The proliferation of survey platforms makes it seem that anyone can do customer research. It has never been easier to design, create and launch a research survey using today’s advanced research technology tools, but the question remains; is it really that easy to access great insights and should you be doing it yourself?
What should really influence whether a company opts to do their customer research initiatives in house or not? Will an in-house survey effort deliver real value? The answer is “it depends.” At the end of the day, only you can address the right approach for your specific organisation. To help you think about what’s best for your company, we outline some things to consider if you are about to embark upon choosing to do DIY customer research approach.
AVOID UNWITTING BIAS
Organisations frequently believe they are best placed to devise their customer survey questions themselves because they know their customers, products and differentiators better than anyone else. Sounds logical, right?
Well here’s something to consider; customers can, and often do, express somewhat or even very different needs from those the company had assumed. We once worked with a global firm who asked us to add in a custom question concerning “innovation.” Innovation, the executive team stressed, was a known differentiator for their customers. It turned out that their customers did not express any interest in innovation. One can only imagine the expensive diversions that might have been pursued if that insight had not come to light. So why the disconnect?
Internal teams can unwittingly inject bias into constructing survey questions, creating a train of feedback and assertions that become accepted as truth, whilst actually being totally off base. Simple assumptions, differing priorities, internal agendas, and even politics can shape the questions, leading to skewed customer feedback. When doing customer research in-house, it’s crucial to rule out as much bias as possible so as not to inject them into the design of the survey questions themselves.
DON’T PLACE YOUR BETS ON “SATISFACTION”
Companies often stake their customer research efforts on “satisfaction.” Yet satisfied customers can and do defect. Dissatisfied customers can and do stay. It is dangerous, therefore, to assume that satisfaction is the only or best measure of the customer experience or loyalty. There are some that say that the concept of satisfaction has reached its sell by date. Something better is needed.
SPEAK TO EXPECTATIONS
How can you find out what is truly important to your customer so that you can rule out bias, and not lean upon satisfaction as the main feedback source? So many companies devise elaborate ways to decode the customer, whilst few are brave enough to actually just ask the very people they are trying to understand!
State of the art surveys gather expectations and measure performance against those expectations. Designing your customer research to align more broadly with your specific customers’ expectations equips you and your organisation to better deliver to them.
There is a science to gathering expectations in a way that reveals truth rather than positioning and expectations rather than needs, but if you can gather your customers’ expectations then it is much more relevant to let that drive your survey design.
RAISE THE COMPETITOR QUESTION
Zeroing in on expectations to inform the survey questions themselves and measuring your company on its performance against expectations is powerful. Your surveys however, can reach an even higher dimension by adding in a competitive perspective. How do your customers view your competitors? Knowing where you are strong and weak compared to the competition is some of the most valuable data any company can have. We’ve seen companies reap immense quantifiable value by adding in competitor questions tied to their customer research and more specifically to individual expectations. If your internal teams aren’t already doing so, competitive analyses is crucial. This is a better method than that used in some industries where a trade body of some sorts collects surrogate data that gives an idea of how competitors compare.
BE OPEN AND READY FOR HARD TRUTHS
CEOs want data and analyses that diagnose problems and present solutions. These are what the executive team needs to see, to discuss and then take action.
Designing the survey with that end in mind sounds like the perfect starting point.
In practice, however, it’s not that simple. Even if bias has been stripped out of the initial survey, it can creep back in again when reviewing the feedback. We have seen many an instance of collective denial or cognitive dissonance in the executive suite and it can be a dangerous animal.
We know of one insurance business that invested millions on an improvement that they “felt” their customers sought, without any hard evidence to say so. The improvement actually increased errors dramatically and cost them more to rectify than the original “improvement” project. If they had based the decision on what to improve on data from customers, they would be today in a totally different market position.
So be prepared to discover that your priorities might need reviewing, your strategy might need adjusting, your sacred cow might need slaughtering or that you are underplaying some piece of your offering that your customer sees as priority.
Mindset is paramount. You need to get curious, be brave and trust that your customer might hold the key to unlocking magic.
When executed effectively, and carefully addressing these areas of challenge, customer research can be extremely strategic yielding strong results for the organisation. Most critically, those insights need to translate into immediate and actionable decisions for executives.