This post, written by Heart of the Customer B2B Practice Lead Nicole Newton, is the third in a week-long series about some of the ways journey mapping differs from traditional market research. Guest authors Corey Pawlak, Cathy McLane and Nicole Newton will share their expertise in recruiting and interviewing B2B customers, why 10-page reports are better than 50-page reports, and using video to bring the customer experience to life.
As a long-time marketing research practitioner, I am focused on gathering the most accurate data to answer the problem being researched. Why are sales lower than anticipated? Why is our customer retention rate lower than projected for certain product lines? What can we do to make it easier for customers to work with us?
When I was first developing marketing research methodologies, I thought about how to gather data quickly, accurately and as cost-effectively as possible. Internet-based surveys were relatively easy to conduct and could get me the results fast as long as I had access to email addresses. That said, with response rates less than 1.5% (on a good day), I worried about non-response bias. Focus groups were relatively quick but cost more money, and I had to worry about recruiting the “right” customers. Some of my internal clients were only interested in quantitative studies with at least 300 customers responding.
As I started to focus on understanding customers’ experiences, and specifically what it’s like for customers to go through selected journeys, I began to rely more and more on qualitative research as my core, go-to methodology. We could use quantitative work after the qualitative if needed. Qualitative research was the best way to truly understand why customers think and behave the way they do, but we had to gather data through conversations, not surveys. In the beginning, I turned to professional qualitative researchers to collect my data – as I felt this was the best way to get accurate results.
What I started to notice was that, even when we collected accurate and compelling data, our internal customers were not always motivated to act on the research–the research that had been done at arm’s length from the internal sponsor. Then, several years back, an innovation consulting firm introduced me to a methodology that called for company employees to collect customer feedback. The firm knew that if the company employees had buy-in to the customer research, learned how to work as a team, and developed a deep empathy for customers, the employees would be able to create the best solutions for customers because they have the best knowledge of what was possible for the company to offer. It turned out that this methodology worked very well for research questions that required company actions to remedy.
The Best Approach
To make this methodology work best, we found that we had to do three things well:
- Select customers correctly: Find a well-defined group to focus on, as you will only be speaking with 12 – 24 customers.
- Train the employee team to gather feedback: Build a comprehensive interview guide and teach employees how to gather customer feedback (think probe and clarify).
- Collect video and audio recordings: Using real customers’ voices was the best way to build customer empathy across the employee team.
We often hear from our clients that they are uncomfortable asking their customers to allow us to video tape them. In our experience, it is mostly only our clients that are uncomfortable with the idea of being on camera–the customers that we meet with rarely decline to be videotaped, as long as we’ve asked them for permission and give them the option to remain anonymous.
We highly recommend videotaping qualitative interviews that will be used to understand customer experiences. Use video clips to emphasize key points and show your colleagues what’s really on customers’ minds.