from our current methods to the next level of advanced research methods? I’ll discuss this topic in this article, including the following:
Tieing all the available data together for a more comprehensive overview
Making sense of unstructured data
New ways to interact with consumers
“One of the things we listen to quite frequently at Realtor.com are comments that consumers push to us organically through social media, a call center, and feedback,” Laura said. “How do we tie that all together? And they are all very disparate. It’s become a little bit of an art form.”
Figuring out a way to tie all these different pieces and using them for an overarching understanding of the customer and decision-making is complicated but can drive results when done successfully.
New techniques and new technology come out all the time, and it can be helpful to stay up on what should be added to the mix, what can replace an existing strategy, and what can be disregarded for the time being.
Technology advancements – which certainly are part of advanced research methods – can make our lives as researchers easier and keep evolving.
“AI and text analysis has been around,” Laura said. “It’s not the fact that they are necessarily new, but that we refine the process and get better. That’s kind of the threshold that we are at right now. How do we distill this into something that’s a little bit more useable.”
The trick is to look at how new methods and tools can help teams reach their goals of understanding customers and do that more efficiently. And, just because something is interesting, that doesn’t mean it will also be useful or even necessary.
What research method and the depth of them to use can also depend on the specific project and its potential impact. For example, Laura mentioned two approaches:
This is a project where yes, we want to get the right insights, but if it’s not working out in the field, we can just come back through the same door and make an update. No foul. No harm.
This is where changes, once a product has been launched in the field, are harder, so being crystal clear before launch is even more important, Laura explained.
“It’s going to be really disruptive,” Laura said. “That’s something where you really want to take that time.”
And to know which door a project is going through, it’s important to collaborate strategically on the goal of the project. That includes understanding how comfortable everyone is with the level of knowledge that needs to be acquired.
“What’s the decision being made? What is the impact of this?” Laura said. “Can you make a decision if you have 80 percent of the picture, or do I really need to be sure of what’s going on before we move forward?”
The simple – but not easy – answer is integrating different research methods when they make sense. But of course, that’s easier said than done. Sometimes, teams might be stuck on the status quo of how the process runs. Or it takes a while to implement change because of legacy workflows and thinking.
“You also want to work with your other research partners,” Laura said. “Being able to marshal all these resources and bring them together into one story.”
Also keep in mind that sometimes teams are hesitant when it comes to implementing new workflows or technology.
“There’s been a lot of attempts with AI,” Laura said. “And sometimes the promises may have been a bit ahead of the actual ability to deliver. I think people really want to sit and ask what does this mean and is it going to give us true results?”
With all this research being done, it’s also important to keep it in a place that can be referred back to for future projects.
“I can’t tell you how many studies I’ve lost because a researcher has moved on,” Laura said. “And they didn’t have the work they’ve done in a team drive, and it was on their laptop.”
What the exact interval is depends on the specific projects, but the important part is that there’s an interval.
The right speed
Some projects certainly can take longer than others, but the right speed still matters. And that means that many times projects need to move forward in an agile manner. One way to speed up things is to ensure that learnings from each step are considered for the next steps.
“It’s really hard to get buy-in from charts and graphs because they’re largely abstract,” said Jamin Brazil, managing director of HubUX at conversational insights leader Voxopme. “And so when you’re thinking about like how you can create a story that is retold, a story from your data that is retold at the water cooler with impact. That’s really the measure of good data, of good insights.”
Using advanced research methods that help your team can make the process of understanding the customer easier, more efficient while using the best workflows and new technologies to their fullest. And, at the end of the day, if it drives positive business change, everyone wins – the researcher, the company, and the consumer.