7 Tips For Avoiding Common Customer Research Mistakes

Jan 30, 2012 5:22 PM  By

Many companies are discovering the value of querying their customers to learn more about them and the relationship they have with their brands.

A better understanding of customers, their needs, perceptions and attitudes is an important part of marketing and brand development. New technology and easy access to consumers has made conducting research more prevalent.

Follow these seven tips to maximize your research efforts:

Understand what you want to accomplish
Doing research for the sake of doing research is a waste of time and energy for you and your customers. Define what you want to know in advance. Think about how you plan to act on the research results. Truly actionable information outweighs “nice-to-know” information.

Know your target
Obviously it makes sense to target your research toward those who will give you the greatest insight. Thinking about the target audience in advance and using what you know to maximize your research can be very effective.

For example, are you interested in understanding what other companies your customers buy from?

Then segment your target audience by those who are new to your brand, those that are high-value customers, and those that are less active or inactive customers. Knowing the segmentation of the audience on the front-end of the research yields richer insights.

Pick the right methodology
Today, the online multiple-choice type of e-survey is the most heavily used research method, but there are a host of available options. A clear definition of what you want to accomplish, who you are targeting, as well as the type of information you seek can help determine the best method to use.

For example, seeking hard, quantifiable results (70% of customer have heard of you) versus more qualitative information (customers who know us feel good about our customer services) will point you to one method over another.

Words matter
When creating survey questions, be very careful of how you word questions. Scrutinize the language for complete clarity. Be aware of any intended or unintended bias. Avoid questions or wording that leads the respondent.

Also avoid asking questions that include compound meanings or questions. For example, asking customers what they think about the size and shape of your product is a compound question.

“Size” is different than “shape.” If you truly want information for both, separate the two attributes into different questions. As ask them to rate a number of different attributes, listing each one as a separately ranked item.

Proper survey construction
The order in which questions appear in a survey can impact results. Put yourself in the mind of your customer. Think about how they are going to process each question and what their mindset will be as they go from question to question.

Make sure survey sequencing makes sense for what you want to accomplish and does not impact or bias results in a negative or unintended way. Use open-ended response questions carefully. Plus, know in advance how you plan to collect, analyze and interpret results from them.

Make sense of the results through thoughtful interpretation and analysis
Have more than one person look at the results. It is common for two different people to see two different things or have two very different perspectives on the same set of research findings.

For example, if research shows that 65% of customers really like your product, one person may interpret that as a great result. Someone else may look at the same data a see that 35% of customers don’t really like the product and that to be a total disaster. Analyzing research results is as much an art as a science. It may take some trial and error to get it right.

Respect your research audience
Be mindful of the length of your survey and the amount of time you are asking of respondents. A good rule of thumb is not to exceed 10 to 15 minutes. Surveys that take too much time run the risk of creating respondent fatigue.

Customers may not complete the survey or, even worse, not give the questions and their answers the time and attention they deserve. Plus, be mindful of the confidentiality of the information you are gathering.

Collectively, research results reflect the thoughts and feelings of a group of people. Individually, they are the thoughts and feelings of a single person. That opinion should be held in confidence.

Chad Giddings is executive vice president of marketing and planning at J.Schmid and Associates.